March 2018


By Chus

Spheric Ocean
TBA21–Academy The Current II

Led by Chus Martínez
New Zealand, 9 – 24 March 2018

Participants: Julieta Aranda, Claudia Comte, Eduardo Navarro, Ingo Niermann, Teresa Solar, Albert Serra, Chus Martínez

The Ocean is Spheric because it is not aside the earth or below it, but all around it. Its form is not what our eyes see, or not only. Its reality cannot be separated, or be told apart from anything else on the lived earth, and therefore it poses a demand: the need of a philosophy to help us exercise the Ocean.

Day 1: March 12th, Monday

Latitude: 36° 50 56 S
Longitude: 174° 45 50 E
Swell: harbor


Does a storm have a function? I could not find a single entry saying so. This is probably why we call them disasters, because they are closer to anger than to function. Satellite technology and track them, one can see them through an app, forming, moving. The warm temperature of the water fuels them, a cloud of moisture moves up from the surface of the Ocean creating a vacuum below. “New” air becomes moist and warm, rising as well, and the surrounding air swirls to take the place of the air that just joined the cloud and so, a whole system of dynamic energy and movement originates. It was a novel, a bestseller diary of a storm near the coast of Japan, written by George Steward, that helped to establish the naming of storms. That fictional storm was called Maria ... This one, the one we are waiting for, is called Hola. The use of female names for storms disgusts me, but Hola also reveals our continuous insistence to civilizing nature. It is not a Spanish “Hola” but a Fiji “Hola”. Ho-la (jo-la), Ho-la came after Fehi and Gita and the next big storm is going to be called Iris, and after Iris it will be Jo, and then Kala.

Waiting for the storm

The anticipation of losing control, being placed dead center in the center of an environment that exceeds me in my attempts to define it. What is a storm? And what is a storm when coursing through one’s body? How do I shape-shift through water?

Nature, art, music, the buildings, human beings, creatures, everything, they are all related to mathematics. If a true universal language exists it is most likely to be expressed in mathematics, geometry, energy patterns and frequencies. All nature’s works have a mathematical logiques and their patterns are limitless. It all starts with a perfect circle, the sun. The magic proportions of the golden section are often found in the spiral of nature’s desires. The rules are always the same. “Everything is arranged according to number and mathematical shape.” — Pythagoras

The reinvention of the sock

Ingo swam ashore and forget to ask the other expedition members, who went by dinghy, to bring his shoes. When the group went for a hike on a gravel path, all that Ingo had to protect his feet were a pair of blue Uniqlo cotton socks. The socks did an amazing job: The gravel ached Ingo‘s feet and he made quite an effort not to step into any bigger goolie (the colloquial term in New Zealand for a stone or pebble) but even after an hour of walking his feet didn’t get injured and didn’t redden. The moment he stopped walking all pain disappeared. Even back in the salt water his feet were just fine. The socks as well didn’t take any apparent damage.

Ingo was so impressed that his first research on the expedition didn’t address the ocean but the history of the sock. The oldest intact knitted (or to be more precise: naalbinded) socks are from 300 to 500 AD and were discovered in Egypt. The tangerine-colored pair have split toes for use with sandals and are meant to be tied at the top with little integrated ribbons. Long before, people wrapped their feet in different materials like leather, felt or fabric (foot-wraps) before putting on their shoes or sandals but we don’t have knowledge of proper socks before the 2nd century AD in Rome.

Strangely, the word sock and its numerous European variations have their origin not in the Latin word for sock – udone – but in the Latin soccus, a slipper with a thin sole that was originally reserved for comic actors. Tragic actors would wear the cothurnus (buskin), a high boot with up to five-inch-thick soles, to elevate themselves above the other actors and to make their steps more weighted. Socci would make comic actors appear relatively small and light-footed. Cothurnus became a synonym for tragedy, soccus a synonym for comedy.

It was only in the 3rd century AD that the Romans, in the beginning mainly women, would wear socci in normal life. The popularization of socci goes hand in hand with the decline of the Roman Empire. It’s getting soft.

