PERSPECTIVES OF PIONEERS–MARKUS REYMANN, DIRECTOR OF TBA21–ACADEMY’s OCEAN SPACE IN VENICE
Art and activism have historically maintained a flirtatious relationship, as this form of expression can be an important disruptor of society and give artists a voice to call attention to grievances. We talked to Markus Reymann, Co-Founder and Director of TBA21–Academy about the exhibition church OCEAN SPACE, an activist display located in Venice, where climate change is leaving its mark in a very drastic way.
What is “OCEAN SPACE” and what is the founding story behind it?
Ocean Space is the physical outpost of TBA21–Academy – a non-profit art organisation dedicated to Ocean advocacy which I co-founded together with Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza. Both of us share lifelong affinity with the ocean – me as a former competitive swimmer and Francesca as a scuba diver involved in a range of philanthropic conservation efforts. We quickly saw an opportunity to bridge the transformative power of art to the ocean, a space that is still largely unexplored and in urgent need of advocacy and action. So, we embarked on a journey that quickly turned into the exploratory soul of TBA21, and from there into TBA21–Academy, an autonomous centre within the foundation, dedicated to art and the ocean.
After a few years of realising ambitious projects and experimenting with new approaches to bring scientists, environmentalists and artists together, we were ready to invite the public to engage with the academy. We set out on a two-year endeavour to restore the 16th century Church of San Lorenzo in Venice that now houses Ocean Space. Ocean Space is our planetary centre for exhibitions, research and public programmes catalysing critical ocean literacy and advocacy through the arts. It was opened in 2019 with a spectacular exhibition by the artist Joan Jonas following our long-time collaboration with the living legend. We could not imagine a more meaningful site than the European frontline of the climate crisis to showcase our work and host our wider community. Venice not only speaks to rising sea levels but also to a rich history of social, economic and creative exchange.
What do art and activism have in common?
According to Tate Galleries, activist art is created to offer a “form of political or social currency, actively addressing cultural power structures rather than representing them or simply describing them". Both artists and activists are engaging with stories. They deploy and adapt language and visuals to unearth particular injustices in the world. Not all artists are activists but there is a strong history of activism within the arts.
What does “Perspectives of Pioneers” mean to you?
The viewpoint of people that look at the world with an open mind, curiosity, possibility and care for living beings, nature and planet.
What are your future goals?
The longevity of TBA21—Academy while perpetually evolving in the mission for a world where everyone cares for the Ocean. I’m proud of the work my team and collaborators have achieved over the past 10 years. This anniversary year marks a moment to reflect on our successes and consider what the next 10… 20… 50… years will look like! As well as continuing to support non-traditional ways of advancing scientific and artistic knowledge production, we are currently re-examining what it means to be a philanthropic arts organisation with the aim of becoming a fully regenerative organization that leaves more behind than it takes. And we are growingly involved in lobbying efforts – pressuring governments and big business to assess their actions and the role culture can have in supporting positive change.
Deep ocean, infinite black or paradise blue?
Deep Ocean – we’ve barely scratched the surface.
PS: I would like to share a project close to my heart and in hope that many would help us to keep this project afloat (pun intended!). The incredible Swiss artist *Claudia Comte* is busy creating an underwater sculpture park to help save the world’s coral reefs. This is art that makes a difference. During her artist residency with *Alligator Head Foundation* (a Jamaican-based project focusing on science, art, and community) that we support at *TBA21–Academy,* Comte came up with the idea of putting sculptures on the Jamaican seabed. They are both a hospitable surface for young corals to plant themselves on and also an attraction for divers. Find out more at https://contribute.to/alligator