As students all over the world held a global climate strike, the Church of San Lorenzo opened its ancient doors to Ocean Space, a new center that spotlights the critical state of the planet’s oceans. The synchronicity amazed Markus Reymann, Director of TBA21-Academy. “It was sheer coincidence that these forces converged at the same time.”
Most people know fish only on a plate, and Ocean Space wants to change that. TBA21-Academy was founded by activist art collector Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza and Markus Reymann to connect thought-leaders to develop solutions for the oceans’ most urgent issues. A deep believer in channeling wealth into philanthropy, Francesca is determined to focus global attention on the state of the seas. “No ocean, no species. People do not realize how much they can do through their network and skill system to make a difference.”
The first project presented by Ocean Space is “Moving Off the Land II” by the renowned American artist, Joan Jonas, celebrated for her work in performance and video. Commissioned by TBA21-Academy and curated by Stefanie Hessler, the installation is the culmination of three years of intensive research in aquariums all over the world as well as in the waters off the coast of Jamaica. Inside the vast Church of San Lorenzo you can take a deep dive by watching videos created with that special Joan Jonas magic, which combine the voices of young people, poetry, prose and underwater images of mermaids and sea creatures with luminous footage shared by marine biologist David Gruber. At the inauguration on March 23, Joan was with her ever-present poodle, Ozu, curled at her feet as she spoke. “Did you know that fish like to be petted, like dogs?”
Trailblazing oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle was the first woman to walk the ocean floor 1,500 feet below the surface. She and Joan Jonas are both octogenarians and have a wealth of wisdom to impart. They met for the first time at the inauguration. Sylvia said, “We almost destroyed the whales out of ignorance. The good news is that there are more whales today than when I was a child because there was a global effort to save them. We must educate the public. You can’t care about something if you don’t know about it.”
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Also on hand was the prominent marine biologist and conservationist Jeremy B.C. Jackson. “I am involved because I’m hoping that artists can communicate what scientists have failed to do: the modern environment is in crisis.”
The 16th-century Church of San Lorenzo was built over an even more ancient church whose foundation stretched back to Byzantine times, and was rumored to be the place where the Venetian explorer Marco Polo was buried. Closed for more than a century except for temporary installations, the church was badly in need of repair.
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Since 2016, TBA21-Academy has worked to return the structure to the community. The church has not been restored to Palladian splendour, but rather “revitalized” -- in fact, Joan insisted that the scaffolding remain as part of her installation. Overseen by restoration expert Gionata Rizzi together with engineer Franco Pianon, they have stabilized the edifice, completely replaced the ceiling and filled the gaping hole in the floor in such a way to protect previous archeological excavations.
In early May, coinciding with the vernissage of the Venice Biennale, Ocean Space hosts special presentations, including a performance by Joan Jonas on May 7. “Moving Off the Land II” runs from March 24 through September 29, 2019 when the Church of San Lorenzo closes to undergo additional work on its interior, relaunching in spring 2020. “This is not a museum of the past, but a laboratory for the future,” said Markus Reymann.
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