TBA21–Augarten
Vienna, Austria
21 February  – 14 May, 2017

“Most sea stories are allegories of authority. In this sense alone politics is never far away.” — Allan Sekula 

Allan Sekula: OKEANOS is a monographic exhibition that explores the legacy of Allan Sekula (American, 1951–2013) by charting the artist’s research into the world’s largest and increasingly fragile hydrosphere: our oceans. The exhibition title is a reference to the figure of Okeanos – the son of Gaia, the mythical goddess of the earth – who ruled over the oceans and water. His aquatic perspective – from and of the oceans – represents a shift of focus that counters the terrestrial narratives of even the most advanced contemporary discourses on the environment. 

Drawing from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21) collection, the exhibition features a selection of seminal works from Sekula’s multi-faceted oeuvre. Three chapters from Sekula’s magnum opus “Fish Story” evocatively document maritime spaces and the effects of globalization. By describing shifting labor locations and relations, complexities of containerization, shipping logistics and economic pressures, “Fish Story” weaves observations of global socio-political and economic configurations and explores histories of the seas. 

Other important works featured in the exhibition include two films: “Tsukiji” 2001, and “Lottery of the Sea” 2006, as well as photographic works from Sekula’s series “Black Tide / Marea negra” 2002–03: “Large and small disasters” (Islas Cíes and Bueu, 12-20-02), 2002–2003 and “Self-portrait” (Lendo, 12-22-02), 2002–03. 

Francesca von Habsburg, founder of TBA21, notes, “Allan Sekula’s photography, films and writing open a window to the reality of life at sea. Sekula not only highlighted the ugliness of exploitation, he also revealed the beauty of the ordinary, of the everyday. His thoughtful work is a testament to resistance and to hope, and it plays a vital role in understanding the challenges facing our embattled oceans.” 

Allan Sekula: OKEANOS forms part of TBA21’s year-long series of events, exhibits, talks and performances dedicated to promoting the oceans, their inhabitants and cultural history through the arts. TBA21 Year of the Oceans aims to expand public understanding of our oceans, seas and coastal areas, which together form an essential component of the global life-support system. 

Allan Sekula’s legacy

Throughout his career as an artist, Sekula pioneered an expanded and critical practice, alongside his engagements as theorist, photographic historian, filmmaker and educator. Through these activities he was able to lead a prolific and deeply political career. 

Sekula’s legacy and his pointed exploration of global ocean-bound trade, serves as a case-study for understanding the environmental, political and social interconnectedness of our oceans. 

For many decades, Sekula passionately investigated the exploitative geopolitical constellations and labor relations active on seas, ports and harbors, which – almost invisibly – manage the shipment and distribution of goods in a highly interconnected world. His work highlights the oceans’ pivotal function in the world’s industrial systems and speaks to the vulnerability of its ecosystems and the social and personal precariousness of the actors engaged in these sea-based industries. 

Sekula’s work epitomizes a profoundly thoughtful reflection on the nature of the image and its implications in the systems and institutions of archives. It offers a thorough investigation and a comprehensive archive of the seas, charting the many networks and interconnections of economy, politics, social conditions and ecology, while reshaping the system of knowledge itself.