Terra incognita arts organisation + publishers

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terra incognita arts organisation was co-founded in East London in 1997 by Juliette Brown and Alana Jelinek initially as a grassroots visual arts organisation, that explored issues arising from lived experienced and especially ideas around 'race', exclusion, migration and representation. From 1997 - 2002, they curated exhibitions with education and community outreach components in addition to the innovative professional artists' contributions. Artists involved in terra incognita projects over that period include Jannane Al-Ani, Mohini Chandra, Zineb Sedira, Eamon O'Kane, Erika Tan, Rea, Martin Parker and Lorrice Douglas. Since 2006, terra incognita changed its focus from exhibitions and curating to publishing in various forms, including the small series of short-edition novels, 'less than one percent', and a site-specific project called 'The Field'. The Field was established in 2008 as a site for considering human-human and human-non-human relationships in a real space and reconsidering the politics of utopia.


Point of Entry (1997) was an open exhibition, inviting artists to make a proposal in response to the exhibition site on Cable Street in East London near the banks of the Thames River. Selected artists included Zineb Sedira, Dominique Rey, Rart and Sete and Colin Darke.

empire and I (1999) was a touring exhibition for which terra incognita invited artists from diverse backgrounds and with different relationships to the British colonial project to make art in response to the theme. Artists included Anthony Key, Erika Tan, Alana Jelinek, Shaheen Merali, and Lorrice Douglas. The exhibition was shown at Pitshager Manor & Gallery, London, and Axiom Arts Centre, Cheltenham.

curio (2002) was a site-specific intervention into the streets of East London, around Brick Lane. Invited artists made various artworks in response to the history and contemporary politics of that location. Artworks included Jananne Al-Ani's projected film of a woman continually brushing her hair, never showing her face, onto the walls of Truman's Brewery opposite, Mohini Chandra's sound piece that translated the noises from the streets into water sounds, ranging from trickles to torrents of water, and intentionally subverting the metaphors used for migration, Martin Parker's sound pieces that came when a specific starter was ordered from the Meraz menu, Michele Fuirer's convex mirrors, reflecting a distorted view of the streets along with the words, speculate, survey and curious.

The AAVAAonline project (2006-8) worked with an archive called the Asian and African Artists Archive, begun by Eddie Chambers and later David A Bailey and Sonia Boyce plus others involved in the British Black Arts Movement. Slides and documents are housed in the Docklands campus library of the University of East London. The online archive and outreach projects lasted for 2 years.

terra incognita have also made small scale, temporary interventions like 'Racist Australia Day' (2000) on the anniversary of the Federation of Australia, inviting passers-by to consider the condition of contemporary Aboriginal Australians' lives.

They have been involved with many other small, grassroots arts groups based in London, including Kudu Arts, and curators like Tomomi Iguchi, with whom they published between borders in 2000.

In 2007, terra incognita began to publish novels under '<1%'. The series aims at exploring conscience and consciousness. It has published Dai Vaughan's 'equal' (not sequel or prequel, but equal) to Non-Return called, The Treason of the Sparrows and Alana Jelinek's Ohm's Law, a novel about the relationship between power and resistance.

The field (2008-ongoing) The Field is a 13-acre field and woodland north of Stansted Airport, Essex. It is a collaborative and collective project that is an attempt at re-negotiating the problematic utopian politics current within the London artworld and often cited by artist-activists involved in green politics. The field contains a series of allotments laid out in an Islamic tile pattern, where participants grow food and medicinal herbs, an apiary, an orchard, a shelter, a compost toilet, an area for camping and site for activities like green wood-working and outreach events. An annual touchstone for the project is moot point where artists, thinkers, scientists, activists and others come together to engage with themes like utopia (2009), string theory (2010), revolution (2011), and failure (2012).

Precedents for this type of site-specific land art project include Rirkrit Tiravanija The Land (1998), Thailand, and Collective Actions' Soviet Union interventions in te 1970s and 80s.

Published sources about terra incognita[edit]

  • On Brick Lane Rachel Lichtenstein, London, Hamish Hamilton, 2007
  • Shades of Black: Assembling Black Arts in 1980s Britain Edited by David A Bailey, Ian Baucom, Sonia Boyce, Duke University Press, 2005
  • Networkbook for Urban P/arts: 42 Initiatives Capturing London's Public Space City Mine(d), London, 2004 http://www.citymined.org
  • curio, terra incognita, London, 2002 ISBN 0-9535045-2-2
  • empire and I, terra incognita, London, 1999 ISBN 0-9535045-0-6

External links[edit]