AQUARIA — ​​​​​​​Or the Illusion of a Boxed Sea

Angela Rui

Or the Illusion of a Boxed Sea

The exhibition Aquaria – Or the Illusion of a Boxed Sea reflects on the possibilities and new questions that arisewe could come up against when rethinking our relationship with the marine world. Aquaria are devices that organise and represent marine life; they are complex systems which, in the paradigm of modernity and urbanisation, embody the transformation of nature into culture, with the help of of technology and capital. This separation of culture as an entity divorced from the organic-natural world stems from scientific and rational attempts to categorise and organise. However, these sorts of constructs that divide culture from nature are no longer convincing in the context of a new climate regime which appeals to new narratives that go beyond the hierarchies built around mankind and its exploration of resources and bodies.

Curated by Angela Rui, the exhibition path unfolds through 11 installations by artists, designers, filmmakers, composers and researchers, each offering different points of view to emphasise how the ways of understanding the marine environment were once envisaged and how they should be reconsidered today.

As part of the exhibition, a newly commissioned film by Armin Linke, shot entirely behind the scenes at Oceanário de Lisboa [Lisbon Oceanarium], examines the multidimensionality of aquatic architecture, in which the wonders of nature are displayed through hidden, well-orchestrated technology. 

Historical documentation from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day establishes a dialogue with the contemporary pieces, contextualising Western-based positions and thematic insights into institutional policies, naturalistic displays, the links with the great World’s Fairs, scientific expeditions and colonial and extractive activities with regard to other geographies.

Looking at the nature of aquaria and the distinct relationship between technical spaces and scenes, the setup designed by 2050+ examines the notions of interface and threshold by showcasing two categories of spatial devices: an industrial system of displays to accommodate the research material and a fluid sequential layout to orchestrate the artists’ installations. The installation acts as an exploded aquarium, where hierarchical relationships are neutralised.

The visual identity and graphic project developed by Studio òbelo aims to unsettle the viewer’s gaze by generating rousing a self-reflective awareness of the ambiguities of perception, taking the Necker cube figure (1832) as a point of departure and conceptualising the aquarium as a series of impossible cubes. 

Includes projects by Revital Cohen & Tuur Van Balen, Julien Creuzet, Simon Denny, Marjolijn Dijckman & Toril Johannessen, Michela de Mattei, Alice dos Reis, Eva Jack, Joan Jonas, Armin Linke, Superflex and Stef Veldhuis

Curated by Angela Rui
Research and archive assistance: Martina Motta
Local research contribution: Marta Jecu
Exhibition design: 2050+ (Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, Massimo Tenan, Guglielmo Campeggi)
Graphic design: òbelo (Claude Marzotto, Maia Sambonet)

With the support of:
ifa – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen  
Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Lisbona  
Goethe Institut Portugal 

Special commission by Armin Linke developed with the scientific support of:
Oceanário de Lisboa / Fundação Oceano Azul 

Archive materials from:
Biblioteca del Museo di Storia Naturale e dell'Acquario - Milano, Biblioteca Sormani - Milano, Historical Diving Society Italia, Biblioteca Central de Marinha - Lisboa, Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, Arquivo da Marinha Portugal, Hemeroteca Municipal de Lisboa, Aquária Vasco da Gama Lisboa, Arquivo Municipal de Lisboa