Offsite 12–17 Oct 2021 Free

The Swiss Church, 79 Endell Street, WC2H 9DY (map)
Opening hours:

Tuesday 12 October, 12-7pm
Wednesday 13 October, 12-7pm
Thursday 14 October, 12-5pm
Friday 15 October, 12-7pm
Saturday 16 October, 12pm-12am, including in-conversation (click here for more information)
Sunday 17 October, 12-7pm

Looking up to look down. Looking up to look back. Looking down to look forwards.

This new moving image installation, titled Heavens, starts from the theory that the octopus evolved from a virus originating in outer space, expanding our perception of ecology as a network of interplanetary relationships. Emerging from conversations with a philosopher, a writer, a psychiatrist, an astrobiologist, an astronomer and an escape artist, Heavens comprises a constellation of text, sounds and images. The piece looks to the physiology and behaviours of the octopus to reflect on human and non-human attempts to escape through acts of communal ritual, or through leaks and spillovers.

Composition by Pan Daijing features vocals of Anna Davidson and Marie Gailey. Heavens is co-commissioned by Serpentine and as part of Back to Earth, Serpentine’s long-term multidisciplinary project dedicated to the environment and the climate crisis.

Book your tickets (£5-7) below to join us for a special conversation between artists Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen with Rebecca Lewin, Curator of Exhibitions & Design at Serpentine, and a special late viewing of Heavens.

Saturday 16 October, 7.30pm BST

Still from Heavens, 2021, by Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen. Courtesy the artists.

About the Project

The work’s research began from a scientific theory proposing that the octopus has evolved from a squid infected by an extraterrestrial virus carried on a meteorite (Cause of Cambrian Explosion – Terrestrial or Cosmic? Edward J. Steele et al., 2018). This proposition dissolves ideas of galactic boundaries and opens new perceptions around evolution as well as the history and potential futures of species on this planet. This hypothesis will be used as a point of departure from which to think about transformation, multiplicity and encounters with the metaphysical.

Over the coming months, the work will be developed and produced through a series of encounters with multiple experts (marine and evolutionary scientists, astronomers, ministers, a sexologist, a psychotherapist, an escape artist, a representative of Space X, among others). These conversations will follow cultural narratives and scientific observations inspired by octopuses’ behaviour, anatomy and mythology: its complex mating strategies, self-cannibalism, the erotic iconography that surrounds this animal, as well as its function in oracle rituals. The octopus, an invisible yet ghostly presence in the final work, will thus act as a facilitator of deep encounters; guiding the research and narrative while remaining absent.

The recorded material will be cut up into a libretto of multiple voices, echoing William S. Burroughs’ theory of ‘the unrecognised virus’ (“Language is a virus from outer space”, Burroughs wrote in the 1962 novel, The Ticket That Exploded) and the Dadaist cut-up method that inspired it. Inspired by the structures of religious ceremonies, the final work will generate an immersive experience which is as much “felt” as it is “viewed”.

About Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen’s WePresent collaboration

Serpentine has teamed up with WePresent on Groundwork, a series of monthly deep dives into Back to Earth projects which will unfold between January and May 2021, presented in support of artists’ chosen NGOs and organisations. For the first issue of Groundwork, Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen have opened up the process of making Heavens through interviews, archival images and initial audiovisual experiments. The artists have nominated the Climate Emergency Fund as their chosen charity. Click here for more information.

About Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen

Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen work across objects, installation and film to explore processes of production as cultural, personal and political practices. Their work was recently shown at The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Renaissance Society in Chicago, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Para Site Hong Kong, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Vienna, HKW in Berlin, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and Congo International Film Festival. It is part of the permanent collections of the MoMA, New York and M+ Museum in Hong Kong.

Heavens is co-commissioned by and Serpentine Galleries for the Serpentine’s Back to Earth project. Rehearsals towards Heavens will be presented as Three Hearts at Shanghai Biennale 2021 (April-July 2021) and POWER NIGHT, E-Werk Luckenwalde (May-July 2021).

Still from Heavens, 2021, by Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen. Courtesy the artists.

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