Xenogenesis, presented by Sharjah Art Foundation from 13 November 2021 to 5 February 2022, brings together a selection of key works by The Otolith Group, the London-based art collective consisting of Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun, founded in 2002.

Featuring a cross-section of works produced by the collective between 2011 and 2018, the exhibition reflects the artists’ ongoing commitment to creating what they call ‘a science fiction of the present’ through images, voices, sounds and performance.

Suspended between fiction, poetry, documentary and theory, The Otolith Group’s post-cinematic films, high-definition videos and multiple screen installations address contemporary social issues and themes inherited from colonialism, the way in which humans have impacted the earth, and the influence of new media on human activities.

The title of the exhibition references the African American science fiction novelist Octavia Butler’s legendary Xenogenesis trilogy. Butler’s ideas inform Eshun and Sagar’s longstanding preoccupation with the promise and threat of the idea of ‘alien becoming’, or ‘becoming alien’.

The most recent work in the exhibition is O Horizon (2018). The term O Horizon is used by soil scientists to refer to the surface layer of organic matter continually altered by human existence.

Sagar and Eshun adopted this agronomic term for their study of Santinketan, West Bengal, India, where the poet, dramatist, essayist, composer, artist, educator, social reformer, and Nobel Prize-winning novelist Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) founded the Visva Bharati University in 1921.

In its portrait of recitals, performances, choreography, and discussion situated within an ongoing environmental struggle to preserve the health of soil against the attrition of global warming, O Horizon suggests the outlines of a Tagorean ethos for the 21st century.

Another prominent work in the exhibition is The Third Part of the Third Measure (2017), co-commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation for Sharjah Biennial 13 (SB13), and part of the Foundation’s Collection.

The Third Part of the Third Measure emerges from The Otolith Group’s longstanding engagement with the work of the African American composer Julius Eastman (1940–1990).

Filmed and recorded in six takes with three cameras at RAK Studios in St John’s Wood, North London, on 12 and 13 February 2017, The Third Part of the Third Measure returns to the moment of 16 January 1980 when Eastman led three pianists in a performance of his controversial compositions.

Several works in the exhibition explore the impact of new media on humans, including Anathema (2011). By descending beneath the LCD screens of advertisements for smartphones, laptops and flat screen televisions, Anathema envisions the material substrate of liquid crystal technology as a sentient entity.

From this perspective, liquid crystal is reimagined as an entity that possesses consumers for its own occult objectives. Anathema exemplifies Eshun and Sagar’s enduring preoccupation with science fiction as a diagnosis of the present rather than the future. In From Left to Night (2015), the biomorphically geometric digital abstractions that pass across the multiple screens bring viewers into a sustained encounter with the material substrate of liquid crystals beneath the screens of smartphones, laptops, and flat screen televisions.

From Left to Night envisions the hidden technology of the liquid crystal as an abstract landscape that estranges the forms of mimetic rivalry produced by the active screens of social media.

In Statecraft: An Incomplete Timeline of Independence (2014-2019), commemorative stamps provide The Otolith Group with a rich iconography for narrating the political imaginary of African independence, as mass-manufactured designs issued to memorialise significant national events.

By sequencing the births and military coups d’etat of Africa’s new nation states in a historical timeline, Statecraft brings viewers face to face with the dissimulative aesthetics of national unity.

Xenogenesis was first shown at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven in May 2019 and was curated by Annie Fletcher. Its presentation in Sharjah is organised by Van Abbemuseum and Sharjah Art Foundation and co-curated by Annie Fletcher, Director, Irish Museum of Modern Art and Hoor Al Qasimi, Director, Sharjah Art Foundation. Original exhibition architecture designed by Diogo Passarinho Studio.

Xenogenesis was on view at the Institute for Contemporary Art, Richmond, Virginia (2020), Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge (2020), and Buxton Contemporary, Melbourne (2020). Following its presentation in Sharjah, the exhibition will travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, Ljubljana in 2022 and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, in 2022.

The publication Xenogenesis, a polyphonic exploration of the work of The Otolith Group, will be officially launched in conjunction with the exhibition opening at Sharjah Art Foundation.

Presenting all bodies of work contained in the exhibition, the publication presents materials and graphics from the artists’ broader practice and brings together important thinkers, scholars, art historians and writers from disparate fields including Denise Ferreira da Silva, Annie Fletcher, Anselm Franke, Shanay Jhaveri, George E. Lewis, Mahan Moalemi, Fred Moten, Grant Watson, Vivian Ziherl and the late Mark Fisher. Edited by The Otolith Group and Megs Morley, and designed by Luca Frei, Xenogenesis will be available in the UAE exclusively at Sharjah Art Foundation shops alongside the exhibition opening on 13 November 2021.​

Xenogenesis is published by Irish Museum of Modern Art and Archive books, with the generous support of the international partners and tour venues, Buxton Contemporary, Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Institute of Contemporary Art, Virginia, Sharjah Art Foundation, Southern Alberta Art Gallery and Van Abbemuseum.

The exhibition opening on 13 November will be accompanied by a Talks Programme which includes two conversations: ‘Visions of the Future, Speculations on the Present: Thinking with Octavia Butler’ with Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun, and ‘Xenogenesis: A Conversation with The Otolith Group’ that includes Anjalika Sagar, Kodwo Eshun, Annie Fletcher and Ciarán Finlayson.

The conversations will be followed by the official launch and signing of the monograph Xenogenesis: The Otolith Group.