22 Apr 2023 - 05 Nov 2023

Thus Waves Come in Pairs

Ocean Space


TBA21–Academy presents Thus waves come in pairs, an exhibition comprising two new commissions opening at Ocean Space in Venice for the 2023 exhibition program, curated by Barbara Casavecchia, a Venice and Milan-based independent curator and writer. The exhibition features American-Lebanese, Paris-based artist Simone Fattal and Berlin-based artist duo Petrit Halilaj & Álvaro Urbano. The new installation by Halilaj & Urbano is co-commissioned by TBA21–Academy and Audemars Piguet Contemporary.

The title of the exhibition, Thus waves come in pairs, is a line from the poem Sea and Fog by Etel Adnan. It refers to the necessity of thinking of, and thinking with plurality and exchanges, which informed the third edition of the curatorial fellowship program The Current (2021–23), led by Barbara Casavecchia and focused on the Mediterraneans, which this exhibition and its public program concludes. In September 2021, The Current III surfaced in Venice, at Ocean Space, as a transdisciplinary exercise in sensing by supporting situated projects, collective pedagogies and voices along the Mediterranean basin across art, culture, science, conservation, and activism. It evolved in the generative format of walks, performances, podcasts, conversations, and field trips, and built platforms for collaborative thinking (all available on Ocean-Archive.org: ocean- archive.org/collection/286). Its journey, starting with a conversation between Etel Adnan and Simone Fattal, and inviting contributions by Jumana Emil Abboud, Omar Berrada, Barbara Casavecchia, Pietro Consolandi, Övül Ö. Durmuşoğlu, Petrit Halilaj & Álvaro Urbano, Zeyn Joukhadar, Ibrahim Nehme, and Giovanna Silva, with a foreword by Markus Reymann, is shared in the book “Thus Waves Come in Pairs. Thinking with the Mediterraneans” published by Sternberg Press.

The Mediterraneans are a plural and polycentric site of knowledge production, where epistemic questions on who creates narratives around it, and from which perspective and shores, are central. The Current III is an evolution of Barbara Casavecchia’s conception of the site-specific approach deepening its engagement with artistic practices and local ecological knowledges. Focused on the rapidly changing climate around the Mediterranean basin – occurring at a pace 20 percent faster than anywhere else on the planet, with the expansion of drought areas, the disruption of the water cycles and proliferation of heat waves – the program calls for reorienting, and registering “the limits of our own apparatuses of knowledge”, as Iain Chambers and Marta Cariello write in their essay “The Mediterranean Question: Thinking with the Diver”. With their works, created for the exhibition, Simone Fattal and Petrit Halilaj & Álvaro Urbano tell us stories leading to imagined futures in which our understanding of the world is transformed by the encounters with other species. They invite us to listen to the multiplicity of intelligences.

Simone Fattal

East Wing

Sempre il mare, uomo libero, amerai! (Free man, you’ll love the ocean endlessly!), Simone Fattal’s installation in the east wing of Ocean Space, is titled after a verse from the poem L’homme et la mer by Charles Baudelaire, describing the waves of the sea as a mirror for the soul. In the French original, la mer (the sea) is a feminine entity that generates and nourishes. It is a call to lay a loving gaze on nature – of which we are a part – and meditate on the constant changes that bind us.

Two sculptures occupy the empty niches of the large Baroque altar. Against the backdrop of a mirrored surface, a tondo bears the famous exhortation in ancient Greek γνῶθι σεαυτόν (gnōthi seautón, know thyself) that was inscribed on the temple of Apollo at Delphi. In the other niche, stands Young Boy, a figure of a young man who appears to interrogate us about the future.

Bricola, a large earthenware sculpture in rich natural hues (inspired to the eponymous Venetian wooden poles that guide boats through the lagoon’s ecosystem), evokes navigation. The two monumental figures, separated and joined by a Golden Sea in glass tiles, are Máyya and Ghaylán, a couple of lovers celebrated in classic Arab poetry, as well as in folktales and legends spread throughout the Islamic world. In the Persian Gulf, their story is that of two owners of a flotilla of vessels engaged in the pearl trade. Máyya has faster ships, which make her excel. One day, observing the wings of a dragonfly resting on his shoulder, Ghaylán realises how to harness the wind. He thus invents sails and outruns his beloved’s boats. Will humans be able to continue to find solutions by learning from nature?

On the pearly spheres in pink Murano glass, runs an inscription in lingua franca, a mixed language that borrowed terms from Italian, Arabic, French and Spanish, once spoken by merchants, pirates, prisoners and slaves all along the Mediterranean shores. It reproduces the text of its earliest attested example, the “Contrasto della Zerbitana” (The conflict with the Woman of Djerba), a 14th century anonymous poem consisting in a verbal duel between a sailor and the mother of the woman he has abused, taking place on the island of Djerba, off the coast of Tunisia. Poetry is a fecund vessel of transmission from one language to another, from one culture and temporality to another. The “Contrasto” brings to the surface the repressed complexities of the colonial past and neo-colonial present of the Mediterraneans, impossible to narrate through a single story.

