Symposium: Allan Sekula. From the Panorama to the Detail
February 21–22, 2017, TBA21, Augarten, Vienna
“Fish Story follows two interwoven strands,” Sekula wrote in 1997, “both of which turn around questions of liminality and flux. First, it is a ‘documentary’ reading of contemporary maritime space. As both sea and land are progressively ‘rationalized’ by increasingly sophisticated industrial methods, does the ‘classic’ relation between terrestrial space and maritime space undergo a reversal? Does the sea become fixed and the land fluid? Second, Fish Story is an ‘art historical’ allegory of the sea as an object of representation. How does the sea ‘disappear’ from the cognitive and imaginative horizon of late modernity? Are there broader lessons to be drawn from this disappearance?” (Camera Austria, no. 59/60, p. 53)
Thinking and debating through three thematically linked panels, each of which includes and diverges from aspects of Sekula’s multifaceted output, and through a series of case studies tied to the investigation of the oceanic space, the symposium analyzes Sekula’s legacy from a variety of positions and seeks to contribute to its ongoing epistemological trajectory. The symposium also presents research conducted by The Current, TBA21–Academy’s itinerant exploratory fellowship program based in the Pacific, thereby linking TBA21’s divergent research activities. These framings are meant to carve out a space for discussion around the critical capacity for Sekula’s work in its historical, contemporary, and future contexts.
*Symposium held in English
Panel: Environmentalism and the Sea
Participants: Sabine Breitwieser, Carles Guerra Rojas, Francesca von Habsburg, and Gabriele Mackert
Moderated by Daniela Zyman
This panel examines natural and man-made disasters, exploitation, and their environmental and social impacts. It is grounded in Sekula’s series Black Tide / Marea Negra, a work that documents the aftermath of the Prestige oil spill in 2002, a disastrous event resulting from the sinking of an oil tanker, which released 81,000 tons of oil into the ocean off the coast of Galicia, Spain. Using Sekula’s dictum on the oceans as a “forgotten space,” which disappeared from the cognitive and imaginative horizon of late modernity, the discussion addresses recent analysis of the oceanic space in the framework of the Anthropocene, asking what changes in the sea could mean for the future of the planet.
Case Study #1: Nabil Ahmed
Inter-Pacific Tribunal (INTERPRT), Nuclear Pacific
Followed by conversation between Nabil Ahmed, Georg Eder, Markus Reymann, and Lisa Tabassi, among others.
The Inter-Pacific Ring Tribunal (Interprt) is an interdisciplinary project initiated by Nabil Ahmed for an alternative commission of inquiry to investigate patterns of environmental violence in the Pacific region associated with activities such as land-based mining, deep-sea mining, and nuclear weapons testing; their legality; and their impact on sovereignty. The project traces the Pacific ring of fire as an unstable and contingent frontier of human and more-than-human capitalist relations and proposes the design of an alternative tribunal for ecological justice. Ahmed’s presentation is followed by a conversation with experts including Lisa Tabassi, who from 2007 to 2014 served as chief of legal services for the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) and specializes in disarmament law.
Nabil Ahmed was a fellow of Ute Meta Bauer’s expeditions to Papua New Guinea (2015) and French Polynesia (2016) as part of The Current, TBA21–Academy’s itinerant exploratory fellowship program based in the Pacific. Working collaboratively across disciplines, the program merges the diverse approaches of artists, curators, scientists, and researchers, encouraging them to find innovative ways of addressing climate change.
Sally Stein, Ina Steiner, and Jeroen Verbeeck in conversation
Back to the Drawing Board
Maritime themes and discursive crosscurrents in Sekula’s Notebooks
Photo historian Sally Stein presents excerpts from a collection of Sekula’s personal notebooks and contextualizes her research in discussion with Sekula’s longtime archivist, Ina Steiner, and Sekula researcher Jeroen Verbeeck. These notebooks contain sketches, mind maps, ideas, and notes and were made in conjunction with Sekula’s artistic output, including as a logbook of his extensive travels.
Panel: Mutiny and Solidarity
Participants: Hermann Mückler, Boris Ondreička, Harry Sanderson, and Jeroen Verbeeck
Moderated by Cory Scozzari and Daniela Zyman
This panel investigates the (in)visibility and interchangeable materiality of labor; examines the spatial, infrastructural, and economic transformations of maritime economies (and their symmetrical land-based production sites); and inquires into the role of documentation and documentary. Taking as a starting point Sekula’s investigation of the term critical realism, it brings together practitioners to discuss his ideas and their own artistic or research-based projects. It addresses notions of mutiny and solidarity in creating sea-based narratives of heterotopia, expanding the notion of labor to include recent shifts in production chains as a result of technological transformations (like mining for rare-earth minerals) and looking at the relationship between the sea and dark ecology.
Case Study #2: screening of The Left-to-Die Boat, 2015 (17 min., directed by Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani)
With an introduction by Cory Scozzari and Clemens Rettenbacher
The Forensic Oceanography project was launched in summer 2011 to support a coalition of NGOs demanding accountability for the deaths of migrants in the central Mediterranean Sea while that region was being tightly monitored by the NATO-led coalition intervening in Libya. The efforts were focused on what is now known as the “left-to-die boat” case, in which sixty-three migrants lost their lives while drifting for fourteen days within the NATO maritime surveillance area. (from Forensic Oceanography)
Lottery of the Sea
Panel: Waterlogged: Film and Photography and the Sea
Participants: Florian Pumhösl, Anja Isabel Schneider, Florian Schneider, Andreas Spiegl, and Mercedes Vicente
Moderated by Cory Scozzari
Sekula employed film and the photographic medium to document the maritime space in the form of a hybrid “paraliterary reportage.” This aquatic dimension is further expanded to discuss the use of water in cinema and photography through works that use the sea as a stand-in for sublimity or use liquidity and flux to describe shape-shifting economic policy. The panel includes an analysis of Lottery of the Sea (2006), a filmic work included in the exhibition, and also explores the historical legacy of realism, outlining the ways in which Sekula’s photographic and filmic work both broke with this tradition and continued aspects of it.