«The micro-sale is the same as the macro-scale when we talk about climate». Studying local issues to find that seas are «our best allies in mitigating the effect of global warming»
Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Privatstiftung (TBA21) was founded in 2002 representing the fourth generation of the Thyssen family’s commitment to the arts. The foundation has been going through some shapeshifting since: «Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, the founder, soon realized going around art fairs and galleries and auction houses and buying things was not the way she wanted to engage with the art world» explains Markus Reymann, co-founder and director of TBA21–Academy, one of the centres of the foundation initiating experiential collaborations with artists and scientists since 2011. One of the latest ventures of the organization is Ocean Space, opened in 2019 as «a collaborative platform for Ocean Imagination and Ocean Action» in the deconsecrated church of San Lorenzo, at the heart of Venice.
Lampoon reports: the history of TBA21 and TBA21–Academy
Over 20 years, Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza has built an elaborate commissioning program dedicated to spreading awareness. TBA21 commissions artists to spearhead profound research and development into complex social and environmental issues to make them both comprehensible and visceral, and to provoke awareness and action. The Foundation extends its advocacy work by catalyzing new collaborations across the arts, humanities, and sciences, organizing symposia and workshops, partnering with other research and educational organizations.
Nearly ten years later,after TBA21’s formation «we realized that the work had either been politically, gender-politically or socio-politically informed, but there was this growing number of artists that wanted to engage with the environment», says Reymann. Since seventy-one percent of the Earth’s surface is made up of water, the idea behind the new centre founded in 2011, TBA21–Academy, was to work with artists in order to raise awareness about the increasing dangerous climate crisis affecting our environment, in particular, our seas and all bodies of water – our best allies in mitigating the effect of global warming – in order to inspire and carry out the changes needed to protect them. Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reymann realized that both artists and people in the industry were starting to get interested in active change so they focused on the idea «to look at the Ocean as a system that keeps moving and evolving». When analyzing the sea, it is possible to trace change «but it might be heavily distributed throughout time and space», giving the idea that our reality is also interconnected through both time and space. Ten years into the program, the activities ofTBA21–Academy confirmed the insistence on long term research cycles creating specific exhibitions concerned with the environment and social justice.
TBA21–Academy new format: from art production to knowledge-production
For the irst few years (2011-2015) not a single artwork was produced. It took ive years for them Academy to ind a project that was interdisciplinary and itting for all, from science to environmentalism to art. We often tend to see art and environmental activism as two separate entities as if the former, as much as it can make people think, could not have a direct impact on the climate. TBA21–Academy works on demonstrating that an interdisciplinary approach, including the arts and sciences, can lead to practical and meaningful change.
Reporting: TBA21–Academy in Costa Rica
«In 2015 we went to Cocos Island, an island two-hundred and ifty miles from the coast of Costa Rica. It is the only place in the eastern paciic that has its own weather system». The island, with an area of twenty-four square kilometers, rises from four-thousand meters below sea level to eight-hundred meters above sea level. It is full of coconut-tree hardwood and «it was a great spot for pirates: everybody would go there, ix their boats and drop their treasures». At some point it became public knowledge that the treasure of Lima, supposedly the richest treasure of all times, was hidden there. Everybody went out looking for it, «so much so that the government of Costa Rica in 1984 declared it the only place in the world where you can’t go treasure-hunting». Cocos island was then declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1997, not because of its natural landscape, but because of of its extension from four-thousand meters below to eight-hundred above the sea.
Additionally because it sits on the the Northern Equatorial Countercurrent (NECC) which creates an ideal climate for ish (more than 4,700 marines species are present) and sharks, resulting in the largest aggregation of hammerhead sharks in the world – «UNESCO thought they had to be protected» and issued a no-take zone within twelve miles off the shore. The island, as much as it is known for its best practice in ecological sustainability, has three private, Asian-owned ports: Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean where «every night there is illegal ishing going on, putting down thousands of sharks». TBA21–Academy decided to bring into play all its resources and do something about it: «We went through the legal statute and realized it is forbidden to treasure-hunt but nobody prevents you from placing a new treasure», so they got in touch with the government and asked to bring in a new treasure, to which they couldn’t say no. They summoned forty international artists from all over the globe, including Olafur Eliasson, Ed Ruscha and Marina Abramović, to contribute to the treasure with a piece. An entire collection was placed in a lockbox and buried in Cocos Island, Costa Rica. They then took the twelve-figure GPS coordinates and gave them to Dutch post-internet artist, Constant Dullaart. Heturned them into an 8,600 igure code and 3D-printed it onto a steel plate. The ‘map’ was sold at an auction in New York and with the money that was raised, «we initiated a conservation project for the hammerhead sharks on the island».
TBA21–Academy gets to Venice: Ocean Space is born
After almost a decade of being an itinerant organization, TBA21–Academy wanted to find a permanent space: «Venice, with its history of relecting on itself and the world through art, is a rather special place», says Reymann. The deconsecrated Church of San Lorenzo was chosen. SanLorenzo had been largely closed to the public for over 100 years and after extensive renovations, Ocean Space was born and opened to the public in 2019 with the exhibition Moving Off the Land II by Joan Jonas. Since then, many activities have taken place. A focus on the lagoon was added, both with conservation in mind and in order to relect on the universal nature of water: one of their 2021 projects, entitled MiIicroecologie Lagunari. Venezia come modello per il futuro? (Lagoon micro-ecologies. Venice as a model for the future?), resonates on the local natural landscape by organizing an open and free cycle of walks around the Lagoon. «The idea is that, quoting Le Corbusier, Venice might represent a model for the future we are facing», explains Barbara Casavecchia, curator and leader of TBA21–Academy’s program The Current III – Mediterraneans: Thus waves come in pairs (after Etel Adnan).. «The way rising sea levels are impacting an ecosystem like the one of the venetian lagoon, the relationship between water and land and the necessity to consider the natural phenomena as a complex system are evident in Venice», and we can learn a lot from the observation of the island. «When we talk about Venice, the narration is often about the danger or the potential loss of the city. It is rare to hear about contemporary Venice with its difficulties, limits and structural crisis, but also its population who is trying to build new logics for the future». According to Casavecchia, «being with your feet in the water» can help us to navigate the present and to imagine the future. We also must remember that «the micro-sale is the same as the macro-scale when we talk about the climate», which is why studying local issues and attempting to ind solutions create a global connection is an essential tool in the fight against global warming.
On this journey, TBA21–Academy grew into the exploratory soul of Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary. Part of TBA21, TBA21–Academy became an itinerant site of cultural production and interdisciplinary research, focused on catalyzing care and action for the Ocean.
Markus Reymann is Director of TBA21–Academy, a non-proit cultural organization he co-founded in 2011 that fosters interdisciplinary dialogue and exchange surrounding the most urgent ecological, social, and economic issues facing the Oceans today.