Hailing from the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, in the South West Pacific Ocean, and presently based in Australia, visual artist Taloi Havini’s work takes on many forms including sculpture, film, photography and immersive audio-video installations. The birthplace of the artist, Bougainville, is situated in Papua New Guinea and comprises Bougainville Island, its largest landmass, as well as Buka Island and a number of outlying atolls. Indigenous humans have inhabited the region for at least 29,000 years. During the colonial era Bougainville was occupied by the Germans, Australians, Japanese, and Americans for various periods. Bougainvillean separatism dates to the 1960s; conflict over a contentious mine became the primary trigger for the Bougainville Civil War, which lasted a decade and concluded in 1998. A peace agreement resulted in the creation of the Autonomous Bougainville Government.
Most recently, in late 2019, an independence referendum was held with a majority vote for independence rather than continued autonomy within Papua New Guinea. A central element of Havini’s work are the human actions that occur over time and space. In all mediums, her practice perpetuates the desires for Indigenous Knowledge Systems to undermine the persistent colonial structures that aimed to annihilate them. She delves deeply into themes of representation, inheritance, habitats, and epistemologies of Oceania. Opening next spring, pioneering art and ocean advocacy organisation TBA21–Academy will present a solo exhibition dedicated to Havini at the organisation’s public venue Ocean Space, Venice.
The upcoming exhibition is part of a two-year curatorial cycle entitled The Soul Expanding Ocean by Ocean Space’s 2021-22 curator Chus Martínez. Having been in charge of The Current, a three-year fellowship programme aimed to generate research and strengthen the alliance between artists, scientists, activists and policy makers, Martínez sees friendship as fittingly articulating a mutuality among different practitioners based on affection, on a deep commitment to stay in touch, and to stay attentive to each other’s work. The exhibition programme initiated with Havini’s new commission is positioned as the continuation of this collective effort: to understand the ocean through the senses, to analyse possibilities with care and to propose future scenarios intertwining imagination with knowledge.
This winter, Havini has been a resident of Schmidt Ocean Institute’s Artist-At-Sea programme, observing the mapping of the Great Barrier Reef with state of the art technology on the R/V Falkor. Current global ambitions to map the world’s seafloor by 2030 are gaining momentum. This process employs multibeam sonar systems that produce previously unseen high-resolution cartography. Representation of habitat in this form is considered mark-making, and it is a western scientific race for knowledge as seen by the artist. In response, Havini will research how sound and other senses are used beyond western science as tools for measuring space. The intention is to reveal diverse narratives from non-European cultures, asking audiences to attune the senses and reconsider current knowledge of the oceans.
The commission for Ocean Space forms part of Havini’s largest solo exhibition in Europe to date. Created under conditions of restricted travel imposed by Covid-19, preparing the exhibition required a fresh imagination of distance and presence. Responding to this, the new work Havini is creating specifically for Ocean Space in Venice aims to revitalise and give presence to a multitude of experiences amidst intersecting trajectories, pastimes and lessons in deep-time listening. The ways in which societies approach the ocean is an expression of the value given to life itself. Through utilising sound and other sensory mediums, Havini asks the audience to reconsider evolution. In deep-time listening, a continuum is created. The sound and the experience embody Ocean Space through sequences created by the artist, but it ultimately endeavours to remain within the visitors, evolving as a bodily memory.
The Soul Expanding Ocean #1: Taloi Havini at Ocean Space | 20 March – 17 October 2021
Feature image: Taloi Havini, Reclamation, 2020, Artspace, Sydney. Photo: Zan Wimberley