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Environmentalism

The World's Artists Pay Tribute to the Sea for Ocean Week

Activist artists and scientists gathered to educate, learn, and protest during the UN’s first Ocean Conference in NYC.

by Francesca Capossela
Jun 12 2017, 2:29pm

Laura Anderson Barbata, What Lives Beneath, TBA21–Academy “The Kula Ring“ Convening, 2016. Photo: Wade Rhoden

On June 5th and 6th, a group of scientists, environmental activists, and artists met for a two-day conference about art and the environment. Scheduled to overlap with the UN's first Ocean Conference in New York City, Ocean Week was organized by TBA21–Academy, an offshoot of TBA21, a contemporary art foundation dedicated to uncategorizable work. Conversations during the two days addressed subjects including the role of the artist in oceanography, climate change, and ancestral knowledge in modern exploration, as well as other issues at the intersection of art and science.

Joan Jonas, Oceans – Sketches and Notes, Kochi Convening, 2016. Photo: Francesca von Habsburg

Ocean Week features a number of participants who have taken place in The Current, a program designed to take artists, researchers, and scientists, on exploratory trips to study the ocean. Artist participants in the week included Sissel Tolaas, a smell-scientist and artist who has completed "smellscapes" for cities including Paris, Oslo, Cape Town, and Istanbul; artist Laura Anderson Barbata, who is known for her successful project which demanded the relocation of Julias Pastrana's body from an Oslo museum to an official burial in Sinaloa, Mexico; and Joan Jonas, video and performance art pioneer, and the US representative at the 2015 Venice Biennale. In addition to the lectures and discussions, Ocean Week had two installations: an ocean smell-scape created by Tolaas; and South Pacific Migration Party, a sound installation of blue whale recordings by Peter Zinovieff. On June 8th, Barbata performed Ocean Calling, a work that studies intersecting identities and our emotional relationships to the ocean. The performance, which combines spoken word, dance, procession, music, and costume, was performed at the UN headquarters, and Barbata describes the piece as a protest.

Ocean Calling, 2017 by Laura Anderson Barbata. Photo: Frank Veronsky

The environment has always been a crucial focus of her work, Barbata tells Creators. "I initiated community projects in the Amazon of Venezuela that combined environmental protection and the preservation of oral history through paper and book making," Barbata says. Barbata traveled with The Current to Kingston last year. "We met, discussed and presented our work and findings not only amongst ourselves but also with the local community," she explains. By combining protest art and scientific research, The Current hopes to create new spaces for knowledge production. Their interdisciplinary approach more important now than ever.

TBA21–Academy expedition, B-17 "Black Jack" wreck at Boga Boga, 2015. Photo: Francesca von Habsburg

Learn more about Ocean Week here.

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