Is it art? New Eelam: Bristol @ Spike Island


By Siavash Minoukadeh, first year Liberal Arts

"The concept of New Eelam is a fascinating one, and it calls the fundamentals of how property and citizenship currently work into question." Siavash Minoukadeh reviews.

Artworks that do not fit into easily-defined boundaries are nothing new. However, Christopher Kulendran Thomas' New Eelam: Bristol at Spike Island still proves baffling. The work, if it can be called that, is not itself on show at the gallery, and it is difficult to imagine how it could ever actually be displayed as, by trying to bridge the gap between physical geography and digital connections, New Eelam ends up being more of a startup than an artwork.

New Eelam is 'a real estate technology company founded by Christopher Kulendran Thomas'. In its current state, the ambitious project would allow subscribers to pay a fixed monthly rent to live in a range of homes across the world (imagine Netflix but for the property market). Thomas claims that, eventually, New Eelam could go much further and replace traditional nation states with cloud-based countries where borders no longer matter and physical distance becomes obsolete.

Image credits: Epigram / Siavash Minoukadeh.

It’s difficult to envisage any of this which is where Thomas' ‘concept space’ at the gallery comes in. Working with the project’s artistic director, Annika Kuhlmann, Thomas uses the space to open the project up for engagement. The central space is a living area, with a TV, sofa and in-home hydroponic farming equipment. Playing on the TV is a documentary explaining the aims behind New Eelam. The remainder of the space has is used to display shorter videos and large-scale photographs of urban spaces by Joseph Kadow.

Image credits: Epigram / Siavash Minoukadeh.

All of this, says Thomas, is intended to allow questions to be discussed about the project and its aims and to an extent, the exhibition does succeed in doing this. The concept of New Eelam is a fascinating one, and it calls the fundamentals of how property and citizenship currently work into question. However, for such a utopian endeavour, there isn’t much joy or hope. While it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into the project, whether any emotion has is questionable. The works look more like stock marketing material than artistic expressions and the video works, while slick, tend to fall back on buzzwords like ‘blockchain’ without telling us what these will actually do.

Leaving New Eelam: Bristol, I had a lot of questions floating about my head. Sadly they were surrounding the feasibility of the project, rather than what I felt about it. Ultimately, when viewed as a business proposal, New Eelam is radically innovative, but as art, it falls short.

(Featured image credits: Epigram / Siavash Minoukadeh)

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Siavash Minoukadeh

Deputy Digital Editor 2020-21 | 3rd year Liberal Arts | Overcaffeinated