21st September 2019: For Your Convenience: ARIAS x UNSEEN

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A discussion on image-making as artistic research and a critical tool in a time of food ignorance and ecological imbalance. 

Keywords #imagemaking #gamification #artisticresearch #artisticpractice #food #eating #veganism #agroindustry #massproduction #sustainablefutures #speciesism #criticalpractice #entanglement 

ARIAS & UNSEEN presented ‘For Your Convenience’, a discussion on image-making as artistic research and a critical tool in a time of food ignorance and ecological imbalance. The guest speakers were documentary photographer Jordi Ruiz Cirera, artist Sheng-Wen Lo, curator and cultural theorist Alena Alexandrova, and photographer, art critic Alireza Abbasy from Sarmad Magazine. The discussion was moderated by art historian and Unseen Media Manager Saba Askary.

Large scale agriculture that feasts on exhausted land, plants and animal life make dropping food items into the shopping basket a difficult task. Rarely seasonal, often mass produced and shining in plastic, neatly stacked for your convenience – huge arrays of food from across the globe are readily available in your local supermarket at the cost of ecological imbalance. This ethical conundrum forces people to question: what is it that we should be eating? One of the most important daily decisions that affects some of the biggest issues of today – from climate change, to workers rights and public health.

At the front line of these cultural narratives, artists find themselves in a vortex of web 2.0 social and political struggle. Waves of ‘food consciousness’ are increasingly cropping up in cities like Amsterdam, where vegan foods are high in demand, twenty different alternatives to milk are available, and Instagram floods our smartphones with conscious hashtags. But what does this mean in a global food context? The neoliberal ideology is changing consumer behaviour, and amid this epoch of food consciousness, how does image-making grasp and push this momentum to be a more complex and deeper question than what food we should eat. Which avenue does artistic practice take when the marginal starts to become mainstream? Can artistic practice begin to weave and entangle ecological balance for all species? 

Planting the way in the series ‘The United Soya Republic’ Jordi Ruiz Cirera pointed an anthropological lens at the landscape and the socio-economic fabric, brought about by intensive farming and exportation of the soya crop in Argentina and Paraguay; regions at the epicentre of the global food economy. Artist Sheng-Wen Lo entered the realm of moving-image and gamification through the research projects ‘TUNA’ and ‘MELK’. Through in-depth research processes that are both scientific and artistic, Lo found playful ways of digital storytelling that questioned the generic conventions of the human – non-human animal relation and how this is often taken for granted.

With respect to human-kind’s complex entanglement with the world ‘For Your Convenience’ asked how practices and processes of creation break apathy and reintegrate humans into the planet’s natural ecosystem. During this discussion, Ruiz Cirera and Lo shared with the audience their creative processes, whilst Alireza Abbasy and Alena Alexandrova gave an attentive ear to respond and ask questions about image making as a critical research tool. Art Historian and concerned foodie Saba Askary moderated the panel. Together they unpacked the complexities and methodologies – the trials and tribulations – that visual artists have within present geography and time. 

About the contributors


A maker who works in various mediums including that of still and moving image, sound, and video games, Sheng-Wen Lo is interested to spark debates about the contemporary human-animal relationships. Originally from Taiwan, and currently based in Amsterdam, he seeks to strengthen the mutual communication and understanding between the contemporary European and Taiwanese photography scenes. He received his MA in Photography from AKV|St.Joost in the Netherlands, and MSc in Computer Science from the Computer Music Lab at National Taiwan University. Sheng-Wen Lo is currently an artist in residence at the Rijksakademie (2019-2020) in Amsterdam. His recent works have been shown globally, in and across Europe, the USA, and Asia. 

An independent documentary photographer and filmmaker from Barcelona, based in Mexico, Jordi Ruiz Cirera dedicates his time to long-term projects that focus on the effects of globalisation in small communities. Jordi holds a BA degree in design and an MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography from University of the Arts: London College of Communication. Since relocating to Mexico City, Cirera is mostly interested in researching the issues of migration across North and South America. Jordi’s work has appeared in international publications including The New York Times, Le Monde M, and National Geographic. In 2014, Jordi published his first monograph, Los Menonos, with the independent publishing house Éditions du LIC.

Alireza Abbasy founded in 2012, Sarmad Magazine: an independent platform dedicated to practices and studies related to images and the various forms of image-making and their genealogical, technical, artistic and socio-political importance and influence. Sarmad’s operations include online and print publishing, research, public events, and book making (namely the Sarmad book series). Sarmad has initiated the project Un-Making Image in 2017; a long-term project investigating the interrelations of images and power in various ways. It explores two main themes, ‘Optics; Photography in its Entirety’ and ‘Image and Power’, through public events and discussions, culminating in two publications. This project is supported by Gemeente Rotterdam, in collaboration with Stichting Stad in de Maak and TENT Rotterdam.

Alena Alexandrova is a cultural theorist and an independent curator based in Amsterdam. She holds a PhD from the University of Amsterdam and an MPhil degree in Philosophy and Cultural Analysis from the same university.  Alexandrova is the author of Breaking Resemblance: The Role of Religious Motifs in Contemporary Art (Fordham University Press, 2017) and is the co-editor of a volume on the work of Jean-Luc Nancy. She has published internationally in the fields of aesthetics, performance and visual studies, and regularly contributes to art publications and catalogues. In addition to lecturing at the Fine Arts and Photography departments of the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, Alexandrova is currently writing a book: Anarchic Infrastructures (working title).

Saba Askary is a multidisciplinary art historian working through critical writing, curation and collaborative art making. With an aim to question the limits that constitute our understanding of history, Askary focuses her practice between societies grasp of its ancient identity in contrast with the vision of their futuristic self – all to distil a nuanced understanding of the present. Originally Iranian, Askary was raised in the United Arab Emirates, graduating with a BFA from OCAD University in Toronto, Canada and later an MLitt in History of Art from the University of Glasgow & Christie’s Education in London. She is currently settled in Amsterdam where she has co-founded multiple art-collectives and manages the continued development of Unseen’s newly launched digital arm.  


September 21, 2019