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As you go… roads under your feet, towards the new future | Symposium

2 Mar 2021

Main symposium presenters:

What Could Should Curating Do and Moderna galerija, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Organized by Biljana Ciric

DATES: March 22nd – 31st 2021

TIME: 11am Ljubljana time / 9pm Melbourne time / Addis Ababa 1pm / Shanghai, Guangzhou 6pm / Astana 4pm

Live stream via WCSCD / Moderna Galerija / Artcom platform / Rockbund Art Museum / facebook and YouTube


March 22nd Day 1

March 23rd Day 2

March 25th Day 3

March 26th day 4

March 30th Day 5

March 31ST Day 6

Participants: Zdenka Badovinac (curator, Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana); Robel Temesgen ( artist, Addis Ababa); Larys Frogier (director, Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai ); Sinkneh Eshetu (writer,Addis Ababa); Marija Glavas (sociologist, Ljubljana); Berhanu (anthropologist, Canberra); Aigerim Kapar (interdependent curator, Astana); Jelica Jovanovic (architect, Belgrade); Hu Yun (artist, Melbourne); Jasphy Zheng (artist, Xia Men); Dragan Stojmenovic (Public Library, Bor); Nikita Yingqian Cai (chief curator, Times Museum, Guangzhou); Robert Bobnic and Kaja Kraner (researchers, lecturers Ljubljana); Aziza Abdulfetah Busser (architect and academic, Addis Ababa); Alex Ulko (artist and researcher, Tashkent); Brett Neilson (professor Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University); Ash Moniz (artist, Cairo); Yabebal Fantaye (Astrophysicist and a data scientist, co-founder of the 10 Academy initiative, Addis Ababa),  Salem Makuria (independent writer, producer, director, videographer, and retired professor or professor emerita from the Art Department, Wellesley College), Biljana Ciric (interdependent curator and founder of WCSCD)


As you go… roads under your feet, towards the new future symposium is the first public moment of sharing not only our research, but also our mode of working based on relationality and interdependence that we bring with us as we move forward.

As you go… roads under your feet, towards the new future is a long-term project and research inquiry that reflects on the Belt and Road Initiative and how it will alter the aesthetics and practices of everyday life in different local contexts of Ethiopia, Serbia, Slovenia, Uzbekistan, China, Kazakhstan.

Many of these localities situated on the margins of the global economy re-gained a momentum of visibility through geo-political conflicts when the BRI entered a sphere of interest of other global powers. Could a new visibility and set of geo-politics create alternatives to our existence, or will it uphold the extractivist capital logic done for so many years by Western European modernity are some of the questions that we try to unpack through research case studies.

BRI defined as a major infrastructural project through out 2020 has proven to be very dynamic.  Since the pandemic started BRI is slowly transforming defining new direction focusing on digital services and public health and these transformations we will continue to research and understand in the year to come.

The project started in February 2020 just before the pandemic was announced, and since then, we have continued to work, learning how to co-exist under our new living conditions. The current conditions transformed the project into much more than just examining the BRI. It became an examination of our own existence, the way we walk with in the world, how we practice inter-dependence, and stretch existing institutional structures through which we as practitioners navigate.

Our walk opens up the question of whether this new cold war slowly unfolding in front of us – caused by pandemic – can create and foster connections that no state can control, but which we need and are truly ours.

Throughout 2020 we needed time and space to practice intimacy between cells and create a safe zone for sharing. What we learned is that rather than visibility, what is needed is opacity. The intimacy that arose from this defines how ideas are shared with others and to what extent what we create together stays within the cells or is shared further.

Being in project for a year, together we have experienced civil unrest in most of the localities, researchers falling ill due to covid (and thankfully, recovering),  civil war in Ethiopia that escalated in November 2020, our colleagues losing their positions, our partners’ funding being taken away.


This project stretches out our emotional capacity, and our endurance is challenged on a daily basis. Still, we continue to walk together. Research quietly continues, acknowledging the importance of being together and creating some things during this separation being imposed on us.

