Middle Passage, chapter 3, from Fish Story, 1994
22 Cibachrome prints and 4 text panels
Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Collection
Courtesy the Estate of Allan Sekula, 1994
The sea is forgotten until disaster strikes. But perhaps the biggest seagoing disaster is the global supply chain, which—maybe in a more fundamental way than financial speculation—leads the world economy to the abyss.
– Allan Sekula and Noël Burch The Forgotten Space (2010)
The Forgotten Space, TBA21’s seminar which took place in September 2016 on the Croatian island of Lopud, borrowed its title and part of its conceptual framework from the work and legacy of the artist Allan Sekula (1951–2013). The name is a specific reference to Sekula and Noël Burch’s 2010 film and publication The Forgotten Space, which explores the precarious geopolitical configurations and labor relations active on our seas and in ports and harbor nexuses, which, almost invisibly, manage the shipment and distribution of goods throughout a globalized world. Sekula’s work is a starting point for an expanded thematic exploration, enabling ideas, various fields of expertise, and experiences to drift, travel, shift, and float—across disciplines and between artists, curators, architects, scientists, explorers, and thinkers.
This seminar set out to explore the figure of the “absent” or forgotten space in relation to the seas and oceans and the underlying imaginary implicit in the gestures and narrations of disappearance, sublimation, and disembodiment. We argue that this imaginary allows for the dramatic scenarios of aquatic life decimation, marine pollution, human trafficking, labor abuse, and misuse of marine resources that we are facing today. This contemporary condition is linked to the cultural history of the oceans, which is marked by multiple forms of exploitation along well-established trade routes, by powerful scenarios of fear, by the construction of myth, and by the extensive colonization of seemingly unregulated spaces. This history is overshadowed by the current and past function of the ocean(s) as a route for migration, deportation, and exile, specifically within the context of the Mediterranean and the tragedies that we are currently witnessing with the tide of refugees attempting to reach Europe.
The Lopud Seminar developed an archaeological mode to discuss the visible and forensic sedimentations of these issues. Exploring recent developments in seabed (de)regulation and the contested history of the law of the seas. Taking as a case study the residues of nuclear testing in the Pacific and highlight the need for scientific transparency in such spaces of devastation. It incorporated anthropological concepts such as the economy of gifting and exchange as practiced by nations in the South Pacific, but also engaged “the processes and mechanisms through which we come to understand ourselves and/in the world and the possibilities of new terrains, depths, and ecosystems in which the renegotiation of our relation- ship to the planet and all beings, human and nonhuman, may be possible” (Cesar Garcia). The construction of perspectives — through technologies of mapping, prediction, and simulation but also with the tools of art and aesthetics — will enhance our understanding of our world and how our worldviews construct and impact the ecological, social, economic, political, and cultural dynamics that govern it. Last but not least, the rich poetic and artistic output created around these ideas will lead us to an aesthetic dialogue between the arts, sciences, and philosophy.
The TBA21 Lopud Journal is a response to some of the topics and discussions that took place on the Croatian Island of Lopud. This Journal brings together contributions by curators, lawyers, artists, writers and explorers all linked by the discussions surrounding conserving and protecting the ocean.
Like much of TBA21’s recent activity, particularly within the framework of TBA21 The Current, The Forgotten Space, asks difficult questions about the state of the world and seeks to critique and propose possible approaches to some of the complex questions of our globalized age. The Lopud Seminar thus served as a linchpin, pulling and holding together various threads, from both the past and the future of TBA21’s trajectory, inaugurating an explicit linkage between The Current – which has been on the forefront of environmental research focusing on the oceans — and the exhibition Allan Sekula: OKEANOS, planned for February, 2017 at TBA21–Augarten, in Vienna which will showcase the work of Allan Sekula and bring his critical framework again to the surface of artistic and intellectual debate.