The floods in Totope
„How can a man who declares climate change as a Chinese invention become president of the USA? We already learned back in school that south- and northpole are covered with ice, and when it melts the sea level rises. That is not that difficult to understand, Donald Trump should come and visit us!“– Theophilus Akbagla, Chief of Totope (Ghana)
Reading this quote in „Süddeutsche Zeitung”, we weren't convinced that Donald Trump would follow this invitation... Though (or because) we are no presidents we took the invitation seriously to learn about climate change. We went to Ghana to meet the villagers of the coastal ghanaian village Totope and we thought it would be nice to also directly invite a visionary wo/man to discuss over dinner in the village the possibilites in this situation. So we wrote a letter to Mr. Kofi Anan.
In March 2018, we moved our study space to Ghana to explore the situation. Totope is fighting the externalisation of our western society: sea level rise, plastic waste, climate change, salizination of ground water, etc. With the ocean in the front and a lagoon in the back, there is no way to escape the rising sea level. More and more often, the water comes in and flushes the village, leaving behind a thick layer of sand. The church is filled with it, the houses along the shore are already left alone. Vegetables no longer grow in the salty ground and the drinking water becomes brackish.
During our stay the students developed some works within the village, giving the possibility to discuss with the inhabitants. As most of the palm trees do not exist anymore due to the strong winds and floods, the Baywatch-tower at the beach gave a new overview of the situation.
Lukas Kopf painted a scala to mesure the water level. But it was not only the objective way to mesure the floods, he went through the village, asking the people to show him the water level of the last flooding on the wall of their houses.
Veronika Birkner and Christine Pfarrhofer visualized within the village the loss of land through the flooding by placing blue stones in a line from the sea to the lagoon. Ingeneers from TU Delft said that the loss of land is 8 meters per year.
Tobias Saatze was playing football with the kids of Totope, drawing a field to play around every corner or mud-hole. The game was later on screend in the cinema of Totope, cutted as a BBC sport documentation of the last match by Tobias Saatze, Franziska Schink and Rudolf Wittmann.
Roswitha Angerer was documenting the work of the fishermen in a film. Over the generations the villagers depending on the sea with fishing as income and identity.
Larissa Meyer & Davis Dordo reenacted the performance of Marina Abramovic „The artist is present”, asking about the difference of doing this work in MoMA or Totope. For fifty minutes they sat in front of Davis' house, looking each other into the eyes. One can ask: who is the artist in this scenery and which role takes the space and context around?
Unluckily, Kofi Anan did not find the time to visit Totope while we were there. But as Davis Dordo is a painter Kofi Anan could be present and together with a band from Ada Foah we had a joyful evening together before we left.
Reflections by Prof. Ton Matton:
Some Students asks why we, as space&designSTRATEGISTS are working on a project like this. Far away from our school, in a strange culture, with other habits. But it is the consequence of globalisation not only to make profit from the world, but to see the consequences as well. We should not only be aware, but also undertake action if we meet problems like they face in Totope. Not to „help” the villagers, but to improve ourselves, to learn from the consequences of our daily life which we take for granted. I don’t teach students to become artist, but to become „adviser” of the mayor or the president. A good piece of art functions like an advice, everytime the president sees it he or she should be reminded on the message it contains. During our visit Chief Agbakla told: „there is no bad mayor, only bad advisors”, how true this is in our contemporary world.