Release of 11.12.2019

TBA21–Academy and Territorial Agency present "Oceans in Transformation"

March 22–September 27, 2020 | Ocean Space, Venice
Territorial Agency: Oceans in Transformation. Commissioned by TBA21–Academy.

The rapid depletion of the coastal ecosystems of the Mississippi Delta, combined with sea level rise scenarios

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TBA21–Academy is delighted to announce Oceans in Transformation, an intersectional research project instigated three years ago that investigates the transformation of the world oceans during the Anthropocene - the current geological era marked by the direct impact of human activity on the environment. Assessing the latest scientific knowledge about the effects of a wide array of human-induced stressors on marine and coastal ecosystems, the project reiterates the critical role of the oceans in respect of planetary survival. Informed and catalysed by global sea-level rise, the most visible sign of climate emergence, Oceans in Transformation takes shape as a large-scale multimedia installation, opening 22 March 2020 at Ocean Space in Venice. The site of Europe’s oceanic frontline against rising sea levels, Ocean Space is a fitting venue to unravel the findings and questions proposed by Territorial Agency.

Founded by the architects Ann-Sofi Rönnskog and John Palmesino, Territorial Agency is an independent organisation that combines architecture, spatial analysis, advocacy and action to influence change in the inhabited environment. In keeping with TBA21–Academy’s commitment to fostering a deeper understanding of the oceans through the lens of art and other cultural practices, Oceans in Transformation articulates new ways of decoding the oceans. Material and conceptual inquiries are the key elements of the research commission, instigating new cultural, ocean-centric forms of knowledge.

The methodology of research that Territorial Agency has developed with TBA21–Academy unfolds as a series of trans-disciplinary encounters, organised as peer-to-peer gatherings, to foster new ideas, concrete actions and viable solutions for the oceans. With the ambition of setting a new agenda for oceans conservation, one that is based on deep care and communal effort, TBA21–Academy and Territorial Agency have brought together thinkers, do-ers and makers who can agitate the status quo of the oceans policies. 

The oceans are changing very fast, yet knowledge of them is moving slowly and is enveloped in long-established forms of cultural separation and distinction between human activities at land and at sea. This division needs to be rethought to address the urgent and vast transformations that the seas are undergoing”, writes Territorial Agency.

Oceans in Transformation considers the oceans as a sensorium; that is, a sensing body that absorbs and registers the intensified activities of humans in its circulations, ecosystems and dynamics. At the same time, it is being registered by different cultural, economic, scientific, legal and conservationist groups in their efforts to understand the changes the oceans are undergoing.

The synthesis, producing entanglements of material, technological, and more-than-human life forces, indicates a spatial magnitude of changes connecting the world oceans to the deep environmental transformations induced by human activity on land in the Anthropocene. What emerges is a new figure where environmental and economic processes are deeply intertwined. Attentive to the ways in which data is both a means to safeguard through transparency and simultaneously to further resource extractions, the research invites new modes of collaboration. 

Sea level rise, intensification of maritime transport, overfishing, depletion of coastal ecosystems, deep-sea mining, sea-floor trawling, oil exploration and extraction, migration, changing ocean circulations, militarisation, melting ice are some of the ecocidal transformations that the research project traces and registers. By superimposing and interconnecting - conceptually and visually - the spatial inscriptions and reconfigurations they create, Oceans in Transformation rearranges the maritime space as a stage for human violence, empire and colonial history. 

During the process of Oceans in Transformation, huge numbers of civil society around the world have mobilised to demand radical economic, political and social change for the future of our planet. A new generation is coming of age in an epoch marked by seismic cultural, political and environmental shifts. The complex, dynamic visuals created by Territorial Agency prompt questions into the actions within reach of international and local communities to safeguard oceans life. The visuals also serve to highlight the fundamental unknowability of the oceans and the insurmountability of visualising the Anthropocene in its entirety, hence the ongoing nature of the project. Territorial Agency indicates that scientific consensus is that less than 20% of the ocean floors have been mapped, yet the oceans are not known in many others ways at all. Curator Daniela Zyman states, “to address the ocean, at this moment of deep epistemological reconsideration, is to be reminded of the paradox that to dissect it into constituent parts, scientifically or conceptually, serves only to foreground its unknowability. Not knowing the ocean is part of being human.”

