Geographic Leviathan

Design Earth


Project Team:
Rania Ghosn, El Hadi Jazairy with Reid Fellenbaum, Ya Suo, Jia Weng, Shuya Xu, Saswati Das and initial contributions by Rixt Woudstra

In the opening chapter of Ocean Gardens, an early handbook on aquarium care, the British artist and naturalist Noel Humphreys admonished his reader: "To appreciate Nature, the mind requires a special education, without which the eye and the ear perceive but little of the miracles passing before them." He added, "the wonders of the ocean floor do not reveal themselves to vulgar eyes."

The aquarium was born out of such desire to make sense, or represent to the senses, the inaccessible, expansive, and mysterious deep sea. Today, the call to develop “vulgar eyes” is ever timely as humans, who have declared themselves "geographic leviathans," attempt to make sense of their transformation of the ocean – of gyres of marine debris, deep-sea mining plumes, and ocean acidification. The current environmental condition seems to involve a crisis of the imagination, of the dead-end worlds of prescriptive technocratic solutions or apocalyptic scenarios, the amendment of which might depend on finding other ways of imagining nature and humanity’s relation to it.

Geographic Leviathan explores such affective agency of a cabinet of natural history in a post-natural world. The drawings appropriate the aquarium worldview to take aim at the abysmal distance between our selfish economic worries and the great scales of the Earth. Each aquarium constructs a section of the Pacific Ocean through the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone. Collectively, the nine aquariums weave together the externalities of resource exploitation and climate change into spatial scales, temporalities, and species beyond the human.

Under the Water Towers, Design Earth, 2016