The reinvention of the sock, Ingo Niermann

Ingo Niermann, The reinvention of the sock, 2018, photography

But how to get from the soccus to the sock? Historians don’t seem to really care. Language is just too random, so why bother? But then again, why not? Why bother about every tiny interstage of natural evolution and not of such an essential element of contemporary clothing? Ingo develops three theories.

Theory 1: As socci were convenient only indoors it was the next consequent step in the Romans’ softification to replace socci with just as lavishly decorated socks, eventually with a leather sole. The latter design can still be found in certain contemporary house shoes, for instance the alpine Hüttenschuh and the baby shoe.

Theory 2: Romans started to wear sturdier sandals on top of their socci when going outdoors. As this was not too comfortable they replaced the socci with udones just as lavishly decorated - therefore still calling them socci.

Theory 3: In the Middle Ages socks got reintroduced, still hundreds of years before the invention of the knitting machine (in 1589), and became a brightly colored status symbol of the nobility, covering the lower part of the trousers. As these garments were lavishly decorated like socci, Europeans started calling them socke, socka, sokkur or sok.

All three explanations root the name of the sock in its decorative function. Today, we experience a certain renaissance of this function (pushed by brands like Happy Socks) while at the same time there is the even bigger fashion trend of the no-show socks. What both, seemingly opposite, trends have in common is an urge to distract from the functionality of the sock - and thereby the underlying weaknesses of our feet: they sweat (up to 120 milliliters a day), they get easily cold (even in shoes) and they again need protection from what is supposed to protect them (shoes). It seems to need a rebranding to embrace the basic qualities of socks in an open manner.

A solution is already on its way: the reinvention of the sock, similar to Ingo’s experience, as an outdoor shoe. A couple of years ago the sneaker industry was taken aback by research on the problematic effects of all-too-cushioned running. While purists pleaded for barefoot running, the sneaker industry was quick in inventing ever leaner, more flexible and sockish shoes like FiveFingers, Nike Free or Adidas NMD City Sock, it was only a matter of time till some company would launch an actual sock for running. Last year, a Kickstarter campaign for Skinners, stretchy synthetic socks with a thin rubber ground, gained more than 600.000 US $ (aiming at only 10.000 US $), and they are now for sale for a bit more than 30 US $. The only problem: They look and feel utterly ugly.

What could help is a DIY movement to create your own outdoor socks: Take whatever pair you like and paint them with hot rubber (color by choice) on the ground. Alternatively, you could fill your socks with an arch support or, more naturally, as expedition member Eduardo did with Ingo’s halfway, a couple of big strong leaves. They smell good and might even work for skin care.

Sock shoes - short: sockoes - might not last long but a ragged pair can give a great souvenir. Your collected sockoes of several years fit into a single drawer or decorate a wall. Very special sockoes might be stuffed or framed.

Spheric Oceans, Markus Reymann

Markus Reymann, Untitled, 2018, photography

Whilst waiting for the storm to pass and the expedition to begin, walnuts were found or recovered in the two largest cultural institutions of Auckland. Technically a walnut is the seed of a drupe, and thus not a true botanical nut.

Day 2: March 13th, Tuesday

Latitude: 36° 50 56 S
Longitude: 174° 45 50 E
Swell: harbor


Is the ocean an art space? Funny enough, the question seems to imply the total culturalization of the Ocean: seeing all the creatures and plants as artworks, their submerged environments as their monumental container... No, this is not what my question implies. If the DNA of our cultural institutions is history, through the conservation of artifacts, it seems not impossible to imagine that a new art institution, the Ocean, could exist on the premise of the conservation of life. Well, you could now say that this image is just a metaphor, a poetic gesture... But I will state that it is crucial to insist, as long as it may take—decades, centuries even—in the literalness of thinking that the new models for culture will not be originating in culture, that the best way to challenge our imagination of space is in a space produced by salt water... I think of the radical abandonment of the straight line, of the immense challenge technology faces us with, when it comes to processing information and another question appears: How many waves are in the Ocean? All this water moving has a materiality, and for centuries we have been describing it, formally... We have been creating analogies in order to relate the domain of culture and the world of waves.

