Gene Siskel Film Center

Ursula Biemann - Artist Talk and Conversation

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Stream began October 22, 2020 7:00 PM UTC
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Please send questions for Ursula Biemann and Andrew Yang to cate@saic.edu.


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Join us for a talk with Swiss artist, author, and video essayist Ursula Biemann, whose visionary works focus on the planet’s changing climate and its ecological impact. Biemann will be joined in conversation with Andrew Yang, artist, scholar, and Associate Professor of Liberal Arts at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Presented in partnership with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's Video Data Bank.


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Grounded in a research-based practice, Ursula Biemann’s videos, installations, and essays consider the relationship between politics and the environment across local, global, and planetary contexts. In recent years, her fieldwork has taken her from the Amazon, where indigenous people like the Inga are struggling to preserve their ecosystems and cosmovision, to the depths of the North Atlantic Ocean, where even deep sea creatures must navigate human-induced environmental change. Underscoring how people, flora, and fauna are intimately connected, Biemann’s projects challenge globalist models of resource extraction and exploitation while inviting viewers to rethink their relationships with the Earth.


Biemann has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin; Bildmuseet Umea, Sweden; Nikolaj Contemporary Art, Copenhagen; Helmhaus Zurich, Switzerland; Lentos Museum Linz, Austria; and at film festivals like FIDMarseille. Her work has been included in major exhibitions at the Arnolfini Bristol; Tapies Foundation Barcelona; Museum of Fine Arts Bern; Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki; San Francisco Art Institute; Jeu de Paume, Paris; Steirischer Herbst, Graz; Kunstverein Hamburg; and many others. Additionally, she has participated in the International Art Biennials in Sao Paulo, Gwangju, Shanghai, Taipei, Sharjah, Liverpool, Bamako, Istanbul, Montreal, Venice, Thessaloniki, and Sevilla. 


In 2009, Biemann received the Prix Meret Oppenheim, the Swiss Grand Prize for Art, and in 2018, she was the recipient of the Prix Thun for Art and Ethics. She was awarded an honorary Ph.D. in Humanities by Umeå University (Sweden) and is on the board of the academic journal GeoHumanities.


Artist Statement


“My field work has taken me to remote locations from the Amazon to the Arctic where I have physically experienced sites of environmental devastation that entail deep impacts on all forms of life. The ecological crisis that has been ravaging the planet for decades is equally threatening to humanity but barely received the same attention as the current pandemic. It is only when the hazard hits home, when it infiltrates our own bodies, that our response switches to emergency mode. 


On a field trip to the Arctic, I came to understand that these micro and macro worlds are intimately interconnected. With the melting of the polar ice caps, masses of microorganisms that have been trapped in the ice sheets for longer than human time are now flowing into the oceans. The meltwater bears new bacterial and genetic material that the world hasn't seen. Some of these organisms are 400,000 years old and still alive. Released from the deep freeze, they begin to assemble genetic futures. If we are to keep pace with the harsh transformations that we are imposing on our living environment, humans too will have to mutate. Whether we succeed in this accelerated form of evolution is a speculative question. The science-fictional figures I create in my videos make an effort to attune to the changing conditions by trying to live underwater and fuse with the swarming sea, by turning into divers, videographers, and metaphysicians. And by creating technologies to enter in contact with the vocal expressions of the living ocean.”


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Related Screening

Visionary Ecologies: Films by Ursula Biemann

October 18–24