top of page
  • Matilde Aranha

Interview: TBA21

Art as a floater into ocean literacy 

In September 2023, the Portuguese municipality of Oeiras made a European  manifesto come to life: Bauhaus of the Seas- a response to the European commission´s challenge to shatter the narrative of humans vs nature, an antagonism that obstructs a further understanding of the climate crisis.

The  three-day event Reading the ocean  materialised this vision by creating  a multidisciplinary  gathering to promote Ocean literacy. Reading the ocean was mobilised by a diverse group of consortium partners representatives  like  industrial design engineer Nicole Arthur and project-director Markus Reynmann  from TBA21- academy.   

With the beautiful set of the Palácio do Marquês behind us, Reynmann and Arthur introduced us to TBA21´s work as a mediator for collaborative inquiry, artistic production and environmental activism- making the information gathered from scientific research accessible to all.

Some of TBA21´S initiatives include Ocean Space, a planetary center located in Venice set for exhibitions and public programmes to incentivize critical ocean literacy and collaborative research ; as well as, a user based platform designed as a storytelling and pedagogical tool around the topic.  In 2022, TBA21 created a curatorial fellowship program named The current, which promoted research to go beyond the ocean to all bodies of water.  Most recently, this team was one the catalyzer´s into bringing Bauhaus of the seas to Portugal. 

The climate crisis is a divisive matter to say the least. People rarely come out from behind their perspective´s trenches. It seems like since this subject became relevant, there have permanently been two separate rooms: one full of activists on one end of the hallway and another  full of sceptics on the other end,  in an endless sleepover,  agreeing with their own group and cursing the contrary opinion all night long.

 Well, two rooms of opposers nodding their heads infinitely seems rather pointless.  What would be fruitful is  one room with both sides present. Politics should be the solutions and not the motives behind this schism.

Divisiveness without dialogue, leads to attempts at  dictatorship from one side to the other and counter-responses of rebellion and populism. It is a tale as old as time.  The edge´s of the spectrum further away when there is no meeting in the middle. And there are a lot of lunatics at the extremes of any matter.  Allowing yourself to be represented by that, devalues your cause whatever it may be.  Argue your case with reason. Facts are not to be neglected in favour of arousal in a debate. When you read a research, check their sources. When you hear activists, check their motives. 

Make room for those who disagree. Make a room full of people who disagree and you will find out what is true. - This is the impossible mission of TBA 21- Academy.  Here is how doing the impossible is going: 

Interviewer: Can you introduce us to TBA 21´s work?

Markus: TBA 21 is a contemporary art foundation founded in 2002 as a private collection that was always meant to live in the public sphere. In 2011, we started a program called TBA 21 Academy, which for 10 years looked exclusively at the oceans through the lens of art, in collaboration with scientists, policymakers, environmentalists, and indigenous colleagues.

Interviewer: What is the fundamental proposal of your project?

Markus: The proposal is that art and culture are super important in societal transformations. We've been dedicated for 20 years to social and environmental questions. The idea is to release radical proposals from the gallery space into the cityscape, engaging the public in new ways and imagining constituencies not only between humans but also with nonhumans.

Interviewer: Can you tell us about the challenges in your work?

Markus: One of the biggest challenges is multi-sector collaboration. Our organisations aren't set up for this; they're set up to compete, not collaborate. If we manage in this program to make people trust each other and imagine together a radically different set of goals, that would be a fantastic outcome.

Interviewer: How does TBA 21 approach its collaborations and projects?

Nicole: Our approach is to bring in artists at an early stage, not just as illustrators at the end of a scientific process. We're trying to create a new space where art and science can coexist and inform each other.

Interviewer: Could you give an example of a project that exemplifies TBA 21’s mission?

Nicole: One of our recent projects involved working with a group of artists and scientists on a research vessel. They explored the ocean, created art based on their experiences, and shared their findings with the public. This project highlighted the ocean's beauty and fragility, raising awareness and sparking conversations.

Interviewer: How do you measure the impact of your projects?

Markus: Impact measurement is tricky in our field. We look at engagement levels, feedback from participants and audiences, and the ongoing conversations that our projects spark. The true impact often unfolds over time.

bottom of page