NEUENSCHWANDER, Rivane; Contingent
Contingent 2008 shows a swarm of ants feeding on a map made of honey. Rushing towards the sugar, they mass on the periphery of each continent, forming a black, buzzing outline. Soon, the ants start to move inland, as each landmass becomes smaller and more isolated. Australia quickly becomes a small black dot, then disappears entirely; North and South America detach from one another; and the South Pole vanishes. Over the ten minutes of the video, we witness the map slowly disintegrate into a few small islands. In the end, all that is left are a few ants scurrying on an empty plane.
Neuenschwander’s work plays on the multiple notions of consumption, both in the literal hunger of the ants and an implied consumption of global resources. Like the honey, the world’s resources are finite. Indeed, water is fast becoming a precious resource, with recent droughts in Queensland, Cape Town, California and Chennai affording glimpses of the extreme turns of weather to be expected as our planet warms.1
There is another reading of Neuenschwander’s work, in which the shrinking landmasses are continents subsumed by a rising sea. Climate change threatens an inward collapse of the world: not a grand explosion but, like the diminishing honey map, a gradual implosion borne of our own consumption. Neuenschwander’s proverbial warning finds new potency as encroaching seas will, quite literally, widen the distance between us.
1 The UN concluded that, by 2050, around three billion people could be living in ‘severely water-scarce areas’. World Water Assessment Programme, The United Nations World Water Development Report 2018, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris, 2018, p.13.