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Thyssen-Bornemisza Art

E M B R A C I N G  T H E  A B Y S S :

K I N S H I P  W I T H  T H E  U N K N O W N

Published at Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Academy (TBA21-Academy) Ocean Archive Journeys for the 2023 Fall semester “Culturing the Deep Sea: Towards a common heritage for allkind”.

Curatorial & Research by Pietro Consolandi, Mekhala Dave, Taloi Havini, Fiona Middleton, Markus Reymann, Khadija Stewart

The Deep Sea is a challenge of sorts, where if daring to be truthful, we are faced with the difficult nature of this relationship. Within their depths, the meaning these convey to us: that is the issue, and the pull. Nature, and our own inevitable, ever-evolving characteristics and darkness mark mysterious, unforeseeable change. Our rhythms and patterns remain largely unknown, to many: not so much due to their unpredictability, but for our lack of attention. Our nature — no separation required between the I and the Sea — has many facets, with easy and arduous ones requiring skills for a smooth relationship to endure. Yet, it is also in our nature to have a limited knowledge of things: no one knows it all. Thus, it’s easy to comprehend how storylines of extraction and control play, every day, in our relationships: to each other, to more than humans, to the Deep Sea. “I am this, and you are that”, we can separately say to the Sea, in anger or greed. It feels impossible. Most of us look at its vastness from above, whether on land or surface. It can feel unsettling, incomprehensible, or as meeting the divine without a proper guide. In my personal experience, in this rupture, the Deep Sea offers a bewildering reply: an invitation to look deeper, beyond words, thoughts, actions, and concepts, into feeling, towards an intimacy with things.


The Deep Sea can be an embodiment and metaphor of “the other”, the unfamiliar,; so how can we engage with what we don’t know? Particularly at this moment, when both Deep Sea extraction threats and climate change are pervasive issues for humankind and many species, how can we better navigate this uneasiness, outside and within? If we take a wider view, we may notice this challenge happens with every relationship we embrace, independent of its sphere, personal and professional, with humans and more than humans: there is always the possibility of failure and loss. Yes, it might happen: even the easiest relationships might fail, either others or ourselves will disappear first; why bother with unfathomable ones? 


Pragmatically, we don’t have a choice. Much of our survival depends on the quality of our relationship to the complex interconnections among beings and elements within planetary ecosystems, including the depth of the Sea. Even if Western science can’t precisely pinpoint the details of this functioning yet, we do know that as a species, we have lived most of our existence relating directly to nature; a minority of us still do, and their kinship can be measured in tangible results, such as biodiversity, community and overall ecosystem health. Western culture has a long history of unhealthy modes of relation, in which aggression and evasion dominate fearful behaviour responses to an extent, within ourselves and in how we relate to more than humans and the environment. But we do share another pull: as mammals, affection, bonding and care are primal drives, indispensable and rewarding. Indigenous People’s wisdom, some spiritual, religious, cultural and Western disciplines have, throughout time, cultivated values and conducts that seed these behaviours towards each other and nature, with respect, gratitude and  profound consideration of interrelations for the quality of our lives: our physical, emotional and spiritual thrive. It’s pertinent to note that beyond the fight or flight responses to stress identified in humans, the behavioural pattern of tending and befriending has been identified, particularly in females, by Shelley Taylor. All of this underlines our relational abilities, which cultural practices have the responsibility to adopt and expand.


If unpredictability and limited knowledge are central points of departure, discomfort, and, very often, fear and prejudice, we are also deeply motivated by the meaning and purpose of cultivating values and consciously embedding those in our relationships. The movement towards the unknown is made of curiosity: a non-judgemental act of presence and awareness. The respect and nurturing we need to broaden towards others blooms from embodying emotional bonds and values, ours —  to reflect and choose. Approaching relationships with altruism and empathy, from a caring core, allows for a wider understanding of our shared interconnection, and for an expansion of our place in the world. We, too, become more vast and integrative in the effort towards the field of discovery of the more than we know. Pivotal in these engagements with the unseen is the practice of a heartfelt sense of respect; the willingness to move towards deeper layers of meaning —, in the community —; the sharing of joy, beauty and awe. Towards the seen and unseen, language is fundamental. For the processes and awareness it brings — to ourselves and others. We are constantly evolving, in our tellings and interactions. Committing to the Deep Sea puts us in a better position to grow the healthy relationships we need, to change narratives and history, between humans and beyond.

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