Berlin-based artists Petrit Halilaj and Álvaro Urbano have taken over a ninth-century church turned creative hub in Venice to create a universe of fantastic creatures.
Co-commissioned by TBA21-Academy and Audemars Piguet Contemporary, Lunar Ensemble for Uprising Seas is Halilaj and Urbano’s first site-specific collaboration and takes visitors inside a multi-layered symphony of sculpture, performance and music within the hallowed walls of TBA21-Academy’s Ocean Space – formerly San Lorenzo’s chapel.
An egg-shaped moon hangs from San Lorenzo’s soaring ceiling, while, below, 30 hybrid metallic sea creatures circle its former nave – inspired by the Spanish song, Ay mi pescadito, about young fish learning to survive (and belong) under the sea. Halilaj and Urbano’s mystical ensemble dive into the ever-evolving relationships between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems while touching upon themes such as cohesion and conflict, mutation, legacy, queerness and existence.
‘As a couple, we thought it was just fun to make an egg and bring it here,’ explains Halilaj. ‘And the idea of working in this space – being here, given the political situation in Italy, where the LGBTIQA+ community faces strong challenges and difficulties. For us it’s very important to be here.’
A sense of wonder permeates the double-naved church, which traces its origins back to the medieval period, with the current structure built at the end of the 16th century by architect Simone Sorrell. While long deconsecrated and mostly closed to the public for 100 years, the building – said to be Marco Polo’s final resting place – underwent renovations and reopened to the public in 2020 as Ocean Space.
Halilaj and Urbano’s metal-skinned sculptures double as musical instruments that are played during performances by local musicians, bringing the installation to life through sound.
‘[It’s a] celebration, the parade and togetherness as a response, and the joy of learning together. We think there is space for everyone in society. That’s a rehearsal to find space for everyone, and we’re optimistic that’s possible’, says Halilaj.
As the kinetic sculptures are played, they also interact with the physical confines of the space. Their delicate dance across San Lorenzo’s west wing evokes childhood feelings in a lyrical and playful fashion, disrupting the concept of static boundaries while backdropped by Girolamo Campagna’s sculpted altar.
‘The work blurs our binary sense of the world,’ explains the duo. ‘An egg-shaped moon, aquatic creatures becoming terrestrial and aerial, an orchestra playing a symphony that emerges from the waters and syncs with the moon cycles.’
They add: ‘We have to learn to listen, not only to others, but also to the older: to animals, plants, and to the ocean as well. This work talks about the ability to understand others.’
‘Lunar Ensemble for Uprising Seas’ is part of the exhibition, Thus, waves come in pairs, curated by Barbara Casavecchia. It runs concurrently with Simone Fattall’s installation ‘Sempre il mare, uomo libero, amerai! (Free man, you’ll love the ocean endlessly!)’ and is on show through 5 November 2023.