Men, charts, machines, technology, all what records the Ocean is oriented to capture it, to transform natural facts into historical ones... I feel I do not quite know where I am going with all of this right now, but I feel an urgency—to be able to sketch a theory capable of rendering the importance of introducing the Ocean with new regulatory principles to conceive experience anew, space dramaturgy anew, practice anew, the connectivity among the material and the immaterial anew. This all seems a surreal exercise... The world of art is still too dependent on “interpreting the sea” as a site for the extension of land-based activities: shipping, colonial travel, warfare, and communication, including networked undersea cables... And the work of the sea seems in no need for the world of art... But I feel my intuition is not crazy, that if we have been orienting our form of life around the principles of the industry, of production, of the capital, there is hope that we could do a similar thing around biological life.

The knot.... The knot is not the rope, but my tongue is tied

Case in point: Because accumulation is not conscious—it just happens—here is a collection of useless things. Stubbornly holding on, insisting on their materiality, even though their use value has been completely exhausted.

As efficient as dull blades, overstaying the welcome that was tended to their existence. The telephone is broken, cannot be turned on anymore. So one wonders about the liminal existence of the words thumbed through it, and of the words that were thumbed back in response. Across the ether. All that is solid, is solid. And all that never was? What happens to the knots in a rope, once the rope becomes invisible?

A rope is a toy. Write that down, make a note, make a knot, tie it around your finger. A rope is a weapon. Twisted technology—running 500 meters of cord along the sea—the implications of power inherent to the ability to draw a single horizontal straight line.

Knotting—weightless, mathematical, geometric, metaphysical, conceptual impossibilities; tied momentarily into this vanishing rope, frayed to its breaking point. How will I know when I make a mistake?

To start thinking from the ocean is nearly impossible. But drifting motionlessly in the surge above the kelp, synchronized movement according to an external plan, being able to breathe through a plastic lifeline in the form of a tube, I ask myself how long does it take to become seaweed.

Day 3: March 14th, Wednesday

Latitude: 36° 50 56 S
Longitude: 174° 45 50 E
Swell: harbor


Every time an expedition starts one needs to express a desire on behalf of all those that may not physically be part of it. It is this wish that entangles those on the trip with those that remain: I want to put you in a place where a fish’s breath is audible in the middle of your day.

Our field of enquiry is constituted by the questions we are able to ask: What can we ask the Ocean?

It would be wrong to think that when one says “Ocean”, one is naming a “subject”. One could be as radical as stating 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 and should belong to the artists, art facing the urgency of socializing with all those that care about life. Or, 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.

This would imply that all those artists directly interested in life underwater, nature, new forms of sensing from a non-human centered perspective, etc., are, of course, “in”. But, it also means that all those not directly interested in thinking along those terms—who do not identify the intelligence of art as lying in its radical interest in life—are even more important than the first group. Think about the current situation of all the structures constituting the art world, about the impoverishment of a language inherited from past left and liberal social visions and the impossibility of reinventing these dreams under the same premises, under a late-capitalistic economic system, and the need of a new sensorium to invent new notions, to build new sentences, to embrace a new idea of equality and social justice. If we think so, we can see that saying Ocean is to say the expansion of the Museums, of the public space... That the Ocean is a source that reprograms our senses and entails a potential of transformation that may affect the future of architecture, of communications, of gender entanglement, of economy, of art.

Paypal of the ocean

In the morning Ingo stumbles across a copy of Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. The little book is meant to reaffirm our belief in smart outsiders’ outstanding contributions to the progress of humanity. We should not worry: The 21st century will still be shaped by those people. AI isn’t likely to take over before we will be dead anyhow. (There is no public knowledge of Peter Thiel having any kids.) Still, the book has a strong nostalgic undertone: You (Peter Thiel) will never be as young and hungry as right before your first big success (Paypal).

There is a common narrative of unsuccessful outsiders turning into devils. Hitler declined at art academy! But there is as well the opposite narrative: People who once gained success by legitimate means but ran out of favor, energy or ideas and turned into gruesome criminals or dictators. (There’s as well a female version: the queen who cannot deal with her sagging beauty and poisons Snow White.) Could Peter Thiel’s turning into a devil still be reversed? Elon Musk, another co-founder of Paypal, is now 46 and still in good spirits about single-handedly transforming common modes of transportation.