Throughout the year we have practiced our right to opacity, and only gave visibility to the research happening through our online journal which follows works and research in progress. This journal has served as a tool in responding to crises within the contexts we are caring with.

Since April 2020 due to pandemic we have employed strategy dig where you stand and we have working with fifteen researchers across Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, Serbia, Slovenia, and China. The research inquiry has been developed trying to listen local urgencies and learn from them.

They are writers, anthropologists, artists, architects, and activists, and we will continue to work into this year as well. Acknowledging and reflecting on our previous way of working, we have employed a dig where you stand strategy, where a number of case studies had been formulated and from here, local research has been conducted.

This symposium will share thinking with and walking with or partners cells, as well as researchers through six days symposium that will be available through live stream.

A tool kit created together with researchers and cells that would allow for deep listening with all five senses, challenging visual aspects and presence through Zoom.

Researchers and cells were invited to provide tools for listening, seeing, smelling, touching, and tasting that could overcome our physical distance. Please experience tool kit through this link.

Tool Kit should allow us to grasp physicality of places we will be sharing research from. 


What Could/Should Curating Do and Moderna galerija also extend their thanks to the efforts of their technical and support team, who have helped make this symposium possible.

Associate Editor: Beatrice Rubio-Gabriel
Designer: Toby Tam
Technical Support: Aleksandar Kogoj Jr. and Rok Hvala
Coordinator (Moderna galerija): Adela Železnik

And the team from the Moderna galerija: Tomaž Kučer, Ana Mizerit, Tamara Soban, Monash Museum of Art, Bianca Winaputri, Warisa Somsuphangsri


Following our recent As You Go… Symposium, we present a series of documentation by Beatrice Rubio-Gabriel, tracking 6 days of research presentations and discussions. Beatrice developed set of experimental transcriptions of marks composed of voice notes, key words and statements, and visual cues. Link to Transcription here



DAY 1: 11am– 13:30pm CET


an introduction to the project and its mode of working during the pandemic as a proposition towards interdependence by Biljana Ciric and Zdenka Badovinac.


Screening of the film Awra Amba’s E(u)topia by Salem Mekuria

About Awra Amba’s E(u)topia – About seventy years ago, Zumra Nuru was born into a traditional agrarian Muslim family in a remote village in Northern Ethiopia, near Awra Amba. He never went to school. As a child he started questioning why things were as unequal and unjust as he observed life in his village to be.  He dreamt of a society where people could live in peace and full equality regardless of who they were. Fifty years ago, that dream materialized into what is now known as Awra Amba, a community based on true equality in all aspects of life and where religion is a private affair. This story introduces a revolutionary society thriving in the heart of a very conservative Ethiopia. With interviews and compelling scenes of the village and its people, Awra Amba’s (E)utopia will give us a glimpse into their unique lifestyle.


Presentations by

Robel Temesgen The Addis Newspaper


Abstract – This research focuses on the cultural exchanges between China and countries from the Balkan region under the Belt and Road Initiative. It begins with a systematic examination of these exchanges, and continues with exploring their potential in this specific spatial and temporal context. This potential is juxtaposed against classical national narratives, with Slovenia used as a case study examining the dangers national narratives can bring. This concludes with a proposed textual analysis to further explore whether these international exchanges live up to their potential of shifting away from national narratives to create new futures.

Q&A from audience

DAY 2: 11am– 13:00pm CET

Disjointed Images from Afar and Fragmented Stories in Proximity

Convened by Nikita Yingqian Cai, this day of the symposium resists the single narrative of transformation that the regions As You Go… are engaging with are undergoing. Joined by artists and filmmakers, Salem Mekuria, Hu Yun, and Alex Ulko, this seminar proposes to capture and unfold the personal and collective memories we share in our current moment, to better realise the path we may create for the future.


Moderator: Nikita Yingqian Cai


Alex Ulko: Seeing the Invisible: Documenting and Interpreting China’s Cultural Presence in Uzbekistan

Abstract – This presentation begins with a close look at the Soviet, Russian, and Central Asian past and present, with an exploration of the overlapping post-Soviet and post-colonial identities, as well as the role of Uzbekistan, in the global system.

