For Contour Biennale 9, Natascha Sadr Haghighian and Ashkan Sepahvand present ‘Carbon Theater. A Planetary Drama Around Life and Non-Life. Act III: Dark Loops.’ ‘Act III’, the third part of their study ‘Carbon Theater’ is ongoing since 2016. It unfolds from the site of Fort van Walem. The work consists of a 33-inch vinyl record, an installation and a listening session.
‘Carbon Theater’ is an ongoing study that has been conducted since 2016 by the institute for incongruous translation, originally founded by Natascha Sadr Haghighian and Ashkan Sepahvand to investigate the discrepancies between sensing and knowing. Each iteration of ‘Carbon Theater’ unfolds from a found site. The project challenges the anthropocentric narratives that inform current discussions on planetary climate change. These carbon imaginaries valorise a specific biological definition of life as the protagonist of a drama where non-life is held in tragic opposition, with profound political consequences. Rather than asking whether “we” will endure or be extinguished, it seems necessary to disorient and displace human perspectives altogether, making space for non-visible, sonorous formations to resonate.
Fort van Walem, located north of Mechelen, serves as the found site through which the project’s research will unfold. Originally built in 1878 as part of the historical network of military forts defending Antwerp, Fort van Walem was maintained during the Cold War as a NATO nuclear fallout centre, and briefly used as a deportation holding site for asylum seekers in the early 1990s before its formal decommissioning. Since 2006, the organisation Natuurpunt has owned and run the fort, taking care of the ruins as a habitat for various creatures including bats, dragonflies, sand bees and owls. Exploring a large fire in 2017 at a production facility located right next to the fort, which specialising in fusing rubber and metal parts for military tanks, the study loops around displaced timelines and incongruous networks where inhuman forms come and go, repeat and return, with minor variations. Zooming in and out of scale, from the wavelength of a bat’s call to the size of the war machine, the site is sounded out for unexpected signals, inaudible frequencies, and distant echoes that transport the ear from the fort through the factory and the museum to the globe.
Special thanks to Antonia Alampi for her support at SAVVY Contemporary (Berlin) and Extra City (Antwerp).