Ingo wonders: Could Albert and Roman film the members of the expedition in such a way that they would appear as a plausible (or at least: likable) bunch of smart outsiders destined to build up the first multi-billion ocean start-up? Ingo envisions a movie in between Don Quixote and The Expendables.

Day 4: March 15th, Thursday

Latitude: 36° 50 56 S
Longitude: 174° 45 50 E
Swell: harbor


At first sight there are “things” that can only be described in positive terms, like the Ocean. It is beautiful how, some experiences of nature—of the Ocean—remind us that to live means first and foremost to feel the world around us.

But sensibility is not just a faculty, sensibility is much more than that, it is an organ that both senses ourselves and others, and our life is through and through a sensible life. So, being at the sea, I cannot but think of the many ways we need—we must—rehabilitate sensible existence from its marginalization at the hands of modern philosophy, art, and politics, and that the only way to do so is to create the conditions for philosophy, art, and politics by defining the ontological status of experience, of organic and inorganic intelligence. The Ocean is making me aware of its philosophical status. Being in the sea is being in an atmosphere, and being in an atmosphere is a very powerful image of thought, one that immediately calls for a challenge to the distribution of disciplines in the human sciences and humanities. I imagine a philosophy of the Ocean, a philosophy of plants, a philosophy of animals, as part of a philosophy of life that will, then, be entangled with all the developments in the philosophy of consciousness. I know, that many think, action is first, but how can we act differently if we are unable to deeply think/sense differently? Logically speaking, no real difference can emerge from a doing that only perpetuates or corrects and reforms the past doing. Also, how can doing be separated from Modernity’s stubborn pretense to see the human spirit achieved only through the material production of objects and their exchange (material culture)? So, doing cannot survive without an Ocean of conditions for biological existence... I see all this water and I feel a monstrous urge to reunite all the thinkers and artists, to meet here to start this new school of sensing intelligence.

Suicide double bind

The expedition approaches Whakaari (White Island) – an active volcano that is supposed to attract sharks. Ingo imagines a neo-neorealistic movie about a desperate person who is constantly moving back and forth between the shore and the crater of the volcano as they cannot decide if they should rather die in the volcano or in the mouth of a shark. The volcano seems more like a safe bet but to end up as shark food would give the person’s life at least a bit of a meaning. (The person is not aware that sharks don’t like the taste of human meat.)

Day 5: March 16th, Friday

Latitude: 37° 31 45 S
Longitude: 177 ° 11 83 E
Swell: harbor


I missed a day looking at the Ocean. I gain a day looking at the Ocean. I think the distance between these two sentences should be measured in light years. Do not get me wrong, I am not particularly using the Ocean for my own needs, relaxing or meditating. Still, it is great to meditate with the Ocean. Before starting this trip, I was only thinking of immersion, but to my surprise I discover that both, the Ocean and I, share a passion for rhythm. To some this constant movement is a source of continuous uneasiness, for me it feels like sleeping on the stomach of an Oceanic Barbapapa, the ship holds you, but the sea moves you in funny ways. I am sure there is an epistemology of rhythm, all these waves are there to express and communicate. Waves... They are the living world in terms of rhythmic patterns, rhythmic movement, and rhythmic representations. What if rhythm is the vital bond connecting art and the Ocean, science and art, the Ocean and all the human and optic eyes observing it, all the bodies and devices sensing it? Strictly speaking waves and currents have no history, not in a material sense of the word, but the bodies of all the organisms living in the sea have a memory of them—I am certain—as we do as well, and but also the history of navigation cannot be seen as the history of movement on the sea, but the history of swells, waves, currents, winds...