From previously submitted personal recollections to the As You Go…Journal, I will then use my own sketches, drawings, stories, photos of household items, etc. to speak to the perception of  China by my peers and myself throughout the 1970-80s to demonstrate how this incomplete and distorted anecdotal information created the basis for the imagination of Chinese civilisation within the USSR and Uzbekistan.

Accompanying this is a short video discussing the Confucius Institute in Samarkand, located at the city’s historical centre on the grounds of Samarkand University. This video will explore the institute’s physical and historical environment, as well as the programmes the Institute is carrying out, and the soft power they project.

I will conclude with the acknowledgement that the situation is changing, before making some predictions about the possible developments in cultural relations between China and Uzbekistan.


Hu Yun: Untitled


BOR The early stage of my research in Bor is composed of an ongoing conversation with the city’s only Chinese restaurant owner, Chef Qiu.  On 18th December 2018, Chinese Mining company, Zijin Mining Group, formally took over RTB Bor Group under the new name “Serbia Zijin Bor Copper”. During the past two years, Chinese engineers and workers have been relocated to Bor by Zijin Group and its supporting companies from China. Due to the pandemic, the relocation process has slowed down, though has not come to a stop. According to Zijin’s development planning, more workers will be needed in the coming years.

As a newcomer, just like all the Chinese workers working for Zijin Group, Chef Qiu arrived at Bor without any knowledge of the local context, and he only speaks Mandarin and Hokkien (Fujian Province, Southern China dialect).

The outcome of this first stage of research will be several short video essays based on a series of interviews done with Chef Qiu and video footage taken during a research trip in early 2020, together with footage from Chef Qiu taken throughout 2020 as his own visual memory of his first year in Bor.


Salem Mekuria: Spacial and Other Memories: Maskal Square’s contribution

Before this panel please view Square Stories Trilogy:

Abstract – For the last twenty years, I have been exploring innovative ways to visually represent the lingering, yet unexamined, legacy of the tragic events of Ethiopia’s military regime. I started experimenting with multi-screen format as a tool for complicating the linearity of documentary style film, and for telling visual stories without the need for verbal narration. In utilising the triptych form, I reference traditional Ethiopian Orthodox religious art history and its ubiquity in the lives of my primary audience. By expanding on this cultural motif and emptying it of its traditional content, I juxtapose images, events, stories, and ideas to offer multiple ways of understanding Ethiopian history, and to engage audiences by inviting them to actively participate in the unfolding of these narratives.

The Square Stories Trilogy is the latest in such experimentation. In it, I examine visual memory and the process of its erasure – how the spaces in Maskal Square defy efforts to suppress or erase traces of the traumatic events presented in Deluge. I follow the Square’s physical evolution from its beginnings as a space for the annual celebration of Maskal (the Finding of the true Cross), to becoming the primary site for political protests as well as the display of spectacles of power by succeeding regimes. Ethiopia’s desire for modernity is also played out in the ongoing transformation of the square, which has watched Ethiopian history be made and remade time and again.




DAY 3: 11am– 13:00 CET

Alternatives to new forms of geo-political and economical administrations of localities and people: archiving, reacting, creating.

Convened by Larys Frogier of Rockbund Art Museum, with Jelica Jovanovic and research group, Artcom, along with Sinkneh Eshetu, Berhanu, and Aziza Abdul Fetah this panel will focus on three study cases: Zijin Bor Mining complex and the infrastructure throughout the Balkan region; Lake Balkhash and its geo-political positions and water management; and the Addis Ababa Riverbank project. Interrogating the highly criticised Chinese (economic) presence in these localities, this seminar reveals the complexities of each local context and gives insight to new positions the geographies of the margins can take in this new cold war era unfolding before us.


