04 Oct 2018 - 01 Avril 2019

 MAAT (Museum of Arts, Architecture and Technology) Lisbon

Curators: Pedro Gadanho, Marta Jecu

Project realised in collaboration with Gallery Kamel Mennour Paris






'We are sinking. We are sinking, as individuals, as participants in a field that is sinking along with us, as members of a species, and as components in a massive, global ecological network. But we are not sinking because of the malevolence of natural forces, not because the sand is hungry for us and for our horses (...) We are not sinking because whales and monstrous fish want to swallow us whole, not because the strange beings of the sea wish harm on us, nor because the sea itself is vengeful, though “the water comes,” and who could blame it? We are sinking because of our collective hunger and callousness. As dwellers in the anthropocene, we can already see it all around us.' (Simon Mittman 2017)


Tadashi Kawamata's installation at MAAT Lisbon confines this beginning-end-beginning loop which brings on the shores of a museum the shipwrecked hybrid configuration of the perpetually returning debris of human civilisation. The world of the inanimate uncannily outlasts the human dimension.


Beaches are the paradigmatic place of mutual rejection and encounter of the human and natural dimensions, of the 'own' and the 'foreign'. A very interesting question regarding 'otherness' arises: as the seas reject pollution, the beaches deliver us back not unknown bodies from the sea's abyss, but mainly our own civilisational wretches – those which we couldn't tame and understand – our own garbage. The 'other' is not any longer the unknown natural realm, but turns to be paradoxically a mirror of our un-escapable 'self' and exposes our own ecological failures.


Tadashi Kawamata's project in MAAT is a three-fold endeavour. The installation is the consequence of years long confrontations of the artist with questions regarding ocean ecology, natural catastrophe, ecologic catastrophe, which he has explored during his career in site specific works world-wide. On the other hand the work produced in Lisbon is preceded by a thorough preoccupation for the situation found in -situ, which Kawamata has been exploring along many visits and data collection in Lisbon in the past year. The debris which flows into this installation was collected on Portugal's coast near Lisbon in 2018, during different campaigns by Brigada do Mar1 – a volunteer organisation which regularly contributes to the cleaning of the beaches of Portugal. From them we learn about a global circulation of garbage in the world's seas: what we find on the shores of Portugal is waste produced by many continents. The boats shipwrecked inside Kawamata's installation talk as well about questions related to global tourism and its fatal consumption of natural resources. Deposited in the warehouses of the town-hall of Almada, which generously supported this project, these found mountains of garbage have passed also through the laboratory of Espacialistas2 – a team of architects and researchers – who, in collaboration with Tadashi Kawamata studied the hybrid configurations that the ocean, its movements and artificial components formed progressively from the wasted fragments. Applying the principles of these fusion pieces produced by the ocean, the student workshop with Espacialistas created new modules, which the artist incorporated into his installation.


When contemplating Tadashi Kawamata's under water environment in the MAAT where the viewer does hardly know his own point of perspective – on shore or off, floating or already submerged, outdoors or in an indoors artificial environment – two questions arise:

'Which is our conscious position in relation to Nature?' and 'What is the role of the museum in this relation?'



The Natural History Museum was historically the site where a world that did not surrender to humanity’s desire for authority was slowly by slowly tamed. Colonial campaigns directed towards the surrender of distant cultures went hand in hand with the domestication of the seas not only by navigating and plundering them, but mostly by studying and representing them. This historically conflictual relationship between the technology of submission and knowledge formation and a perpetually sovereign and changing nature – is transported by contemporary eco-critique. It is in fact the sea itself which carries us back to our own representation of it. In Tadashi Kawamata's installation, the museum is over flown by the near-by sea, exhibiting not the remains of a scientific order constructed over centuries, but a hybrid artificial monster expelling yet unknown morphologies – forms, materialities, colours – results of atomic fusions with devastating finalities.


The idea of recurrence and over-flow – the constant return of human input as part of larger ecological movements – that Tadashi Kawamata's installation talks about, is a prominent theme in science-fiction. We can here think of Nautilus, the submarine of Captain Nemo in Jules Verne's novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870). This underwater museum in which he collects the treasures of the underworld, impersonates his critique and estrangement of his own society and its cultural values. But for Celeste Olalquiaga, Nemo's versatile and uterine museum represents at the same time the pragmatism and voyeurism of the 19th century and incarnates the project of modernity: substituting tradition with technological progress and the individual's consequent alienation (Olalquiaga 2011).


The museum installation of Tadashi Kawamata can be also seen through the prism of a long tradition of environment art and its rejection-attraction dialogue with the museum. Relevant can be in this context the terms launched by Robert Smithson: 'non-site' versus 'site', which announce and launch main concepts of ecological art. These terms describe the correspondences between in-situ action and artistic representation/documentation inside the museum space ('site'), while 'non-site' (the work inside the museum) conceptualises the problems posed by the environment. Realised between 1965 and 1969 the 'non-sites', these proto-ecological art forms, where works which condensed in an abstract form the unlimited, dispersed and un-graspable open air 'site'. Similar to Kawamta's working process, the 'non-sites' were a means of collecting material from the 'site', condensing their nature and at the same time reproducing a museological principle: taking samples and tracing their dense net of implications for the terrain and the context.