Territorial Agency: Oceans in Transformation at Ocean Space, Venice 

The exhibition will open at Ocean Space, a new global center for catalysing ocean literacy, research, and advocacy through the arts. Contextualising the exhibition in its surroundings, an artwork on the façade and interior of Ocean Space will explicitly mark a possible projected 2050 baseline of the sea level in Venice, should the global community meet the 2016 Paris Agreement.

As an ongoing investigation, over the duration of Territorial Agency:Oceans in Transformation, Ocean Space will host a programme of peer-to-peer gatherings and events, as part of its seasonal public programming. These will engage key players in environmental conversations and research, including scientists, artists, governmental and society groups, policy makers and conservationists. An additional programme will be designed to coincide with the opening period of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia, which runs from May 23, 2020 - a meeting point for leaders in architecture to discuss the future of the built environment. As the body of work remains open to further development and research, Territorial Agency aims to prompt further conversations and offer both utopian proposals as well as concrete solutions for today. 

For press enquiries and images, please contact Scott & Co:

Phoebe Thomas phoebe[at] or Charlotte Wittesaele charlotte[at]


Exhibition dates: 

March 22–September 27, 2020


Ocean Space

Church of San Lorenzo

Campo San Lorenzo, Castello 5069, 30122 Venice, Italy


TBA21–Academy leads artists, scientists, and thought-leaders on expeditions of collaborative discovery, dedicated to fostering a deeper understanding of the oceans through the lens of art and to engendering creative solutions to its most pressing issues. TBA21–Academy commissions interdisciplinary research that catalyses engagement, stimulates new knowledge, and inspires artistic production. Established in 2011, the non-profit’s program is informed by a belief in the power of exchange between disciplines and in the ability of the arts to serve as a vessel for communication, change, and action.

Territorial Agency:

John Palmesino and Ann-Sofi Rönnskog are architects and urbanists. They established Territorial Agency, an independent organisation that combines architecture, analysis, advocacy and action for integrated spatial transformation of contemporary territories. Operating at the intersection between Earth System and world-systems, Territorial Agency is engaged to strengthen the capacity of local and international communities in comprehensive spatial transformation in an age of climate change—the Anthropocene. Recent projects include Museum of Oil with Greenpeace, ZKM Karlsruhe, and the Chicago Architecture Biennial; Anthropocene Observatory with HKW Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin; the Museum of Infrastructural Unconscious; North; Unfinishable Markermeer; Kiruna. They are unit masters at the AA Architectural Association School of Architecture, London. John has been Research Advisor at the Jan van Eyck Academie Maastricht, led the MA in Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London, and previously led the research activities of ETH Zurich/Studio Basel - Contemporary City Institute, and he is a founding member of Multiplicity. Ann-Sofi is a research fellow at AHO in Oslo, she was previously a researcher at ETH Zurich/Studio Basel.

Daniela Zyman, Curator:

Daniela Zyman is chief curator and artistic director of Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21), a private foundation established in Vienna by Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza in 2002. Zyman joined TBA21 in 2003 and has played an instrumental role in shaping its exhibition and commissions program. The organization’s multi-tier mission is to commission, collect, and present the best of contemporary art through an ambitious program of exhibitions and events and to pursue urgent social, political, and ecological issues.

Ocean Space:

Located in the Church of San Lorenzo in Venice, Ocean Space is a new global centre for catalysing ocean literacy, research, and advocacy through the arts, opened in March of 2019. Led by TBA21–Academy and building on its expansive work over the past eight years, this new embassy for the oceans fosters greater engagement and collective action on the most pressing issues facing the oceans today. In 2019, the site exhibited Joan Jonas’s Moving Off the Land II and has been closed for refurbishment since September. 

Conceived as a platform for collaboration and exchange, Ocean Space provides flexible facilities for installations, performances, workshops, archives, and research, overseen by TBA21–Academy and its network of partners, including universities, NGOs, museums, government agencies, and research institutes from around the world.

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8 333 x 6 250
Territorial Agency: Oceans in Transformation. Commissioned by TBA21–Academy.
8 333 x 6 250
Territorial Agency: Oceans in Transformation. Commissioned by TBA21–Academy.
8 333 x 6 250

Territorial Agency: Oceans in Transformation. Commissioned by TBA21–Academy. (. jpg )

A view of the Pacific ocean floor, off the coast of Hawaii. Multi-beam sonar data.

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