Moderator: Larys Frogier


Jelica Jovanovic: Infrastructuring the Region. Materiality and Intangibility of the New Silk Road in Serbia

Abstract – Since the Belt and Road Initiative first formalized in 2012 through the establishment of the “16+1 Initiative” for cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries (China-CEEC), Serbia has slowly but steadily been emerging as the lead partner of China within these initiatives. Various projects, executed either as concessions or infrastructural development via bilateral agreements (propped up by the generous loans from Chinese government), as well as direct investments into production facilities in Serbia, and most notably the current healthcare and vaccine diplomacy, are all physical manifestations of the BRI in the Republic of Serbia.

The research is interested in these varied projects undertaken by Chinese companies within Serbia, with its main focus on the large-scale industries and pieces of infrastructure which have been previously (actively) neglected over the last 30 years, though are now miraculously revamped through lucrative international agreements and bilateral cooperation.

The cases of Bor Mining and Smelting Basin, as well as the developments done by the China Road and Bridge Corporation on the railway reconstruction of the Serbian portion of the Pan-European corridor E75, are rebuilding and restoring these formerly robust yet decrepit structures, thus materializing a new relation between the two countries. The research also examines the historical components of these structures and relationships, and based on familiar scenarios from the other (neighboring) countries and Serbia’s own past, speculates on their possible futures.


Sinkneh Eshetu, Berhanu, Aziza Abdul Fetah: The Danger of Ambition and Neglect: The Case of Beautifying Sheger Project

Abstract – ‘Beautifying Sheger’ (Addis Ababa) is a three-year long project to rehabilitate two tributaries of major rivers in Addis Ababa, Kurtime and Bentyiketu, which though aims to enhance the green coverage and beauty of the city, urban tourism, green economy and flood control, and is applauded by many, has already brought criticism for prioritising the development over people by the residents affected.

This research project aims to study the impact of the landscape design under implementation on the livelihood of the people dependent on the rivers, focusing on urban agriculture and its contribution to the urban food system […] it will strive to suggest better design alternatives that may enhance the natural ecosystem and human-nature integration in the continuing phases of the Beautifying Sheger project.


Aigerim Kapar: The many secret scapes of Balkhash Lake: a travelogue of the crossboundary contexts, communities and ecosystem

Abstract – This contribution discusses the research process and preliminary results of Artcom’s study on how the local values of Balkhash Lake impact local livelihoods; and how the local imagination is/can be connected to Balkhash Lake in relation to existing (trans)disciplinary studies, national and crossboundary dynamic, and environmental and cultural policies.

The lake is one of the biggest endorheic water bodies in the world and has a millenia-long history of socio-cultural life, ecological traditions, and semi-nomadic management methods, responsive to the climatic features of the arid zone. Today modern industrialization and militarization during the colonial Soviet period continues to prevail in its cultural landscape and imagination. Scientific research of the lake and its region mainly carries out a capitalist design, and the socio-cultural studies are practically absent. An important and pressing task is to decolonize the concept/memory/knowledge of Balkhash. It is necessary to understand what it was like before the Soviet period, what role Balkhash played in the cultural landscape of the local people, and how current sources impact the attitudes and practice towards Balkhash ecosystem – how old/current/new sources can be reflected through decolonial optics and emerge as an important factor in its sustainable future.

The secrets of Lake Balkhash is a transdisciplinary collaborative mixed methods research effort including contributions from ethnography, cultural mapping, interviews, observations, expedition reports. The research is part of Artcom Platform’s Care for Balkhash initiative and is supported by the As you go…the roads under your feet into the new future long term research inquiry.




DAY 4: 11am– 13:00pm CET

Situated Research, Situated Practices

Convened by Aigerim Kapar of the collective Artcom, this seminar utilises Donna Haraway’s 1988 essay: Situated knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective as its point of departure. Joined by Robert Bobnic and Kaya Kraner, Yabebal Fantaye from Astrobus-Ethiopia and artist, Jasphy Zheng, this panel will further explore the situatedness within their local contexts (and newfound global ones), and the practices embedded within these to explore what it means to be connected to a place and ultimately, to one another.


