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Christopher Kulendran Thomas

Press release


Christopher Kulendran Thomas in collaboration with Annika Kuhlmann – Ground Zero

Around the world, the juridical framework of human rights has been leveraged not only to protect the oppressed and disenfranchised but also to justify the imperial ambitions of the nation states by which human rights are enforced. Perhaps though, the problem is not with the concept of human rights but with the very category of “human” itself. 

Christopher Kulendran Thomas’s family is from a place that no longer exists. 10 years ago, in the summer of 2009, the Tamil homeland of ‘Eelam’ – in what is now the North and East of Sri Lanka – was wiped out by the Sri Lankan army. Born through a neo-Marxist revolution, Eelam had been self-governed as an autonomous state for almost 30 years. However, following attacks on the United States on September 11th 2001, revolutionary movements around the world that challenged national sovereignty were relabelled terrorists. And limited by the geopolitical interests of its member states, the United Nations failed to prevent the annihilation of Eelam.

Curiously, in the months after the defeat of Eelam (and with the economic liberalisation that followed), the first white cube commercial galleries opened on the island, representing a generation of artists influenced by the Western canon encountered online. Soon a new market for contemporary art emerged in Sri Lanka.

Developed in collaboration with Annika Kuhlmann, Ground Zero is Christopher Kulendran Thomas’ first institutional solo exhibition in Berlin. It features original artworks by some of Sri Lanka’s foremost young contemporary artists, purchased from the capital Colombo’s most influential new commercial gallery and presented here as a show-within-a-show. However, visitors will only glimpse this exhibition through a film projected onto a transparent screen, a three-dimensional hypertext exploring the interrelationship between contemporary art and human rights in an era of technological acceleration. 

Featuring algorithmically synthesised characters –  a well-known painter, a very famous pop star and a young Tamil artist now working in Europe – the film takes us on an elliptical journey around what is now the island of Sri Lanka, from the Colombo Art Biennale to the former territory of Eelam itself. Traversing documentary and fiction, the work reflects upon issues of individual and collective sovereignty and authenticity. What does it mean to be ‘human’ when machines are able to synthesize human understanding ever more convincingly? And as technology challenges traditional conceptions of individual autonomy, what could post-human rights be?