The Contemporary Image Collective (CIC) launched a new publication entitled Hydrarchy on Sunday. The bilingual book, tied to an exhibition held last year, explores the sea as a geopolitical space. Hydrarchy, a combination of the Latin roots of hydra and archy meaning water and rule, denotes sovereignty in the realm of water, or this case, the sea.
The book launch was commemorated by the screening of two short films showcasing narratives of resistance and exploration set at sea; Polly II: Plan for a Revolution in Docklands (2006), and Atlantiques (2009). The former is set in a future submerged London where the underclass in East London are plotting a revolution against the rich in a satirical but thinly veiled political commentary on today’s current events, while the latter is about the fascination with crossing the sea as told by Sergine, a young stowaway from Dakar.
“This is a project we have been thinking about since 2009, and it is part of a collaboration between Anna Colin, a curator in Paris, and myself called Disclosures. Disclosures is a platform that allows us to explore different ideas, cultural practices and contemporary issues of interest,” said Mia Jankowicz, artistic director at CIC.
The focus on the sea also questions issues of hegemony and power; namely how has the sea been used as a tool in the realisation of the nation-state or modern capitalism.
Jankowicz explains the shift from a land perspective to a sea perspective by looking in history, “the sea is a very interesting subject of inquiry because when most of us think of the sea, we think of a few sea battles because the sea is not the place of much of our recorded history. Instead, most of recorded history takes place on land, at least in our minds. Lands are the place where most of history is concentrated but the sea has been monumental in shaping modern history.” This “hidden history,” as the authors put it, is something that is needed to break the hegemony of land, or terracentrism, a term they borrowed for the publication.
“Perhaps the best example of the power of the sea is the ‘ship of fools’, mentioned by Foucault in his book, where the insane would be put and there was this idea that, even though they are within a state’s dominion, you could put people on a boat and somehow they would be easier to manage. Alongside this very real ship, there also sprung a number of allegorical ships that were supposed to hold people who committed different sins, such as the ship of gluttony or lust and which dominated our imagination,” said Jankowicz.
The publication is an artistic as well as academic endeavor, the likes of which the CIC would like to do more of, despite the practical limitations. “It was natural for us to explore the sea through art and we realise that it can be difficult to get people interested in the subject matter, but we also think that it is important to address education through art, something that is largely ignored by the state and to expand people’s expectations rather than meet them.” The lectures in the book were written specifically for CIC’s symposium and Jankowicz says that the project has received a “very good response.”
CIC’s vision emphasises pedagogy and art, and their publication is an impressive feat that manages to deal with a dense subject matter while remaining accessible and offering captivating ideas, questions, and answers. The publication is available for free at CIC.