Ocean Space: the Ocean, a place of universal knowledge

I was already familiar with the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Venice. In 2019, the artist Joan Jonas had a didactic installation entitled Moving Off the Land II, with drawings and videos in a tribute to marine species and their great diversity. This venue and its route remained in my memory, just like Venice, today considered an ephemeral place that will succumb to the consequences of climate change.

This is the context of the Ocean Space organisation, which works to raise awareness, inform, research and display knowledge about marine nature and its ecosystems through artistic practices. The exhibition site is also interesting for these projects. It is a church stripped of any Catholic symbolism, freed from religious identity but still a place of worship and adoration of a higher entity. Its monumental construction and architectural expression are at once austere and welcoming given its breadth, width, low temperature and familiar materials.

At the 2022 Biennale, Ocean Space hosted two solo artists, Dineo Seshee Bopape with Ocean! What if no change is your desperate mission? and the Portuguese artist Diana Policarpo with Ciguatera. Both audio-visual pieces were synchronized. One only started when the other ended, leading the audience between the two divisions of the Church. Curated by Chus Martinez, the project addresses shared themes within care and commons. In a speculative perspective on the future and apocalyptic trends, the two pieces share the logic of a journey with an uncertain destination. In Bopape’s installation I see a route: a journey between the Solomon Islands, Mississippi, Jamaica and South Africa with traditional rituals, legends and cultural mysticism about practices related to the memory of the Ocean. In Policarpo, the storytelling method and narrative lines form a complex map departing from the Savage Islands. 

Ciguatera is in the second room of the Basilica of San Lorenzo. We see boulders in the background similar to those on the sandy beaches. As I get closer, the material becomes less familiar for its perfect roughness and convenient lightness. But mostly by their inlaid screens instead of the usual tiny molluscs. Rocks are among the oldest formations on Earth and have an important place in observing planetary evolution and destructive human influences. Around these hybrid, android rocks, the audience heard their story on headphones. It will have seemed like a cult and admiration ritual to those watching from the outside. In these videos, which simulate technical training clips, we see photographic documentation and an explanation: the denunciation of the direct relationship between scientific knowledge and colonial practices and the establishment of a universal and Eurocentric language. Ciguatera’s proposal belongs to the postcolonial revision of history and the setting of natural monuments such as islands, rocks and oceans as catalysts, mechanisms and means to build a new universal, multidisciplinary and multicultural knowledge.

The Ocean Space in Venice, with interventions by Dineo Seshee Bopape and Diana Policarpo, can be visited until October 2, 2022.

With a background in Arts and Humanities (Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Lisbon, 2018) is a public programer and an independent curator in contemporary art. Currently, she is taking a Master in Fine Arts in Curating from Goldsmiths University of London while dedicating her research to non-conventional exhibition spaces and alternative curating methodologies. (portrait by Hugo Cubo, 2020)

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