The Spanish premiere of "Wu Tsang: Of Whales" will be presented at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza



Wu Tsang, Of Whales, 2022. 59 Bienal de arte, The Milk of Dreams, Photograph  by Matteo de Fina.

The Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza and TBA21 present Of Whales, an installation by the American artist Wu Tsang (born 1982), based on her film adaptation of Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. Presented at the 2022 Biennale di Venezia within the international art exhibition The Milk of Dreams, this project is set in a psychedelic oceanic setting generated by extended reality technology.

Of Whales is an immersive real-time video installation that offers a poetic meditation on the whale’s perspective, through a deep dive into an oceanic cosmos that is alluded to in Herman Melville’s tale. The work was created on the Unity gaming platform as a dynamically generated real-time video and sound installation, which envelops visitors in an oceanscape-cosmos for respite, contemplation, and provocation.

of-whales-large-scale-installation-by-wu-tsang-venice-art-biennale-designboom-31800.jpgWu Tsang, Of Whales, 2022. 59 Bienal de arte, The Milk of Dreams, Photograph  by Matteo de Fina.

First performed at Schauspielhaus Zürich in 2022—which produced the work alongside Moved by the Motion—the work embarks upon a feature-length silent-film telling of Herman Melville’s great American novel Moby-Dick (1851). This adaptation, written by Sophia Al-Maria and directed by Tsang, is interwoven with “Extracts” by the Sub-Sub-Librarian, a character played by Fred Moten, and tackles the novel’s subterranean currents, encountering the resistance of the ship’s hydrarchy, or organizational structure, and collectives of “mariners, renegades, and castaways,” as described by historian CLR James. A cinematic version of this piece, produced by Schauspielhaus Zürich in collaboration with Zürcher Kammerorchester (ZKO), will be screened at Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza throughout the duration of the exhibition. TBA21–Academy has co-commisioned this work with LUMA Foundation, Superblue, Hartwig Art Foundation, The Shed, DE SINGEL and The Whitney Museum of American Art.

“I felt unusually free in my approach to Moby-Dick because it is such a ubiquitous book that has been adapted so many countless times, there was no pressure to be original—which in the end gave us a lot of space to play and be inventive,” said director Wu Tsang. “It’s a story that is so well known, but also unknown. The book is so juicy and saturated with problems and reflections of its time—but also of our present.”

Exhibition curator Soledad Gutiérrez said: “This exhibition is an invitation to experience an alternative cosmology around one of the mythical narratives of our time and experience it through the eyes of the Whale. It is an exploration on the potential of an embodied critical knowledge production and the role of public programs in transforming cultural institutions into public spaces.”

About the Artist

Wu Tsang is an award-winning filmmaker and visual artist whose work crosses genres and disciplines, from narrative and documentary films to live performances and video installations. Her works are frequently created in collaboration with figures involved in art, music, dance, literature, including the performance collective Moved by the Motion and the scholar and poet Fred Moten, suggesting the capacity for art to express a multiplicity of voices. Tsang is a MacArthur 'Genius' Fellow, and her projects have been presented at museums, biennials, and film festivals internationally. Awards include 2016 Guggenheim Fellow (Film/Video), 2018 Hugo Boss Prize Nominee, Creative Capital, Rockefeller Foundation, Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, and Warhol Foundation. Tsang received her BFA (2004) from the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and an MFA (2010) from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Currently Tsang works in residence at Schauspielhaus Zürich, as in-house director of theater with the collective Moved by the Motion. 

About TBA21
TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary is a leading international art and advocacy foundation created in 2002 by the philanthropist and collector Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, representing the fourth generation of the Thyssen family’s commitment to the arts and public service. TBA21—based in Madrid, with situated projects in Venice and Córdoba—stewards the TBA21 Collection and its outreach activities, which include exhibitions, fellowships, residencies, educational and public programming. TBA21–Academy is the foundation’s research center, fostering a deeper relationship to the Ocean and other bodies of water by working as an incubator for collaborative inquiry, artistic production, and environmental advocacy. For more than a decade, the Academy has catalysed new forms of knowledge emerging from the exchanges between art, science, policy, and conservation. All activity at TBA21 is fundamentally driven by artists and the belief in art and culture as a carrier of social and environmental transformation.

About the Exhibition

Wu Tsang, Of Whales, 2022..jpgWu Tsang, Of Whales, 2022. Courtesy of Wu Tsang, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin; Antenna Space, Shanghai; Cabinet, London. © Nicholas Turki. Design: Jotateam.

Duration: 21 February to 11 June 2023

Venue: Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza

Address: Paseo del Prado, 8, 28014 Madrid, Spain

Screening of MOBY DICK; Or The Whale: February 20–21, with live accompaniment by Orquesta Clásica Santa Cecilia Círculo de Bellas Artes, Madrid, Calle de Alcalá, 42.

Courtesy of Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza and TBA21, edited by CAFA ART INFO.