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The Soul Expanding Ocean #2: Isabel Lewis. Exhibition graphics. Design: Ana Domínguez Studio
Opening September 17th, Ocean Space showcases a newly commissioned work by artist and choreographer Isabel Lewis that invites participants and visitors to dance through the Ocean. The work has been commissioned and produced by TBA21–Academy, the leading art organisation dedicated to Ocean advocacy. The exhibition-performance is unveiled in the second chapter of The Soul Expanding Ocean, a series of exhibitions by Ocean Space’s 2021–2022 curator Chus Martínez. The series presents Martínez’s research, proposing that humanity approach the Ocean through the lens of a new epistemological universe conceived under sensual values, a mandate of care and principle of love. The exhibition-performance will run over the course of five consecutive weekends, every Friday and Saturday from September 17 to October 17, 2021.
The Soul Expanding Ocean #2: Isabel Lewis is an invitation to attune to our continuity with the Ocean to transform and articulate a different relation. Lewis asks participants to be careful with the language pertaining to the Ocean, be aware of the questions it poses and open to unexpected findings. The Ocean, then, appears in front of participants and visitors as a method, a pedagogy that leads individuals into another form of relating to nature. One that gives nature agency, one that acknowledges the differences of the lives that move and act and think and sense besides humans. Art and artists are guiding humanity into the recovery and rehabilitation of its current relation to the Ocean. For this reason, a reprogramming of bodies is necessary to become more saliently cognizant of the human potential to be oceanic. Hands, skin, eyes, noses, ears, all organs need to learn to feel the Ocean even when the Ocean is not there, yet.
Coinciding with the Biennale Musica in September, TBA21–Academy's new commission is a ballet that takes up the dynamics of biological-physical interactions in the Ocean as a choreographic strategy. A ballet is a formalized set of movements that adapt the body to the flow of sound. This time the flow is provided by the Ocean and the mission is to adapt the bodies to its rhythm. For this reason, Lewis proposed an open call in order to initiate a search for professional and non-professional dancers. Those that know the codes stand for the knowledge possessed about the world. Those who are considered amateurs stand for the multiple possibilities of bonding differently with the Ocean. It is in this dialogue between the known and the unknown, between forms historically inherited and new languages to be born, that the piece approaches the Ocean. Lewis invites participants and visitors to the church of San Lorenzo and its campo as if they are inside the waters of the Oceans, the bodies taken by the currents and the voice integrated in the piece as a political component, a marker of Venice’s long traditions of choirs, communal politics, music and sound as an identity trait. So, where better than in Ocean Space to propose a dance for an entity that always moves?
This piece addresses a crucial question: how to reconcile in a coherent manner one’s artistic activity as a choreographer and dancer with one’s political commitment towards nature and the Ocean and the role artists granted themselves in the transformation of society? Lewis describes her artistic work “as a long process in developing methodologies and epistemological approaches that acknowledge no mind/body duality and integrate multiple modalities of knowledge acquisition in order to generate new approaches to questions of human flourishing (and what inhibits it). Moving from a place of critical reflection on the thought systems of contemporary western society and the ways they are embedded and embodied with dangerous effects in our biosocial interactions, I work with choreography to reimagine and put into action alternative models of relation and sociality between human and more-than-human agents.” As Venetian musician Luigi Nono asserted in 1969, for him there was “no difference between music and politics”, and so is the case for Lewis. There is no difference between dance and politics, since through dance Lewis aims to contribute to an epistemological struggle and help to push it forward to a new way of sensing. Lewis's performance-exhibition is a manifestation of the research conducted by Chus Martínez, when she led TBA21–Academy's flagship program The Current II under the title The Soul Expanding Ocean from 2018-2020.
Starting in 2021, The Current III. Mediterraneans: ‘Thus waves come in pairs’ (after Etel Adnan), is led by the newly appointed writer and curator Barbara Casavecchia. Aimed at strengthening friendships between artists, scientists, activists, and policymakers it is building upon a practice conceived through Lagoon Micro-ecologies, a series of free itinerant conversations around the Venice Lagoon, and a durational commission by artist Giorgio Andreotta Calò. The Current III will expand into more public-facing programs later this fall, starting with a conversation between Casavecchia and Calò, hosted at Ocean Space. Together with Reem Shadid, Casavecchia also invites scientists, artists and thinkers onto an eight-episode podcast that launches in fall 2021. Entitled Aridity Lines it explores and engages with the local ecological knowledge of the Mediterranean region, where the temperature rise is higher than global warming trends. Invited guests share stories, experiences, analysis, readings, poems and songs. Invoking disappearing cultural and ecological practices and current conditions, the podcast aims to elicit thinking about the Mediterranean from various entry points—ecological and scientific, cultural and inherited, the mythical and magical, as well as the spatial and geographic. Each episode follows a simple guiding earthly element, living or nonliving, opening up discussions around climate change, environmental and political migration, and socio-economic conditions.
