Concordia is Latin for ‘harmony’ – the personification of concord, a treaty or pact. It is also the name basis of the Costa Concordia, wrecked off the coast of Italy in 2012 after a catastrophic blunder by its captain who abandoned ship before the safe evacuation of his 3,229 passengers.
For the 56th Venice Biennale of Art, Alexander Ponomarev’s installation, curated by Nadim Samman, deploys the Costa Concordia disaster – specifically, the broken pact between Captain Schettino and his passengers – as a provocative lens through which to view the fragility of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty. This agreement suspended military activity and sovereign claims on the continent’s territory, limiting human activity there to the pursuit of peaceful scientific endeavour. As the global struggle for resources intensifies, the future of this treaty is in peril. In Ponomarev’s sculptural intervention a scale model of the grounded Concordia, tilting like a tipped iceberg (or perhaps a shift in the polar axis itself) stands as an image of terrestrial re-orientation: a new worldview.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, fire invokes a notorious act of arson by a staff doctor from the Argentinean Almirante Brown station, who burnt his base to the ground when the setting sun announced the onset of winter. Further works are based on the artist’s recent expedition to the (Russian Orthodox) Trinity Church of Antarctica when the whole expedition party received marriage sacraments from the southern continent’s only resident monk. In addition to its invoking of paradigmatic disasters, Concordia is a meditation on community, responsibility, security and the strength of the ties that bind us together amid shifting personal and political landscapes.