Book Review – ‘Allan Sekula: Okeanos’ by Christiaan de Beukelaer
OKEANOS is a posthumous solo-exhibition of Allan Sekula’s maritime-themed œuvre. Allan Sekula (1951–2013), an American documentary photographer and theorist worked on an array of topics and themes. But one of the most significant foci of his work remains the political economy of seafaring.
The book OKEANOS illustrates, documents, and discusses several projects that focus on shipping in its political, economic, social, and cultural dimensions. In doing so, it documents the OKEANOS exhibition that was on display at Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21) from 21 February–14 May 2017 in Vienna.
The book contains, and its structure quite suitably containerizes, a series of essays, either by Sekula or on Sekula’s work, and multiple photographic or textual excerpts from the exhibition. The key sections are: Fish Story, Notebooks, Lottery of the Sea, The Forgotten Space, Tsukiji and Case Studies and Maritime Explorations.
The book is mainly an exhibition catalogue. But it is also an excellent introductory overview of some of Sekula’s key works on the political economy of seafaring. While the ‘catalogue’ approach of the book means that it lacks a clear introduction and conclusion, these omissions are by design. The introduction the book provides is rather an open narrative that provides access to unique personal notebooks, reprints sections from otherwise rare publications (Fish Story is out of print, and at the time of writing, the two second-hand copies available on Ebay sell for US$224.95 and US$404.91, quite suitably excluding shipping costs), and includes the script ‘essay film’ The Forgotten Space (which lacks wide distribution).
The editors, Daniela Zyman and Cory Scozzari (also the curator and assistant curator of the exhibition), have created a fascinating, insightful, and timely overview of Sekula’s selected maritime work. This collection goes well beyond merely disclosing content and documenting the exhibition at TBA21. It is an indispensable homage to the thought and work of Allan Sekula.