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Campo S. Lorenzo, 5069
The Soul Expanding Ocean #2: Isabel Lewis
Curated by Chus Martínez
September 17–October 17, 2021
Commissioned and produced by TBA21–Academy. Supported by ifa | Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen and Callie's, Berlin.
Every Friday and Saturday from 3–8 pm
This exhibition runs alongside,The Soul Expanding Ocean #1: Taloi Havini, curated by Chus Martínez. Closing October 17, 2021. Commissioned by TBA21–Academy and co-produced withSchmidt Ocean Institute, co-founded by Wendy Schmidt. The development of this new work was supported by an Artspace Studio Residency.
Isabel Lewis is trained in literary criticism, dance and philosophy. She has created works around topics such as open-source technology and dance improvisation, social dances as cultural storage systems, collaborative creative formats, future bodily techniques, and rapping as embodied speech acts. Lewis’ work takes on many different formats: from lecture-performances and workshops to music sessions, parties, installations, and what she calls ‘hosted occasions‘. Her work has been presented at Tate Modern London (2017); Centre d'Art Contemporain Genève (2014); Ming Contemporary Art Museum Shanghai (2016 – 2017); Liverpool Biennial (2014); Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art (2015); Frieze London (2014); Tanz Im August Berlin (2015); Kunsthalle Basel (2014); Serpentine Galleries (2012); Dia Art Foundation, New York (2016); and Palais de Tokyo Paris (2016). Lewis is currently based in Berlin and was born in the Dominican Republic and raised on a man-made island off the coast of southwest Florida.
Chus Martínez is head of the Art Institute at the FHNW Academy of Arts and Design in Basel, and in 2021-22, the Curator of Ocean Space, Venice, TBA21–Academy’s center for catalyzing ocean literacy, research, and advocacy through the arts. Previously, she led The Current II (2018–20), a project initiated by TBA21–Academy. The Current is the inspiration behind Art is Ocean, a series of seminars and conferences held at the Art Institute which examines the role of artists in the conception of a new experience of nature.
TBA21–Academy is a contemporary art organization and cultural ecosystem fostering a deeper relationship to the Ocean through the lens of art to inspire care and action. For a decade, we have been an incubator for collaborative research, artistic production, and new forms of understanding by combining art, science and other knowledge systems, intertwining imagination and possibility in regenerative relationships, resulting in exhibitions, research, and policy interventions.
Ocean Space is a planetary center for catalyzing ocean literacy, research, and advocacy through the arts. Established and led by TBA21–Academy and building on its expansive work over the past ten years, this new embassy for the oceans fosters engagement and collective action on the most pressing issues facing the oceans today. Opened in March of 2019, Ocean Space is inhabiting the Church of San Lorenzo in Venice.
The Current ebbs and flows at the heart of the collective explorations led by TBA21–Academy. It is a pioneering initiative that cultivates transdisciplinary practices and the exchange of ideas around our relationships to and understanding of the ocean as kinship. Each cycle of the curatorial research and fellowship program The Current lasts three to five years and focuses on a specific location. The third cycle of The Current, spanning from 2021–25, is decentralized and turns our attention on the Mediterranean, Oceania, and the Caribbean.
With the working title “Mediterraneans: ‘Thus waves come in pairs’ (after Etel Adnan),” the first stream of The Current III cycle is led by Barbara Casavecchia as a transdisciplinary and transregional exercise in sensing and learning with - by supporting situated projects, collective pedagogies and voices along the Mediterranean shores across art, culture, science, conservation, and activism. The Current III starts to surface in Venice, at Ocean Space, with a public conversation between Barbara Casavecchia and artist Giorgio Andreotta Calò, held on September 18, 2021. Together, they will discuss the conception and evolution of a new site-specific project commissioned by TBA21–Academy: his action lacuna (2021). In June 2021, Andreotta Calò walked alone along the entire perimeter of the Venetian lagoon while collecting notes, images, and experiences. The title lacuna derives from the Latin “lacus” (lake), meaning cavity, lack, or void, a word etymologically and phonetically close, in Italian, to “laguna” (lagoon). The act of walking emerges from this semantic meaning. It aims to redefine the lagoon’s fleeting borders through an inclusive gesture.
This is how Andreotta Calò describes it:
lacuna is both the large void around which such a path winds, a liquid circle gravitating around the city of Venice, and the attempt to fill it, to understand it, to observe it during a terrestrial circumnavigation, to explore it with a wandering embrace. Within the circularity of the space covered, a unity is gradually established between outside and inside, between the slow mutation of the territory and that of those who are crossing it.