Spheric Oceans, Markus Reymann

Markus Reymann, Untitled (Detail), 2018, photography

Day 6: March 18th
Saturday, 7:00 pm


The swell is strong and it is difficult even to keep ourselves seated, so almost everyone is lying down. The swinging lasted only two hours, or may be three, but the fight against this movement is enough to leave a trace in all of us, tired of this intense wrestling with the Ocean. I try to write an entry in our diary, but the sea PARADISES any possibility of moving in a coordinated way. I start thinking of all the diaries in which, throughout history, explorers, scientists, and also artists, have recorded their thoughts and observations while traveling in the sea. It would be amazing to read all the entries on the storms they experienced, on their bad days, on their sense of wonder. I would love to read, as well, all their entries on the millions of times they felt the sea, the boats, nature and its experience, awake in them an intense sense of bonding... I imagine infinite descriptions of bliss... leaving behind in the writer—and the reader—a strange joy of hope originating from a profound concern with the possibility of disappearance, indeterminacy, and traumatic exposure after the hard days in the sea. And the sad vision of all the people seeking precarious asylum in foreign lands and disappearing beneath the waves assaults me. I think about pain, the body in pain, and how we fail to go beyond seeing its image as an analytical and conceptual resource for thinking through the notion of subjectivity in light of current political priorities... Corporeality has been perpetually colonized... and also there we need a liberation movement, one that will allow for a more intimate relationship with all the bodies existing, one that will made all these bodies explicit, that resists attempts to bring them under control whether by science, theory, fundamentalism, or neoliberal surveillance.

Day 7: March 19th, Sunday

Latitude: 37° 38 79 E
Longitude: 176 ° 08 95 E
Swell: harbor


Folding into being, unfolding into life. Redwoods. Mud. I quote from Alan Kemp “Mudrocks are some of the most common yet least glamorous geological formations. They erode easily so they are often eclipsed by more robust and photogenic outcrops of granite, sandstone or limestone. Yet mudrocks are an important archive of the Earth’s history, and contain the detritus of the physical and biogeochemical cycles that shape and regulate global systems.”

Day 8: March 20th, Monday


Imagine being in a forest, an incredibly wild forest, an thinking about the jinnis -نجلا- the demons, those like the famous inhabitant of the lamp of Aladdin. Do you remember the Tales of A Thousand and One Nights? When Antoine Galland translated them into French from Arabic at the beginning of the eighteenth century, they transformed the imagination of the time. The night of May 8, 1709, Antoine Galland made a note in his diary about an extraordinary tale the Syrian merchant Hanna Diyab had just told him: “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp.” That night in Paris was a dramatic one, marked by riots over food shortages. Diyab arrived in the French capital during this period and turned some of the dark nights into true storytelling sessions that changed the course of a A Thousand and One Nights; the tales he told were added to the translation and became part of world heritage through literature. It is interesting to note, that the notion of Zeitgeist appears a little later than the French translation of the Arabian Nights (1717). There is absolutely no evidence of any connection between the jinni of Hanna Diyab’s lamp and Zeitgeist and yet, I propose METAMORPHOSES as a study of the importance of those images on the possibility of magically adopting another form without “loosing”, about the importance of an inexhaustible will to interpenetrate the real.

Day 9: March 21th, Tuesday

Latitude: 36° 11 90 S
Longitude: 175 ° 20 90 E
Swell: harbor


Writing a diary of a research trip is not equal to the research. I was relieved by reading the structure of Darwin’s diaries, on the left his comments and observations, on the right page of the notebook, his comments on personal matters and personal life. This parallel is impressively eloquent, it shows the need to observe and concentrate while traveling, but also the importance of being in this task as part of the larger task of connecting and introducing this study exercise in a larger project, one that has public and personal implications. If he would not record his efforts together with his personal worries, he could not be able to determine how much his life project, science, work, affect the type of person he is, the influence on his subject of study on his own mind. While traveling, my main, important task is to reach a state where you can absorb the most.

Reading Darwin, one understands he was a master in doing this. It is a state closer to passivity than activity. The word research is tricky, it implies a goal, it requires delivery. But the diaries of Darwin reveal an incredible sense of openness, of disposition, of attention. It is an attention living in a world of knowledge, but a knowledge elastic enough to allow for new discoveries to enter, to even challenge any previous interpretation of the world. I suppose this is why there were almost no explicit reflections made on the nature of species and the meaning of their geographical distributions in his diaries, but a recording of plain observations. It is later, I guess, that this absorbed material transforms itself into analysis, into thinking and—why not—into a pedagogy.

