“What do you do when your world starts to fall apart?”
– The Mushroom at the End of the World, “Prologue: Autumn Aroma” (2015)
by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing
“We once believed ourselves destined to a vast sidereal ocean, now we find ourselves thrown back at the harbor whence we started…”
– The Ends of the World, “Chapter 1: What rough beast” (2016)
by Déborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro
Offworlds brings together recent and new works by 18 artists that contemplate the possibilities found in detritus, ruin, and an aesthetics of failure, which emerge in the monolithic face of “the end of the world.” In terms of materiality – from dirt, ash, petrified wood, cement, everyday rubble, to dismantled yet functioning machine parts – this exhibition further embraces the quality of being “off,” of being marginal, as well as marked by cyclical decline.
And what is “the end of the world” but a “downward turn of the Western anthropological adventure”? According to decolonial scholars Déborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, to refuse this one central conception of “the world” as defined by promises of infinite progress and growth, is to allow for the greater coexistence of multiple “planes of immanence traced by the numberless collectives that traverse and animate it.” Here, at “the end,” modernity and colonialism leave trails of decay indeed. Yet as anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing writes, “we can still explore the overgrown verges of our blasted landscapes” where possibilities for other visions of the future and worldbuilding may lie in the remnants.
Amongst the works in this exhibition, Shuyi Cao’s new reconfiguration of the installation Lost in a Fathomless Sea presents a fictional archaeological site that considers earthly materials (from ashes of spruce, tar, petroleum to concrete) of human extraction embedded within more-than-human histories and temporalities. Doreen Chan’s gallery window front arrangement infuses rotating arrangements of produce and flowers with dream content in a continuation of her long-term, participatory project HalfDream that explores the power of subconscious worlding become collective. For Furen Dai, the (mal)function of encyclopedic museums and their (art-less) display methodologies became the last desolate subjects of a new pseudo-documentary On the Future Ruins. Jia-Jen Lin’s generative sound and visual work Collapsing Landscape: Patch B_3 renders the rapidly changing conditions of glaciers in what the artist calls a kind of “post landscape” art. Ani Liu investigates the ethics of “bringing life into the world" and the biopolitical relations between reproduction and technology via artificial wombs in The Surrogacy. Xin Liu’s video The White Stone tells a mythology and future history of rocket debris set across remote villages and deserts in the southwest of China; what happens to these bodies destined for the heavens when they fall back to earth? In her documentation of socio-technological histories, Tan Mu’s new painting entitled Silicon contemplates a purified silicon stone and the fractured impact of its extraction on global supply chains within the current Silicon Age. Goldie Poblador creates a series of UV-lit glass specimens of marine species impacted by a recent industrial oil spill in the Oriental Mindoro region in the Philippines. Beastwoman, a new oil painting by Augustina Wang reimagines “the end of the world” as the end of Western anthropocentrism and humanism, and reclaims a generative in-between image space for the bestial, carnal, and apocalyptic. Rachel Youn’s Pendulum repurposes the mechanical arms of an unwanted baby swing into an assemblage that sweeps up piles of dirt with faux plant leaves, as its automated rocking function works to the brink of collapse. New site-specific works by Stella Zhong encapsulate worlds within worlds, while referencing the disorienting relativity of earthly to cosmic scales.
In science fiction, an “offworld” denotes an exoplanet that operates (often for harboring new colonies or the continuous extraction of resources) beyond a main planet (often one that has ecologically collapsed into lifeless ruin). It is an image increasingly familiar in popular media. If from our earthly ruins, the offworld represents the last upward and outward hope for a great cosmic escape, this exhibition looks downward and inward to the many worlds we already inhabit, which are vitally marginal. For many of us, we have epistemologically inhabited a failing, central world, yet also have traversed between many others, some of which have already come to an end. It is from here that the works in Offworlds depart in multiple, fractured, ruinous directions.
Curated by Danni Shen
Special thanks to Ivy Huang
Danni Shen is a curator and writer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is currently the Curatorial & Public Programs Assistant at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University. Previous curatorial roles include at The Kitchen, Empty Gallery, and Wave Hill in New York. She was also Critic-in-Residence at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Curator-in-Residence at Residency Unlimited, and has been a visiting critic at NYU-ITP and Cornell AAP. More recent exhibitions include "Eating Otherness" at EFA Project Space NYC (2023), "Mediums and Messengers" at Bannister Gallery (2023), "Beast, Chimera, Kin" at the Hessel Museum of Art (2022) and "Collaborative Survival" at 601Artspace (2021). Shen has been a contributor to various artist catalogues as well as publications including BOMB Magazine, Art in America, Heichi Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, and Hyperallergic. She holds an M.A. from the Center for Curatorial Studies (CCS) Bard College.
– Déborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, “What rough beast” in The Ends of the World (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity, 2016), 6.
– Déborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, “Humans and Terrans” in The Ends of the World (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity, 2016), 87.
– Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, “Anti-Ending” in Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2015), 282.
Image caption: Xin Liu, still from The White Stone, 2021, digital video, 5.1 sound mix or stereo sound, 21’57”. Image courtesy the artist.