In July 2021, Andreotta Calò guided “Walking a wavy line”, a group walk inspired by lacuna, that was designed, conceived, and produced in close collaboration with the artist. Its participants were: Markus Reymann, TBA21–Academy director; Barbara Casavecchia, researcher, writer; Nadia Christidi, Ocean Fellow; Paolo De Cecco, documentary filmmaker; Zeyn Joukhadar, writer; Meredith Root-Bernstein, ethnobiologist; Matteo Rubbi, artist; Maria Montero Sierra, TBA21–Academy curator and program coordinator; Angela Rui, design critic, and curator; Giovanna Silva, photographer, and publisher.
Giorgio Andreotta Calò (b. Venice 1979) is an artist who lives and works between Italy and the Netherlands. He studied sculpture at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. In 2011 he participated in the 54th Venice Biennale directed by Bice Curiger with the work Ritorno (Return): a 1200-km journey on foot from Amsterdam to Venice. In 2012 he won the Italian Contemporary Art Prize promoted by the Museo MAXXI in Rome, and in 2013 the Premio New York granted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 2017 he was one of the three artists chosen to represent Italy in the Pavilion curated by Cecilia Alemani at the 57th Venice Biennale. That same year his project Anastasis won the Italian Council grant, promoted by MiBACT. In 2019, Pirelli HangarBicocca devoted an important retrospective to the artist, titled Cittàdimilano, curated by Roberta Tenconi.
Barbara Casavecchia is a writer, independent curator, and educator based in Milan, where she teaches at the Department of Visual Cultures and Curatorial Practices of the Brera Academy since 2011. She currently holds a course in Critical Writing at NABA, Milan. Contributing editor of Frieze magazine, her articles and essays have been published in art-agenda, ArtReview, D/La Repubblica, Flash Art, Mousse, Nero, South, and Spike, amongst others, as well as in artist books and catalogs. In 2018, she curated the solo exhibition “Susan Hiller, Social Facts” at OGR, Turin. In 2020, she was a Mentor in the Ocean Fellowship Program offered by TBA21–Academy at Ocean Space in Venice. In 2021–2023, Barbara is the Leader of the third cycle of TBA21–Academy's flagship program The Current.
The Church of San Lorenzo is a 16th century Church in Venice. In 2019, TBA21–Academy reintegrated the historic church back into the cultural fabric of Venice, after two years of conservation and renewal and more than 100 years of being largely closed to the public. For many, the opening of Ocean Space is the first moment in living memory when it is possible to experience this magnificent and enigmatic architectural structure.
Fabled as the final resting place of Marco Polo, the Church of San Lorenzo dates back to the ninth century. Recognizable by its rough and unfinished facade, the current structure was built at the end of the sixteenth century based on a design by architect Simone Sorella. Inside, a rare and brilliant double-sided altar with three openings by sculptor Girolamo Campagna divides the space, creating two separate naves: the first intended for the public, the second reserved for the adjacent Benedictine monastery. The church suffered damages during the Napoleonic War and, in 1810, was deconsecrated and all decorations except the main altar were removed. It closed to the public in 1865 and, in the early twentieth century, underwent a series of archaeological excavations, in search of the remains of Marco Polo.
Since 2016, Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza has led the complex conservation project of the Church of San Lorenzo through her foundation Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary. As part of her philanthropic activities, she entrusted TBA21–Academy to bring the building back to life and open it up to the community for active and regenerative use, as Ocean Space. Ocean Space opened to the public in 2019 with the exhibition “Moving Off the Land II” by Joan Jonas, having been largely closed to the public for over 100 years and after extensive renovations, which were finished in early 2020.
The Soul Expanding Ocean #2: Isabel Lewis. Exhibition graphics. Design: Ana Domínguez Studio
The Current III. Mediterraneans: Thus Waves Come in Pairs (After Etel Adnan), led by Barbara Casavecchia. Design: bruno
Isabel Lewis Portrait. Photo: Joanna Seitz. Courtesy of the Artist.
Isabel Lewis, Urban Flourishing, Salon Suisse 2019 Slow. Opening 11th May at Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia. Photo: Magali Le Mens
Isabel Lewis, Scalable Skeletal Escalator, Kunsthalle Zürich, 2020. Photo: Annik Wetter
Untitled (juice, inwardness, natures), 2019. Live art work by Isabel Lewis, Matthew Lutz-Kinoy and HACKLANDER / HATAM. Performance view: Sharjah Biennial 14: Leaving the Echo Chamber. Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation
Isabel Lewis, Scalable Skeletal Escalator, Kunsthalle Zürich, 2020. Photo: Annik Wetter