Erna Lilje and Eben Kirksey, Flourishing with Undead Kin, 2015.

Issue #112
“the ocean”
With: Julieta Aranda, Chus Martínez, Markus Reymann, John Akomfrah, Mary Walling Blackburn, Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Latai Taumoepeau, Taloi Havini, Greg Dvorak, Ben Woodard, and Eben Kirksey

Issue #112 of e-flux journal is a special collaboration with TBA21–Academy, focused on the ocean as a living entity, an intersectional and intrinsically interconnected ecosystem of systems for coalitional imagination and collaborative inquiries. Our call in this issue of e-flux journal is simple. As the deck reshuffles, as our current forms of relation and isolation unravel, let’s keep this in mind: the entirety of the ocean. Not as a memory, but, like the mystic poets, let’s allow our senses to become ocean, so as to regain together a sense of all that is fundamental for our near times. It may be that oceanic feeling, and by extension the image of the ocean, are the best places to start rethinking the differentiation and order of hierarchies between human and nonhuman environments, and to elucidate to what point this differentiation is real, and to what point it is a construct. As we live through the cascading effect of a zoonotic disease, and as we see the images of the other inhabitants of our cities coming out to play now that so many are locked in, the need to answer here and now for our life on earth with others becomes clear.

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9 Essays October 2020
The Sea Is About Us
John Akomfrah

“We feel the floods surging over us; we sound with him to the kelpy bottom of the waters; sea-weed and all the slime of the sea is about us!” —Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Swim to Us
Mary Walling Blackburn

Now, in strata 2020, after the cytokine squall—both national and personal—parts of my brain seem to have floated away from one another … and I am suspended in an immensity that is something distinctly different from “being Someone.” Could this be a backdoor through and out of capitalism? For all whites to cease being Someone? I paw at the ground. The exit should be a trapdoor. A chute with no return.

The tsunami of colonialism was not seen as affecting humanity, but only these specific people. They were specific—what happened to them may have been necessary, regrettable, intentional, accidental—but it is always them. It is only when these ancestral histories became present for some, for those who had long benefited from the dispossession of other people’s labor, thought, and lands, that suddenly the problem is all of us, as human catastrophe. The phrase “all of us” is heard only after some of us feel the effects of these actions, experience the specific toxicities within which they have entangled the world. Let’s not have critical oceanic studies be taken by this con—not have an oceanic feeling be that which annihilates the specificity of how entanglements produce difference in order to erase the specific ancestral present.

The Last Resort: A Conversation
Latai Taumoepeau and Taloi Havini

When we’re looking at our Pacific Island nations, one of the things that holds us together is the body of ocean which we know as the Pacific—also a name that’s come from somebody else. That’s why it becomes crucial to look at the relationships we have as Pacific Island people to this body of water—the largest continent in the world.

Gathering Sea I Am!
Chus Martínez

While it would be wrong to think that when one says “ocean,” one is naming a “subject,” we might be so radical as to posit that to say “ocean” is, today, to say “art”—art without the burden of institutional life, without the ideological twists of cultural politics, art as a practice that belongs to artists, art facing the urgency of socializing with all who care about life. In other words, to say “ocean” is to replace the historical notion of the avant-garde with a code that is not determined by form and the invention of new gestures, but by an investigation of the substance of life, identifying this as the mission of art.

As my late friend and mentor Teresia Teaiwa, a scholar of Banaban and I-Kiribati heritage and one of Oceania’s greatest minds, punned in her own writing, it is essential to emphasize the urgency of specific notions—or rather “S/pacific n/oceans”—of Oceanian history and art: the specificities of genealogies, crossings, colonialisms, wars, struggles, and resilience of the people who live throughout the Great Ocean. I am interested in nudging this conversation beyond the ambiguities of the ocean to the specificities of Oceania, in order to foster more receptivity toward art and artists from this region.

Slime on a Wire
Ben Woodard

To see technology only as a form of anthropogenic violence would again ignore the generative synthesis of mechanistic analysis and materialist supposition. The denial of progress, even if limited to the technological output of human beings, requires treating technological objects both mechanically and materially, as well as demonstrating particular forces and matters. Or as philosopher Gilbert Simondon approached it, technology can be defined as a designed tool on the one hand and as having a life of its own on the other.

By speaking about the ocean, invoking some of the bodies that inhabit it, we invoke: the disappeared, the decaying, the poisoned, the waterlogged, the bodies that float back to the surface and haunt us.


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