Bruno Latour (Latour 2003: 38) argues that we already live in the ruins of Nature – on which we produce our future. Latour imagines our planet as an extended outdoors laboratory – the world wide lab. The experiments and the lab are spreading outside and nature goes indoors.

OVER FLOW catches this precise moment when the results of scientific modifications (reserved before to the confines of the lab or the museum) spread onto the beach and in the deep sea, while nature turns artificial and goes inside the contemporary museum.


In this same article, Bruno Latour affirms that currently we have transited from the era of science to the era of research (Latour 2003: 30):

'We have shifted from science and its modernist dream of total control, with unwanted consequences appearing only later, without ever putting the original dream of control into doubt, to research. Research is just the opposite of science, careful experiments just the opposite of total control.' (Latour 2003: 30)


And indeed the hybrid models and conglomerates which form the body of Tadashi Kawamata's installation and produced during Espacialista's experimental workshop are the product of research.

Besides its apocalyptic tones, Tadashi Kawamata's installation introduces therefore also a positive perspective.

These emerging modules – based on an investigation of the principle of natural fusion that the ocean operates in its movement – extend these principles to the creation of original pieces.

Based on both digital and analogue production, on pieces of natural and artificial materials which the sea brings back to us and which cover the surface of the sea, these newly produced hybrid forms extract from the apocalyptic products of our ecological disasters possibly functional principles.

As the modules and patterns found in the ocean and assembled in various ways in the body of this installation show, the objects represented inside 'the museum' are finally unforeseen.

The status of the museum-lab itself becomes indefinite while oriented towards scientific-artistic experiments. The nature of this new museum, based on complex variables is oriented towards the exploration of future possibilities, rather than on the museum's historic function of documenting 'the world outside'.


'Nature, contrary to superficial impression, is not an object out there but above all a political animal!: it is the way we used to define the world we have in common, the obvious existence we share, the sphere to which we all equally pertain.' (Latour 2003: 38).


As a viewer of Kawamata's installation, we re-enact a position of disaster-tourist, coming to explore the spectacularity of destroyed sites – similar to the subculture of illegal tourism around the Fukushima site. It is important to ask (beyond mere contemplation) how can a work of art activate a regenerative potential latent in the disaster depicted. OVER FLOW itself functions as an agent of memory, a record of a continuous global movement leading to erosion and destruction and a document of powerful interconnections across geography and history. The acts of colossal destruction that this installation evokes, reverberate between historic and contemporary times, between Japan and Europe for example.


Being eco-critically positioned, but also being located in the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, Tadashi Kawamata's installation challenges nevertheless a dualistic perspective on nature being opposed to urbanity and opens the field towards urban ecology. In fact, MAAT bordering the river Tejo close to the point of affluence into the sea, proposes permeation. The installation represents not only what nature delivers back to the civilisation, but also a possible point of creative fusion: the point where the museum and the installation itself can transform and re-digest the status quo, proposing new and counter-hegemonic solutions.

As Kawamata's installation is the result of a confluence of actions by militant and eco-active groups (Brigada do Mar) and a long tradition of collective ecologically aware efforts in Portugal, it gives continuation to ecologically oriented examinations (Espacialistas), counter-acting loss and the strangeness of our encounter with artificial and prosthetic extensions of nature – with creativity and agency.


How to represent the ocean – a body in perpetual movement, fundamentally unknown to humans? Tadashi Kawamata's work and working process chooses to represent it as a mirror of our own social and political condition – in a long cultural tradition that formed itself with medieval maritime monsters that were incarnations of social sins and fears or Nemo's futuristic Nautilus-museum.... When being immersed in Tadashi Kawamata's installation we are physically confronted with what we have made of nature, but our reflection in it remains continuously distorted – as we find ourselves involved in collective experiments that we are only partially aware of.




Asa Simon Mittman and Thea Tomaini (2017): Sea Monsters: Things from the Sea, volume 2, Tiny collections, Punctum Books.

Tadashi Kawamata (2017), Informal discussion 18 October 2017, Paris.

Tadashi Kawamata and Guy Tortosa (2013), Interview – Kawamata: The Metabolism of the World, Kamel Mennour Edition, Paris.

Bruno Latour, Atmosphere, atmosphere, in Susan May (ed.) 2003, 'Exhibition catalog of Olafur Eliasson', at New Tate, 2003, New Tate, London, pp. 29-42.

Celeste Olalquiaga, L'Homme Meuble, in 'Oceanomania, Souvenirs des Mers Mysterieuses', Nouveau Musee National de Monaco, Monaco 2011, pp. 36-43





2 http://www.osespacialistas.com/


Over Flow, Tadashi Kawamata at MAAT,