PCAI has initiated a new collaboration with the Serpentine Galleries on the occasion of Back to Earth. PCAI has co-commissioned Manthia Diawara’s new film, a new work emerging from conversations with the community in which he lives for part of the year, namely the seaside town of Yene, Senegal. The film records the local community’s responses to climate change, and his own part as a filmmaker, in relation to the philosophical thinking of Édouard Glissant.

According to Diawara: “I’d been living in the US for 40 years and came back to Africa looking for a home. As you know, Edouard Glissant said return is always a detour. After 40 years, home won’t be the same. Detours are always contaminated, errant dreams. Glissant was very interested in detour rather than return. I didn’t return to Mali. I came to Senegal and I bought a home, the home of the artist Souleymane Keita. From this home, I began to see all kinds of rubbish thrown on the beach by the ocean. What’s important about this is that nature began to speak to me and I began to rediscover it and rediscover my childhood in nature, like the ponds I used to swim in in my parents’ village. Then the ocean began to throw shapes at me: shoes, coke bottles. They began to look organic, like dead human beings or cut trees on the beach. I asked myself, do I take the US approach to the environment or do I talk to people here in a language they understand? How do I talk to the people I’m living with in this village, which includes a fisherman who said ‘Whatever you throw at the sea, it will throw it back’, and a woman who’s a pebble collector. I told her it destabilises the sea and she said many people have told her that. She said ‘Give me money and I’ll stop.’ These ideas began to work on me. That’s what started my conversation with the town of Yene.”

Back to Earth is a multi-year project that invites over sixty leading artists, architects, poets, filmmakers, scientists, thinkers and designers to respond to the environmental crisis. With the support of partner organisations and networks, these collaborators are devising artistic campaigns, protocols and initiatives. Interdisciplinary at its core, the project manifests throughout all of Serpentine’s onsite, offsite and online programmes, sharing its resources in order to amplify ongoing projects or campaigns around the climate emergency, as well as to develop new ones. Considering ecology as embedded in everyday practices and agencies, Back to Earth is a programme about change and a catalyst for change. Echoing the global response to the climate crisis, it is a complex web of interconnected research, interventions and activities.

The project asks: What new ecosystems can foster agency within organisations? Which kinds of research-sharing, resource-sharing and collaborative working practices are necessary to present complex responses to complex problems?  How can arts institutions bring visibility to climate actions that create positive change for communities, places and imaginations around the world?

Previous collaborators include Judy Chicago, Sir David Adjaye, Vivienne Westwood, Etel Adnan and Olafur Eliasson. The programme emerged out of Serpentine’s long-standing engagement with the topics of extinction and the disappearance of species, knowledges and customs, which began with the 2014 Extinction Marathon, co-curated with artist Gustav Metzger, as well as out of General Ecology, Serpentine’s overarching environmental research project.

Championing new ideas in contemporary art since 1970, Serpentine has presented pioneering exhibitions for half a century from a wide range of emerging practitioners to the most internationally recognised artists of our time.

140 Artists’ Ideas for Planet Earth edited by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Kostas Stasinopoulos has been relaunched as a paperback edition. Through 140 drawings, thought experiments, recipes, activist instructions, gardening ideas, insurgences and personal revolutions, artists who spend their lives thinking outside the box guide readers to a new worldview.


Find out more:

Back to Earth – Serpentine Galleries

Manthia Diawara – Serpentine Galleries

Image: © Daman Diawara, Fisherwomen knitting nets, Yene, Senegal, 2020

Activity aligned with Goals 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 15, 16, 17