“Our premise is that the sea remains the crucial space of globalization. Nowhere else is the disorientation, violence, and alienation of contemporary capitalism more manifest, but this truth is not self-evident, and must be approached as a puzzle, or mystery, a problem to be solved.” — Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, 2013
For centuries, the ocean has prompted awe, figuring as a vast unknown space loaded with notions of the sublime and the exotic. In the past fifteen years however, global technological and economic shifts have triggered new concerns and understandings of the ocean. As we consider the future of our planet, today’s oceans reveal more about the consequences of human actions than ever before. The ocean and humanity, no longer thought of as separate, exist in a relationship of mutual and potentially destructive influence.
The Ocean After Nature considers the ocean as a site reflecting the ecological, cultural, political, and economic realities of a globalized world through the work of twenty artists and collectives. These internationally established and emerging artists explore new ways of representing the seascape as a means to identify and critique the various interrelated and chaotic systems of power, such as land-sea divides, the circulation of people and goods, and the vulnerabilities of our ecosystems. Featuring work in a wide variety of media—including photography, video, sculpture, music, and design—the exhibition proposes that seascapes do not only reflect power but can be instruments of power themselves.
Invoking personal themes of identity and migration, alongside more universal concerns related to tourism, trade, and the exploitation of natural resources, the artists in The Ocean After Nature respond to the intertwined factors that define this new understanding of the ocean.
Artists: Ursula Biemann, CAMP, Yonatan Cohen & Rafi Segal, Mati Diop, Drexciya, Peter Fend, Manuel Gnam, Renée Green, Peter Hutton, Hyung S. Kim, An-My Lê, Manny Montelibano, Deimantas Narkevičius, the Otolith Group, Ulrike Ottinger, Maria D. Rapicavoli, Carissa Rodriguez, Allan Sekula & Nöel Burch, Dimitra Skandali, Supersudaca, UNITED BROTHERS.
The Ocean After Nature is a traveling exhibition curated by Alaina Claire Feldman and produced by Independent Curators International (ICI), New York. The exhibition and tour are made possible, in part, with the generous support from ICI’s International Forum and the ICI Board of Trustees. The presentation at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts has been organized in collaboration with Ceci Moss, Assistant Curator of Visual Arts.
Artist Dimitra Skandali weaves together seaweed and memories of the Aegean Sea and her home island of Paros, Greece in her intricate sculptural installations.
The Ocean After Nature explores the ocean as a site reflecting the ecological, cultural, political, and economic significance of a globalized world.
For centuries, the ocean has inspired artists and sovereigns alike. The seascape is not only a symbol, but a narrative in its own right—an expression of power where history is defined, identities are formed, and subjects are naturalized. Primordial myths of flooding, for instance, were anchored in religious proselytization. Dutch seascape paintings promoted nationalism, and, more recently, modern depictions of the ocean as a passive, exotic space have contributed to the exploitation of natural resources and promoted a kind of contemporary colonialism. All along, there has been little accountability regarding the influence of human culture on creating these narratives.
In the past fifteen years, technological, scientific, and economic shifts advanced through globalization have prompted new considerations of the ocean. Instead of fetishizing the ocean as separate from humanity, it is now understood that nature and culture are physically and representationally equivalent in power and influence. How we speak about the ocean and what we do about the ocean have become inextricably intertwined.
The international selection of established and emerging artists featured in The Ocean After Nature explore these recent shifts and reflect on the complicated planetary effects that humanity and the oceans have on each other. The exhibition features more than twenty works of art in a wide variety of media—including photography, video, sculpture, music, and design—that propose new representations of seascapes. The works span not only personal themes of identity and migration, but also more universal concerns regarding tourism, trade, climate change, and the exploitation of natural resources.
—Alaina Claire Feldman
Independent Curators International
YBCA Exhibitions 1516 are made possible in part by: Mike Wilkins and Sheila Duignan, Meridee Moore and Kevin King, and The Creative Ventures Council.
Lead Image: An-My Lê, Ice Operations, Arctic Waters, USS New Hampshire, 2011/2012. Courtesy of the artist and Murray Guy, New York.