HERE NEAR presents three projects on a series of layered and unfolding threats to the ecology of Arles and its surroundings. Since 2022, Mathieu Asselin (FR/VE), Tanja Engelberts (NL) and Sheng-Wen Lo (TW/NL) have each worked on site-specific research, addressing the effects of socioeconomic activities on local ecosystems and their inhabitants. Charting manufacturing, pollution, water systems, transportation and animal life, these makers reveal how the Anthropocene – an unfolding geologic epoch characterised by humanity’s accelerating impact – is reflected in the area.
In Hunting the Tarrasque, Mathieu Asselin studies the Fibre Excellence production plant, some ten kilometres north of Arles. Part of the Indonesia-based Asia Pulp and Paper Group, Fibre Excellence specialises in the production of paper pulp. With an activist’s vigour, Arles-based artist is exploring various types of pollution emitted at the site, considering the effects of chemicals, noise and light on air, soil and water. Elsewhere, Tanja Engelberts works with the Rhône – a river transformed drastically by its intersections with hydroelectric facilities, the chemical industry, and several nuclear power plants.
We Exhale sees Engelberts follow the Rhône from Arles to its source, the Rhône Glacier in Switzerland; she attempts to grasp what happens en route that makes the river so unsuitable for swimming by the time it reaches Arles. The search results in a video work, and a series of photographs made from the Rhône’s perspective – then translated into sculptural ceramics, glazed with the river’s clay.
Finally, Sheng-Wen Lo’s Watch Out is rooted in Camargue, France’s largest wetlands, and home to more than 400 species of birds, mammals and reptiles. The artist reflects on the phenomenon of roadkill – the increased mortality of local fauna due to speeding cars on the wetlands’ roadways. Lo proposes a treasure hunt, planting jewellery pieces inspired by found roadkill across the region. His photographs and video works serve as clues in the game, requiring participants to slow down radically.
Together, these projects point to the varying degrees of influence and responsibility that shape this troubling reality. Where Asselin addresses the notion of the Capitalocene, positing the responsibilities of companies as greater than that of an universalised “human”, Lo speaks directly to citizens at the individual level. Engelberts, meanwhile, touches upon a phenomenological responsibility – that of tuning in to the perspectives of non-humans. The exhibition seeks ways to unravel the tightly-bound fabric of a complex territory. What is this place? Who are its actors? And how what happens here is connected to processes happening down the road, in a neighbouring country, or even across oceans? What seems far away may in fact be near – or even here.
Header image: Tanja Engelberts. Stills from We Exhale, video 4k, 16/9, colour, 15 mn, Netherlands, 2022.
The exhibition will run from July 3 to September 24, 2023.
Location: Monoprix, Boulevard Emile Combes, Pl. Lamartine, 13200 Arles, France.
Exhibition Curator: Daria Tuminas
This exhibition is a co-production by Rencontres d’Arles and FOTODOK.
The featured projects are developed with the support of Le Bureau d’Investigation du Réel: the organiser of The Shelter residency, where the artists worked between 14 February and 29 March 2022.
The exhibition is supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in France, the City of Utrecht, the Mondriaan Fund, and MIAP Foundation.