Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza has created a new frontier for art: the Ocean


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Seal levels

One of the barrage of threats to contemporary mankind is the threat of rising sea levels.

Threat in Venice



They say this will be such that by the end of the century it is due to trigger the migration of over a billion people. And if there’s one place where this threat is more evident day by day then it’s Venice, with its famous phenomenon of “acqua alta”, where the waters flow right up to St. Mark’s Square and gently flood the city throughout the year.

Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza

It’s no coincidence that it is in the heart of La Serenissima (can we still call it that?) that the collector Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, daughter of the baron with abundant art collections who gave his name to a museum in Madrid, formerly Francesca von Habsburg, the name of her ex-husband and heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, founded Ocean Space, an outpost of her art foundation TBA 21, which houses the TBA 21 Academy, a site that opened last year.

TBA21 Academy

She calls it “an academy for catalysing ocean literacy, research and advocacy through the arts.”

“We are remarkably terrestrial beings,” explains Francesca. “I wanted to look at things from the perspective of the oceans.”


Think big

Francesca thinks big. Over a dozen years she embarked upon explorations on boat around the antipodes, like in Papua and New Zealand, with scientists cohabiting alongside artists.

Venetian church

San Lorenzo
San Lorenzo

Today, Ocean Space is located in an impressive 17th-century Venetian church, San Lorenzo, which appears to have been Vivaldi’s favourite as a venue for his concerts, which had long been abandoned and was leased to Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza for 10 years by the local council on the condition that she undertake major restoration works – they went on for two and a half years – and that it would be open to the public. It is also the site where Marco Polo’s parents were buried and where people have been digging in vain to try and find the remains of their illustrious son.

Territorial Agency
Territorial Agency

Joan Jonas

So after filling in the gaping holes in the ground, which were the size of swimming pools, TBA 21’s exhibitions are now being staged at San Lorenzo. 2019 was dedicated to the pioneering performance art of American Joan Jonas in dialogue with the oceans for this occasion.

Territorial Agency

At the end of August 2020 an exhibition opened entitled “Oceans in Transformation” by an architect collective called Territorial Agency, mainly led by John Palmesino and Ann Sofi Rönnskog. They are not architects in the usual sense of being creators of buildings; rather they are thinkers and teachers.

Oceans in transformation

At San Lorenzo they have conceived a unique show, curated by Daniela Zyman from Vienna, composed of 30 large screens that preside beneath the 26 meter high ceiling of the majestic edifice. This is a forward-looking exhibition, a hybrid proposition that is both aesthetic and documentary in nature.

Vast amount of data

Territorial Agency
Territorial Agency

The concept is difficult to access at first, because it is inventing a new form and it is accompanied by few explanations. In fact, Territorial Agency have compiled vast amounts of data on the ocean over 3 years, from the commercial traffic to the exploitation of natural resources on the sea floors, via the slavery routes. They are transcribed across seven geographical itineraries.

The aura of scientific data

The satellite images of these moving fragments of planet are mysteriously beautiful, accompanied by the aura that usually surrounds scientific data that is incomprehensible to us.

Markus Reymann

Yet they are all true, according to the director of the TBA 21 Academy Markus Reymann.

He also points out that the ocean covers 72% of the planet but that much of it remains unknown to us. “Oceans in Transformation” presents us with enigmatic and poetic technological images of this vast enigmatic and poetic area of the world.


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