Ursula Biemann
Deep Weather, 2013
Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal
22.10.14 - 04.01.15

Oil and water, central to Ursula Biemann’s ongoing research, have particular resonance for Canada.

Deep Weather (2013) is a nine-minute glimpse of the Alberta tar sands, juxtaposed with the watery world of Bangladesh. The whispered, confiding voice-over makes us feel immediately complicit in the actions unfolding here.

While human actions are paramount in what happens to the Earth in this Anthropocene era, we have little awareness of, or control over, fluid and invisible global interactions. The vast open-pit mines and steam processing of the oil-infused sand and clay of northern Alberta have drastically lowered Athabasca River flow to the Arctic Ocean; poisoned tailing ponds are replacing the boreal forests, altering ecology for an unknown future. Land is reduced to a commodity by multinational corporations with little concern for the planet’s future well-being.

In Bangladesh, rising sea levels – a result of melting Himalayan ice – are claiming inhabitable land, impacting large populations with nowhere else to go. Communities respond by sandbagging mud embankments and devising floating agriculture and convertible schools: manual efforts on a heroic scale against nearly impossible odds.

The two sections of Deep Weather reveal underlying links between these widely separated locations, asking that we know our place within planetary ecology, and think of the future we build through our actions today.

Ursula Biemann still from Deep Weather, 2013, HD video, 8:58 minutes, English, color, stereo courtesy of the artist
Ursula Biemann still from Deep Weather, 2013, HD video, 8:58 minutes, English, color, stereo courtesy of the artist

Born in Zurich in 1955, Ursula Biemann is an artist, writer and video essayist. She received a BFA from the School of Visual Arts, New York (1986) and attended the Whitney Independent Study Program (ISP) in New York, where she lived for most of the 1980s. Appointed Doctor honoris causa in Humanities by the Swedish University Umea (2008), she is a senior researcher at the Zurich University of the Arts.

Biemann’s practice is strongly research-based. Retrospectives of her work have been presented by the Bildmuseet, Umeå, Sweden; Nikolaj Contemporary Art Centre, Copenhagen; Helmhaus Zurich; Lentos Museum, Linz, Austria; and at the FID Marseille and TEK Rome film festivals. Her work has also been included in biennials in Gwangju, Shanghai, Liverpool, Bamako, Istanbul and Seville, and in major exhibitions at the Arnolfini, Bristol; Tàpies Foundation, Barcelona; Museum of Fine Arts, Bern; LACE, Los Angeles; San Francisco Art Institute; Kunsthalle Brandt, Odense, Denmark; Kunstverein Hamburg; Steirischer Herbst Festival, Graz, Austria; Flaherty Film Seminars, New York; and elsewhere. In 2013, Biemann had a solo show at Neue Berliner Kunstverein in Berlin, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University awarded her a Land Grant Commission for Forest Law, a new work that premiered in August 2014.