Moderator: Aigerim Kapar


Robert Bobnic and Kaja Kraner: Bor is burning: From mining to data mining in socialist Yugoslavia

Abstract – Located in the southeastern part of Serbia, Bor was one of the iconic places of Yugoslav industry, and consequently one of the mythological places of proletarian and industrially induced socialist culture. After the anticipated future bloodily collapsed during the 90s and the land was deterritorialized, the Bor mine was sold to the Chinese state-owned Zinjin corporation in 2017 as part of the Chinese investment in the Balkan region.

Indeed, Bor, where copper and gold mining dates back to at least 5000 BC, is a place of particular synthesis between the geological past and technological future, being the perfect example of Yuk Hui’s concept of cosmotechnics. Cosmotechnics can be understood as a means of reaffirming relations between nature, culture, technics, and cosmos, stating that technical and scientific thinking have always emerged under cosmological imagination in the relation between humans and their particular milieus. Our aim is to question the supposedly uniform development and understanding of technology in the modern western context based on the case study of Bor.

Focusing on the concept of work as a cosmotechnical activity of the extraction of nature (including human nature) and the construction of society, this research engages with (1) Marxist anthropological understanding of work as a mediation between human and milieu and (2) with the understanding of technics in the Yugoslav self-management system as a particular cybernetical system, wherein computer technology mainly took an instrumental role for the purpose of organizing socialistically understood social relations, paradoxically obstructing a more differentiated socialist – or in a more cosmotechnical way, Yugoslav – understanding of technology.


Yabebal Fantaye: Astrobus-Ethiopia: A dynamic response to fast changing challenges and opportunities


Astrobus-Ethiopia: A dynamic response to fast changing challenges and opportunities – Astrobus-Ethiopia is a mobile science-art-innovation initiative that is carried out by driving a vehicle across different locations in Ethiopia. The program’s ambition is to stimulate critical thinking, whilst also supporting the country’s social and economic development. Combining engaging activities across science, art, and innovation, Astrobus-Ethiopia promotes education and cultural connection, and encourages curiosity of artistic, technological, and scientific practices. Additionally, the project produces educational materials in local languages and shares them on its website in order to allow for accessibility.

The next Astrobus-Ethiopia event will take place in the first week of May 2021, with a successful research trip having been carried out to learn how to safely implement the event in the conditions imposed by the pandemic. This presentation will discuss previous events hosted by Astrobus-Ethiopia and will also forecast upcoming events and the possibilities of how they will present themselves as the initiative moves forward in this COVID-19 era.


Jasphy Zheng: Stories from the Room –

Abstract – As a response to the state of our global isolation and the collective pause we shared due to the outbreak of the pandemic, I initiated Stories from the Room to collect personal writings from across the world, to build a growing archive and house it in various countries. By exhibiting the archive in both physical and imaginative spaces, connecting online and offline worlds, I am exploring where the notion of “universality” begins and ends, and extending empathy when the sentiments of ”we are in this together” fails.





The importance of Ports

Convened by Sinkneh Eshetu with researchers, Nikita Yingqian Cai of Times Museum and Brett Neilson from Western Sydney University, this seminar explores the complexities of Maritime Roads, as they were then and as they are now, and its narrative as told by different agents through different cultural structures. From the different ports within China’s coastal cities to the ports of Piraeus, Kolkata and Valparaiso, these presentations unpack ports and their geo-political importance as imbued through technology and infrastructure.


Moderator: Sinkneh Eshetu


Nikita Yingqian Cai: Performativity of a Guarded Globalization – How is the Maritime Silk Road represented in China’s Public Museums?

Abstract – Based on a field trip to three public museums in former treaty port cities in China (Ningbobang Museum, Quanzhou Maritime Museum and Xiamen Overseas Chinese Museum), this research examines how the historical concept of the ancient Maritime Silk Road, coined by German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen and sinologist Roderich Ptak, are represented within museum displays and institutional narratives to perform an up-to-date globalization as supported by the state whilst guarded by national ideologies.

