Fishing for Islands
October 27-29, 2017 | Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin

Fishing for Islands stirs up a wave of oceanic activities that washes through the historic hall of the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin. The title is inspired by a Polynesian creation myth, according to which the archipelagos’ islands were fished up from the bottom of the sea. Within 36 hours, or three tidal cycles, the project introduces key lectures by leading thinkers in the maritime field, and invites visitors to delve into a series of performances, smells, and soundscapes until the early morning hours by renowned artists whose work is deeply anchored in oceanic spaces.


Each part of the program of Fishing for Islands is reflective of a new island emerging in the vast field of issues concerning the current state of the oceans. According to Oceanian legends, Tangaloa, the father of the gods in the pantheon of many Pacific Islands, or Maui, his trickster stepson and demigod, fished up the archipelagos’ volcanic islands and coral atolls from the ocean floor. These ancestral myths mirror the geological activities of earthquakes and volcanoes whose eruptions result in the creation of new land and convey meaning and genealogy across generations.


The talks, performances, smells, and sound works appear ephemerally, like islands emerging from the sea and being washed over by the incessant swelling of the waves – or disappearing as sea levels rise. The program mirrors tidal movements and coalescing polarities of not only ebb and flow, but also land and water, day and night, intensity and space for reflection. It imagines flows of local specificity merging with the web of global connectedness that the oceans support, by touching on some of the most urgent predicaments affecting water, coasts, and land today.


The program begins on Friday evening with an experimental ‘circus’ organized by Chus Martínez with a ballet conceived by Eduardo Navarro for two mimes and four mechanical hands. It is followed on Saturday afternoon by panels and lectures featuring artists, curators, scholars, and other thinkers whose practice is deeply engaged with the oceanic space. Key lectures by Davor Vidas, Susanne M. Winterling, Trevor Paglen, Tamatoa Bambridge, and Lars Eckstein home in on questions of legality and biodiversity, the effects of pollution on ecological balance, infrastructure and migration, as well as mythologies and ancestral ways of protecting the world’s hydrosphere. Throughout the weekend, artist projects open up new perspectives on the oceans: Christopher Myers intervenes with moments of oceanic storytelling, Tue Greenfort’s floating sculpture “Dræbergople” (2017) alludes to the otherworldly consciousness of jellyfish, Sissel Tolaas’ “Ocean SmellScape” (2017) disseminates ecological information conveyed in smell molecules, and Armin Linke’s new video installation “Oceans – Dialogues between Ocean Floor and Water Column” (2017) shows recordings from scientific studies that are conducted in the deep sea up to 5.000 meters below sea level to explore mineral deposits at the ocean floor. A panel with experts on ocean governance, marine biology, and international environmental law discusses Linke’s work and the geopolitical and ecological implications of anthropogenic interventions in the seabed. A series of sound performances by renowned artists like Jana Winderen, Carl Michael von Hausswolff, and Peter Zinovieff invites visitors on Saturday evening to immerse themselves in soundscapes of the sea until the early hours of the next morning.


Fishing for Islands arose from the program of TBA21–Academy, which was founded in 2011 as an itinerant site of cultural production and transdisciplinary research, hosting artists, scholars, and other thinkers and practitioners on board the ship Dardanella. The Academy’s expeditions led to some of the most remote regions in the Pacific – Papua New Guinea, French Polynesia, Fiji, and Tonga – as well as to Iceland, North America, and the Caribbean, to name just a few. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the Academyʼs program is dedicated to fostering engaged ways of caring for the oceans. The sites that Fishing for Islands is conjuring up from mythology are some of the places the Academy has visited during its expeditions.


Curated by Stefanie Hessler, Chus Martínez, and Markus Reymann


This event is part of a research and exhibition project of the Nationalgalerie, which is supported by the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (German Federal Cultural Foundation) as part of the ”Museum Global” initiative. The project culminates in an exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof from March 23 to August 19, 2018, which will explore the Nationalgalerie’s collection in regard to its international and transcultural ties.