The exhibition 13,700,000 km3 explores the socio-political undercurrents of the Mediterranean Sea, taking as its starting point the location of the Schwarz Foundation’s venue—Art Space Pythagorion—on the Greek island of Samos, at the fringes of Europe. The Mediterranean basin, a major component of the Earth’s ecosystem, is in the midst of major environmental, social, economic and geo-political shifts, which transcend its geographic limitations. It was, and still is, an extraordinary melting pot in the history of humanity and civilisation: numerous wars, conquests, and expeditions have taken place in—or because of—its waters. It has been the epicentre of commercial, artistic, and cultural exchange between different peoples, shaping the identities of the countries around its shores, and beyond. The Mediterranean Sea itself is surrounded by 21 modern states and connects 3 continents, forming an essential part of their economies. It exists as a shared resource, a space of coexistence between these countries, the one place where they are asked to find a “common ground.” But like all seas, the Mediterranean is not neutral; it is a contested space impregnated with a myriad of meanings.
In 2015, Samos—just 1.2 kilometres across from Turkey—was one of the four Greek islands that bore the brunt of the refugee crisis. These islands at the edges of Europe and at the junction of three continents are highly contested in terms of geopolitics. In addition, the Mediterranean is under threat by competing economic interests and extractionism, tourism and environmental issues: overfishing, threatened ecosystems, climate change, pollution, waste, high evaporation levels. At the same time, it has become the burial ground for thousands of people fleeing war and persecution in Africa and the Middle East. Much as it has been seen as an area of common development and common interests, it has equally been an area of conflict, violence and antagonism. In places, it has experienced the collapse of social order and is still witness to states that disregard international law, to rising populism, nationalism and authoritarianism, as well as sporadic extremism. This is a fragile geography—precisely because of so many disparate yet intertwined histories, cultural heritages, and conflicts of economic interest. It is impossible to see changes in the marine environment without also seeing complementary changes in the political terrain and the diverse forces bearing on the sea.
13,700,000 km3 will consider how human activity and human interests impact on the delicate balance of our planet’s ecosystem, maritime geopolitics, and their repercussions, with the island of Samos and the Mediterranean Sea at the epicentre. Taking as its cue the symbolic location of Art Space Pythagorion, the exhibition will look into how the sea has helped shape identities and economies in the Mediterranean and South-Eastern Europe. The artists in the exhibition each focus on a specific topical issue: from a fresh perspective on migration and the refugee crisis, and the presence of networks in the Aegean archipelago and the Mediterranean, to the effects of tourism, the endangered Mediterranean fish, the demise of age-old maritime crafts, and plastic pollution.
The Mediterranean is, first and foremost, a shared space. What happens in one part will affect another, as seen by the 2015 refugee crisis, sparked largely by the war in Syria. The artists in the exhibition reflect on its future understanding that the Euro-Mediterranean area should be considered in terms of a sense of common ownership and responsibility towards a rich heritage and a diverse natural biotope, which needs to be cherished and protected by all countries. But in order to do that, one must start in one’s own backyard.