“There are many Mediterraneans: the geographical, the historical, the philosophical… the personal, the one we swim in. It’s an experience to swim, it is something you can’t explain to somebody who never swam. This feeling of being held up by this water,’ says poet Etel Adnan, Fattal’s companion until her recent passing.

Petrit Halilaj & Álvaro Urbano

West Wing

In the west wing of the San Lorenzo Church, Berlin-based artists Petrit Halilaj (b. 1986) and Álvaro Urbano (b. 1983), present a new installation titled Lunar Ensemble for Uprising Seas. This is an evolving ecosystem comprising over 40 large-scale sculptures of hybrid aquatic, terrestrial, and aerial creatures, set beneath an egg-shaped moon that appears to have the same materiality as the walls of the former church. It is a co-commission between TBA21Academy and Audemars Piguet Contemporary and highlights the two programs’ parallel missions: to support artists in research and artistic production, which encourages dialogue and imaginative thinking for a global audience.

Lunar Ensemble for Uprising Seas is inspired by a popular song in Spain titled Ay mi pescadito, where young fish go to school at the bottom of the sea to study forms of survival and belonging. The artists have created an installation which explores cohesion as well as resistance or disharmony between different species, or between living organisms and objects. The sculptures range in scale and shape, with no creature being realistic to this world. All are in a state of evolution with a mix of features for survival underwater, on land as well as in the sky. The sculptures’ metallic skins reflect the sunlight onto the church’s walls, ceilings, and floors, modifying the perception of the space over the day. All the sculptures double as musical instruments, producing sounds from music boxes and other DIY techniques, however only human interaction makes them come to life with sound. Together, they attempt a “melody” inspired by the song Ay mi pescadito and under-water noises, which do not easily harmonize. The difficulty in achieving a perfect melody mirrors the complexity of creating perfect synchrony in the material world.

Above the creatures, a large egg-shaped sculpture hangs from the ceiling and seems to be floating in the space. The egg is covered with chalky material that resembles the walls of the building. Its materiality symbolizes how everything can be reused and transformed as part of the cyclical nature of our world. It evokes possibilities of alternative future forms of life, transformation, and parenthood to be reimagined in order to break the notion of fixed or stable “natural” identities that in human societies results in systemic discrimination of queer individuals and families.

Throughout the exhibition run, a cast of musicians and performers will activate the installation at varying durations and intervals. In between performances, gull costumes, which Halilaj and Urbano will wear for two appearances, will be situated within the exhibition, welcoming visitors to the space as sculptures. They represent creatures from the Venice lagoon observing the evolving ecosystem from above. It is the gulls which coordinate the shared performance, bringing the collective action of the creatures together.

Halilaj and Urbano worked closely with the curatorial team at Audemars Piguet Contemporary and Casavecchia to develop the creation of the co-commissioned installation. The duo shares a life together in Berlin yet typically maintain separate practices. This project is a unique opportunity to see the artists’ work together on a large-scale installation. Like previous works, this installation explores and negotiates the space between two realities: the human and the natural world. Both of their practices imbue personal, playful elements that work to ask questions of societal norms.

Curatorial note

“Thus waves come in pairs” reads the line in a poem by Etel Adnan after which this exhibition, set up in the twin wings of Ocean Space, was titled. It reminds us that we need to think and rethink in plural ways and practice forms of togetherness. Waves carry and transmit energy. When they meet an obstacle, a reflection is born. When they meet each other, an interference. They bring with them a movement that shatters binary separations such as land and water, wet and dry, and human and nonhuman. They reshuffle and dissolve the fixity of boundaries and paradigms. “Water is the closest thing to our mind. We touch it and it is not there; we hold it and it runs away,” Adnan says. Like waves, contemporary physics tells us, we are the result of mutual interactions. From the Ocean we can learn that the relationships between living beings and ecosystems are plural, fluid, and constantly changing, just like the climate, which around the Mediterranean basin is changing at a rate twenty percent faster than the rest of the planet. In this hotspot heat also moves in waves, above and below sea level, where temperatures continue to rise and living conditions constantly change, along with water cycles and expanding aridity. Can we attune with this ongoing movement and the subtlety of its balances to guard them and to adapt, together with the living beings with whom we coexist? In their works, created for this exhibition, Simone Fattal and Petrit Halilaj and Álvaro Urbano tell us stories that lead us to imagine futures in which our understanding of the world is transformed by our encounters with other species. They invite us to listen to the multiplicityofintelligences. (B.Casavecchia)

Press release from TBA21–Academy