Sven Bergmann (Bremen)

Complicating (Sea) Waters

Thoughts from the Field and the Museum

My contribution takes as its starting point the connection and tension between my ethnographic and curatorial work in maritime anthropology and blue STS over the past several years. Drawing on questions about the impact, but also the unpredictability, of slow disasters in the sea, I am interested in developing a political ecology of the oceans. This challenges the more land-based social and cultural theory and is oriented toward more-than-human perspectives.

In addition, as a scientific curator, I try to bring a different approach to the sea and, therefore, to the depth of the ocean and its waters in the museum. For example, on the topic of plastics in the ocean, where I juxtapose common narratives about garbage patches with natureculture entanglements of microplastics with microorganisms. Furthermore, using the example of ballast water, which is important for shipping, I show that water is not just water. Rather, its composition differs significantly at particular locations in the ocean, not only microbiologically (but also in terms of cultural representations of native/foreign), making the transport of species (invisible to the human eye) of great importance to marine ecologies.

These projects, which foreground ambivalence, complexity and alteration and thus keep things complicated, are of course not easy to implement, especially on the terrain of exhibition making, science communication, and public and political engagement.