One important aspect of the Ancient Maritime Silk Road (9-14 CE) was freedom and autonomy of navigation, which made indigenous trade routes and the exchanges of peoples and cultures between the South China Sea and Indian Oceans possible prior to the region’s integration into the global hierarchy of imperialism, the emergence of sovereignty over territorial water, and the formation of nation-states. While alternative historiographies and cartographies, and relational narratives and subjectivities are usually marginalized within public museums, the revival of the Maritime Silk Road in relation to urban gentrification, free trade, and free port is promoted through the reproductions of historical materials (archives, imageries, situations, and figurations) to connect the long line of maritime history with the emergent middle-class audience. The curious confounding of speculation and historiography registers the conundrum of state performativity and subjects negative spaces for artistic interrogations.

Alongside this will be a short video of the paracuratorial field trip of Times Museum in 2020, which documents how artists, folk scholars, and museum practitioners came together as engaged observers to challenge disciplinary boundaries between museology and contemporary art.


Brett Neilson: Logistical Worlds, or, Research before the Pandemic

Abstract – Logistical Worlds: Infrastructure, Software, Labor was a project conducted across the ports of Piraeus, Kolkata and Valparaiso in the period 2012-2017. The research explored logistical techniques and technologies in ports and hinterlands where Chinese investment was underway or expected at the time of the project’s initiation. Begun before China announced the Belt and Road initiative, the realities and hypes surrounding this program of infrastructural expansion altered the stakes and direction of the research. This talk engages these changes, reflecting on how circumstances can shift the dynamics of knowledge production. In particular, I consider the complexities of working across sites in three different continents, the question of funding, and the trickiness of orchestrating contributions from academics, activists, and artists. To conclude, I note that the pandemic has shifted conditions in ways that would preclude this research, and ask what knowledge production strategies might enhance an understanding of how COVID-19 has changed China’s international logistical engagements. 


Ash Moniz: Untitled

Abstract – As the extraterritoriality of logistics carves out geographies of supply chain infrastructure, it also molds the spatial constellations of logistics workers’ solidarity networks. In my research, I have found that workers at many ports each have their own unique port allies who organize in correspondence with their struggles (eg. between Sokhna and Mumbai, or Istanbul and Rio De Janeiro). The nuances of historical reasoning behind these nodes often show cartographies of solidarity that expand beyond geographical or corporate proximity. I would like to contribute to the Maritime Portal residency by experimenting with different cartographical possibilities for representing geographies of solidarity, and how directionalities of social relations interweave with those of cargo.

I am building off of an ongoing independent archive that compiles materials from dockers’ strikes internationally, that I have collected over the years. This also includes materials from research on container ships and in ports (Singapore, Sokhna, Port Said, Beirut, Tripoli, Athens, Istanbul, etc.), and shared video-archives from transport workers unions, etc. I am interested in the modes of literacy that dictate inventories of supply, and the forms of representational leverage that shape logistical negotiations. In investigating how tacticality takes form, my work situates the temporal loss of supply-chain interruption within both logistical time and historical time, mapping the lost possibilities of past struggles.


Presentation of researcher from digital residency:




How we work together: a round table discussion of partner cells

The symposium will come to a close with a roundtable discussion between partner cells: Moderna Galerija, Times Museum, Rockbund Art Museum, Robel Temesgen, Sinkneh Eshetu, Artcom platform, What Should Should Curating Do, Public Bor Library. Together, they will discuss their modes of working as built on interdependence, the right to opacity, and horizontality.


Participants: Zdenka Badovinac, Nikita Yingqian Cai, Larys Frogier, Sinkneh Eshetu, Robel Temesgen, AIgerim Kapar, Dragan Stojmenovic, Biljana Ciric


As you go…roads under your feet, towards the new future initiated and conceived by Biljana Ciric. The inquiry research cells include What Could Should Curating Do (Belgrade), Moderna Galerija (Ljubljana), Rockbund Art Museum (Shanghai), Guangdong Times Museum (Guangzhou), ArtCom (Astana), Robel Temesgen and Sinkneh Eshetu (Addis Ababa), and The Public Library (Bor).

The first stage of the project has been supported by the Foundation for Arts Initiatives, CURTAIN (Rockbund Art Museum), Austrian Cultural Forum, Curatorial Practice (Monash University Art, Design and Architecture), and the Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.

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