Help us develop our program and catalyze critical ocean literacy by donating below

Skip to navigation Skip to main content



The oceans are changing very fast, yet knowledge of them is moving slowly and is enveloped in long-established forms of cultural separation and distinction between human activities at land and at sea. This division needs to be rethought to address the urgent and vast transformations that the seas are undergoing. ­– Territorial Agency

May 3, 2021 will mark the re-opening of "Territorial Agency: Oceans in Transformation" curated by Daniela Zyman. The second chapter of this research exhibition raises a number of new questions and visual methods developed in collaboration with an open research community of ocean thinkers and practionners in the course of 2020.

Responding to the exploratory proposal by Territorial Agency, namely how art can recombine the fragmented knowledges which investigate the rapidly changing global oceans, a series of meandering collaborative examinations called Messy Studios were summoned to join in a polyphony of theoretical and practical investigations. These gatherings were colored by the epidemic governance, the unfolding “climate” of antiblackness, anti-democratic maneuverings, and the push-back against environmental concerns that marked much of 2020. These unprecedented intensities have shaped "Oceans in Transformation", and it now focalizes new materials and arguments, contributing to a deeper and more elaborate installation version.

Territorial Agency: Oceans in Transformation commissioned by TBA21-Academy. Rapid urbanisation in China affects the Yangtze river plume near Shanghai. ESA Sentinel 2 data.
© Territorial Agency

"Territorial Agency: Oceans in Transformation" synthesizes three years of intersectional research, commissioned by TBA21–Academy that investigates the transformation of the world oceans as a result of reckless and exploitative human activities. Assessing the latest scientific knowledge, the project reiterates the critical role of the oceans in respect to planetary survival. TBA21–Academy and Territorial Agency have collaborated with a network of researchers and institutions to give exposure to new forms of visibility and understanding of the ocean brought by science, culture, and art.

Departing from an analysis of global sea-level rise, one of the most visible sign of climate emergency, Oceans in Transformation considers the oceans as a sensorium; that is, a sensing body which absorbs and registers the intensified activities of humans in its circulations, ecosystems and dynamics. At the same time, it is being registered by different cultural, economic, scientific, legal, and conservationist groups in their efforts to understand the changes the oceans are undergoing. Noticing these pervasive transformations sets a whole new agenda, one that addresses human and nonhuman needs, with deep care, imagination, and far-sightedness.

Sea level rise, intensification of maritime transport, overfishing, depletion of coastal ecosystems, deep-sea mining, sea-floor trawling, oil exploration, extraction, migration, changing ocean circulations, militarization, and melting ice are some of the ecocidal transformations that the research project traces and registers. By superimposing and interconnecting – conceptually and visually – the spatial inscriptions and reconfigurations they create, Oceans in Transformation rearranges the maritime space as a stage for human violence, empire, and colonial history. What emerges is a new figure where environmental and economic processes are deeply intertwined.

Territorial Agency—Oceans in Transformation commissioned by TBA21-Academy. The rapid depletion of the coastal ecosystems of the Mississippi Delta, combined with sea level rise scenarios. © Territorial Agency

The exhibition is on view until August 29, 2021, and will be further activated during the Venice Biennale of Architecture, opening in May 2021, connecting and contextualizing the exhibition with Territorial Agency’s research selected as part of the central pavilion entitled As One Planet, alongside the work of Olafur Eliasson, Sheila Kennedy, James Wescoat and others. On this occasion, the publication OCEANS Rising, a capacious accompaniment to the research conducted by Territorial Agency on the rapidly changing oceans and the intricate dialogue with a group of Ocean Fellows and invited scholars and artists held over several months during the outbreak of the Covid pandemics, will be presented to the public.

Unfoldings. A Research Dossier on Seven Trajectories of Territorial Agency: Oceans in Transformation

Territorial Agency: Oceans in Transformation, exhibition view at Ocean Space, Venice, 2021. Territorial Agency: Oceans in Transformation is commissioned by TBA21−Academy and co-produced with Luma Foundation. Photo: gerdastudio.


Founded by the architects Ann-Sofi Rönnskog and John Palmesino, Territorial Agency is an independent organisation that combines architecture, spatial analysis, advocacy, and action to influence change in the inhabited environment. In keeping with TBA21–Academy’s commitment to fostering a deeper understanding of the oceans through the lens of art and other cultural practices, Oceans in Transformation articulates new ways of decoding the oceans. Material and conceptual inquiries are the key elements of the research commission, instigating new cultural, ocean-centric forms of knowledge.

"Territorial Agency: Oceans in Transformation" is commissioned by TBA21–Academy and co-produced with Luma Foundation.