Aquatopia is a major exhibition of contemporary and historic art that explores how the ocean deep has been imagined across cultures and through time. The exhibition and the accompanying book reveal how human societies have projected their sexual desires, their will to power, and their fear of difference and mortality onto the often mysterious and weird life-forms the ocean sustains. The ocean deep, in this exhibition, is a dream-state, akin to the unconscious. At the same time, its mythologies represent far-reaching historical processes.
Aquatopia’s briny depths are populated with ancient sea monsters and futuristic dolphin embassies, sirens and paramilitary gill-men, sperm whales and water babies, shipwrecks and submersibles, giant squid and lecherous octopuses. The ocean’s fantastical species will be represented by iconic paintings, drawings and sculptures by JMW Turner, Marcel Broodthaers, Oskar Kokoshka, Barbara Hepworth, Odilon Redon, Lucian Freud and Hokusai, amongst others. It also includes video, performance, sculpture and painting by more recent significant figures in contemporary art such as Mark Dion, Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Sean Landers, The Otolith Group, Simon Starling and Wangechi Mutu.
At Tate St Ives, the exhibition travels to the very edge of the ocean, occupying all of the gallery’s spectacular spaces, overlooking Porthmeor beach. Presented in collaboration with Nottingham Contemporary, the exhibition at Tate St Ives has been curated by Alex Farquharson, Director of Nottingham Contemporary, with Martin Clark, Tate St Ives’s former Artistic Director and Director of Bergen Kunsthalle. Featuring over two hundred artworks, as well as various aquatic artefacts and curios, the exhibition has been supported by loans from museums and private collectors, including Victoria & Albert Museum, National Maritime Museum and Tate’s own collection.
The art in Aquatopia has strong links with powerful literary archetypes, including The Odyssey, The Tempest, The Ancient Mariner, Moby Dick and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The richly illustrated catalogue, published by Nottingham Contemporary and Tate St Ives, in association with Tate Publishing, will include newly commissioned and recent critical essays by leading thinkers and writers on the sea from various disciplines, including Philip Hoare, Marcus Rediker, Marina Warner, Kodwo Eshun, Simon Grant, David Toop and Celeste Olalquiaga, as well as numerous literary works.