TALK: "Aquatopia" at Utrecht University JUNE 22, 2018

I am giving a talk titled "Aquatopia: Performing Ecology as Community in Urban Spaces" at the 9th Annual Conference on New Materialisms at Utrecht University. This year's theme is Urban Matters: Material Engagements with Communities and Borders in Times of Movement.

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Aquatopia: Performing Ecology as Community in Urban Spaces

Harmattan Theater is an environmental performance collective interested in the implications of climate change in urban settings. Since 2009, the collective has developed a series of site-specific, large scale performances in public spaces to address ecological concerns about rising sea levels and the inadequacy of current urban infrastructures in cities like New York, Lisbon, Amsterdam, Venice, Cochin and Istanbul. Employing participatory structures and relational aesthetics, our projects are open to public interaction and use a fluid choreography based on walking and improvised movement. We enact the volatile water dynamics of the urban sites we work with, striving to embody their complex human/nonhuman, in/organic hybridity in performances where risk, vulnerability and exposure to the elements are emphasized through our interactions with the natural and built environment. Harmattan’s performances thus entice urban communities to experience the aesthetics of location in real-time embodied encounters with landscape, aiming to foster the affective and critical attunement of urban dwellers. The purpose of this presentation is to critically examine four performances presented at water-bound urban sites in collaboration with local communities (Aquatopia, New York, 2017; Acqua Alta, Venice, 2014; Sea Dike, Amsterdam, 2014; and Mar Português, Lisbon, 2012), and how each investigates environmental precarity and the future of water-bound urban communities. Analyzing in detail these performances presented in cities with convoluted colonial histories, I consider the agency of nonhuman actants like the seasonal flood phenomenon known as acqua alta in Venice; the highly toxic and polluted river Tagus, saturated with chemicals and decomposing organic matter; or the playful areas of leisure and social interaction supported by the many bridges across the Singel canal in Amsterdam. Throughout, I focus on the colonial past of these water-bound urban sites as well as their precarious future, considering how interspecies communities of human and nonhuman entities populate and come to perform as and in contemporary urban environments.