• An Ocean of Possibilities

    Zhao Renhui (Singapore)
    A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World

  • An Ocean of Possibilities

    Main exhibition in Fries Museum, Leeuwaerden

  • An Ocean of Possibilities

    José Luis Cuevas García
    New Era (2009-2014)

  • An Ocean of Possibilities

    Douglas Gayeton
    LOCAL:The New Face of Food and Farming in America

  • An Ocean of Possibilities

    Thomas Tomaszewski
    Elmina, Ghana (Ghana, 2012)

  • An Ocean of Possibilities

    Cyril Marcilhacy
    The Village (France, 2013-2014)

An Ocean of Possibilities

Fries Museum

The 21st Noorderlicht International Photofestival is inspired by the growing quest for different means to shape our collective future, in a hopeful answer to the structural failings of our current economic and political systems.
With To Have and Have Not (2013), Noorderlicht shed light on the causes and agents behind the current global economic and political crisis. An Ocean of Possibilities moves beyond dissecting what went wrong, and looks at the decisive potential of those who go against the tide and plot their own course.

These may be individuals, small communities, busi- nesses that think in terms of sustainability, or social enterprises. Whatever their form, they set out to realize a better future, not only for themselves but also for others, even if that means an uncertain outlook.
Some political analysts speak of the challenges we are facing as a crisis of agency. They use the term to signify the struggles with the global corporations, whose powers threaten the sovereignty of the nation states, undermine representative democracy and corrode the ecosystem of the entire planet.

Within this framework, nothing much seems expected from common people beyond a passive role as consumers and spectators, or as providers of ever cheaper labor.

As the effects of this struggle are increasingly spilling over into our personal lives, this crisis of agency is now felt by all. It is taken by some as a challenge to reclaim agency over their own lives and that of their community, amidst social structures that are liquefying at an alarming rate, while it pressurizes others to renegotiate the conditions of their existence.

Simultaneously, we are learning to imagine ourselves as planet dwellers, thanks to the achievements of scientific programs that study global processes, or bring us back spectacular images from Mars and our solar system. We have been made thoroughly aware that the shared responsibility for an essentially fragile home – and still the only one we have – does not end with the borders of one’s country, but extends on a global scale. The enormity of this thought is truly daunting, and recent history has shown that we have serious trouble grasping the consequences, let alone acting on them.

Among younger generations, who have grown up in the age of the Internet and worldwide mobility, an understanding of what global citizenship could mean is on the rise. They feel less tied to nations, faiths, cultures, lands, and lead nomadic lives either forced by necessity or by choice. They are also the ones to ask themselves, as artist, engineer and activist Natalie Jeremijenko did in a recent interview: “What to do (...) in the face of so many environmental and political challenges. What do I do as an individual, collective, or community? How do we produce a desirable future? Do we have any agency to imagine and redesign our collective relationship to natural systems? Can we make desirable imaginative changes?”

These are the questions An Ocean of Possibilities sets out to answer as it called on photographers to introduce us to those who try their hand at brokering alternatives that make our world less wrong, and perhaps even a little better.

What emerged from the extensive search –including the more than 700 entires – is a preliminary map, with many waters left to charter. On this map we find seemingly groups of people in the process of making changes that appear minute or even futile, but which could grow into major movements shifting the course of history. Because everything seems impossible until it happens.
This is the reason why An Ocean of Possibilities has brought together grassroots movements in self-government with testimonies of individual soldiers taking up position against the wars they fought. Or found a small village in Finland where Congolese immigrants are actively encouraged to come settle down. It connects us to small IT start-ups in crisis-stricken Greece, it explores the face of social innovators, enterprises and marketbased approaches to poverty in Africa. It reconnects Asian urban dwellers with the nature they left behind when migrating from the country side. It follows families and individuals who prefer to seek a life off the grid, going back to small scale farming, and helping each other to accomplish just that by sharing knowledge and experiences. It illuminates those campaigning for land rights, the protection of valuable ecosystems, or self- determination. It speaks of youths in the Arab world pursuing their dreams and hopes in times of social and political transitions.

In short, it makes visible how we may rise to the challenges put befroe us, not guided by a single Utopian dream, but by trying to hack the forces of the present that would like us to believe our future is already set in stone.