I used to think that systematized learning is the origin of all our political and social pain and yet, one needs to remember that gymnastics were part of the Greek paideia (education). To study is a form of gymnastics and we should urge in profound but joyful ways to introduce the study of the Ocean as gymnastics, as a series of exercises crucial to our education, from childhood to the old days of our lives. This would definitely yield insights into the larger philosophical questions concerning species.

Day 10: March 22th, Wednesday

Nature on probation

Ingo experiences New Zealand’s Northern Island as utterly non-exotic. Everything is like..., just in a new combination: the landscape is like Switzerland, just surrounded by the sea and a bit more tropical; the houses with their folded tin are like Third World shacks, just tidy and with windows; the rats are like anywhere else, just bigger because they lack natural enemies; the sharks are the same as around Australia, just that they are supposed to not bite humans.

The resulting feeling is that of irreality: “No, I‘m not buying into it. It’s too good to be true. No surprise, this is where Hollywood shoots nature. All this might have been built just a few years ago.” Which is not that wrong. Even jungleish looking forests are barely a hundred years old as almost no trees survived the systematic deforestation by the Europeans. The Maori culture as well had to be reanimated after having been harshly marginalized, if not forbidden. The custom to bury the mother’s placenta under a tree to connect the new-born with home nature has been reintroduced in 1984. Te Reo, the language of the Maori, was officially accepted in 1987. Only 50.000 or less than ten percent of all Maori can speak the language well. Most houses seem not to be more than ten or twenty years old.

The New Zealanders themselves experience the newness of nature and Maori culture as all too fragile. The import of plants and animals is rigorously limited. Predators like rats and feral cats who have been accidentally introduced by the Europeans and who lack natural enemies are systemically eradicated. The nation’s largest tree, the Kauri, almost extinct around 1940, now has to be protected from a deadly fungus (Kauri dieback) that is spread by dirty hiker boots.

To avoid direct exposure for both sides, humans’ experience of nature is often animated like a theme park (see Day 7). It’s as if not only for us visitors but as well for the New Zealanders themselves their nature isn’t really present. The experience is on probation.

Spheric Oceans, Francesca von Habsburg

Francesca von Habsburg, Light decides Everything, 2018, photography

Day 11: March 23th, Thursday

Ocean knowing

At the end of the expedition Chus asks Ingo if it had made him experience the sea in a new way. He isn’t sure. A heavily rocking boat, the life on a boat, or a long swim into the open sea —nothing new. His ocean experiences on this trip have been again strictly superficial: He didn’t dive, he didn’t explore the deep sea, and he could always retreat to a cozy bed.

Ingo’s prevailing experience of the sea has been rather abstract: the constant knowing that it’s around. Even if all windows would have been darkened and the sea would have been completely quiet you would still know that it’s there. Like when you darken all the windows of your apartment and still know that you are not situated in the basement. It’s a knowing that you don’t even have to be aware of. It’s implicit like the knowing of your body. It’s the naturalization of nature.

If this voyage would have been less comfortable, if we would have been more exposed to the elements, if the cyclone Hola would have hit the boat, Ingo’s memories of this trip would be dominated by unique experiences. In not being trapped like on a cruise ship or an oil rig, but in living the life of a nomad with all the advantages of a steady home, the Dardanella expedition gave Ingo the feeling of aquatic normalcy. To experience this normalcy is still an immense luxury and might never become easily accessible. And if it would become easily accessible, it might disappear. (Even the sea would feel pretty crowded if a billion people would simultaneously spend time on it —especially the rims.)

The knowing of being enclosed by an entity far bigger and more complex than us won’t disappear when Ingo leaves the boat and won ́t stop ruling what he ́s thinking and doing. In everything, Ingo will be a creature of the sea.

Spheric Oceans, Eduarodo Navarro

Edudardo Navarro, Day 11, 2018, drawing