Wu Tsang
Of Whales
February 21 – June 11, 2023
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

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


In February 2023, TBA21 presents Of Whales, an exhibition by American artist Wu Tsang. TBA21 showcases a multi-part project created by the artist drawing from her research around Herman Melville’s classic American novel Moby-Dick, tackling its subterranean currents. The work will be presented on the occasion of a solo exhibition at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. The exhibition will be centered around Of Whales (2022) in a unique and immersive display, following its premiere at the Venice Biennale. 

Of Whales, 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. First presented at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022, 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 refocuses the source material’s profound meditation on knowledge, exoticism, and eroticism through a postcolonial lens, imagined from the perspective of the whale. The immensity of the ocean becomes a symbol of the unknown; reflections gesture to the presence of oblique perspectives and complexify the idea that any point of view is singular or straightforward.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an extensive public program in collaboration with Wu Tsang, EducaThyssen, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and Institute for Postnatural Studies, amongst others.
TBA21 will also stage the Spanish premiere of the live performance of MOBY DICK; or, The Whale which will be presented, on the occasion of the opening, in two unique sessions at Círculo de Bellas Artes, with live accompaniment by Orquesta Clásica Santa Cecilia conducted by Kevin Griffiths.
MOBY DICK; or, The Whale, was premiered at Schauspielhaus Zürich, which produced the work alongside Moved by the Motion -Wu Tsang's collective-. It 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, follows the white whale above and below the surface of the water, developing a visual cosmology that resists the exploration and exploitation of the earth under imperial colonialism. 

Tsang’s approach pairs the classic story of the whaler's “floating factory” with the beginnings of the film industry in silent film. The film was shot entirely on a sound-stage combining silent-era filmmaking techniques with Virtual Production, a virtual reality game engine projecting surreal ocean environments.

The story of Moby-Dick chronicles the obsessive quest of Ahab, captain of a whaling ship who seeks revenge on a giant albino sperm whale that bit off his leg. It is a legend that everyone knows, but few people reflect on its significance today. The story is saturated with problems and reflections of its time—but also of our present. Tsang’s surreal adaptation recontextualizes this epic allegorical drama, exploring themes of labor and desire through a post-colonial lens.

The narrative is interwoven with extracts by the Sub-Sub-Librarian, a character played by acclaimed poet 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. Exploring overlapping histories of industrialism, extractivism, colonialism, ecological and spiritual crises, the film creates a multi-layered surreal filmic adaptation of the 1851 novel.

The film features original orchestral music composed by Caroline Shaw and Andrew Yee with Asma Maroof. The costumes are designed by TELFAR.

MOBY DICK; or, The Whale is produced by Schauspielhaus Zurich in collaboration with Zürcher Kammerorchester (ZKO). TBA21–Academy is co-commissioning this work with LUMA Foundation, Superblue, Hartwig Art Foundation, The Shed, DE SINGEL and The Whitney Museum of American Art.
Soledad Gutiérrez
Wu Tsang (1982, Massachusetts, United States) is an award-winning artist and filmmaker 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 Zurich, as a director of theater with the collective Moved by the Motion.
The performances are kindly supported by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Madrid.