Ursula Biemann, Subatlantic, 2015. Video still


2015. Video essay, 11′

With an understated touch of science fiction, Subatlantic juxtaposes the science of geology and climatology with human history. The video unfolds across the Subatlantic, the latest climatic phase of the Holocene that began about 2,500 years ago and has registered major civilizational changes. The voiceover alludes to a she-scientist who is making instrumental observations about a changing environment around the last glacial melts. From an increasingly submerged place of oceanic observation, her objects of examination are as much the physical world and the atmosphere that is engulfing her as the thoughts that are formed, reconfigured or released under the changing conditions. Subatlantic also refers to the submerged space of the Atlantic Ocean. Set in the Shetland Islands, Greenland’s Disco Bay and a tiny Caribbean Island, the video implicates far apart locations that are connected through ocean streams, addressing submerged dynamics that are non-localized and invisible to our eye.

In this short essay, global warming is explored through Manuel De Landa’s “Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy” and Timothy Morton’s “Hyperobject.”


"The Anthropocene can be seen as an update on Manifest Destiny, but artists' critical perspectives, taken out of social context or poetically romanticized, can sometimes be interpreted as celebratory. This is not the case in Ursula Biemann's Subatlantic (2015), a concise and dramatic fictional narration of an anonymous female scientist's experience above and beneath the surface. Like the sea itself, a sense of continual movement pervaces bot the beautiful images and Biemann's crystal clear analysis of the future Atlantic."

Lucy R. Lippard (At Sea: Circulation, Containment, Complicity)


Ursula Biemann & Mo Diener, Twenty-One Percent, 2016. Video still

Twenty-One Percent

2016. Video by Ursula Biemann and Mo Diener, 18′

In this small formation history of atmospheric chemistry, flying and thinking beings emerge as the result of high levels of oxygen in the air which is owed to earth’s forest and plant cover. In the midst of the oxygenic forest, a science-fictional performer manipulates a multitude of ingredients–minerals, forest fruits, liquids and substances–some of which are recognized as potential human foods, others not. Ranging in scale from the cosmos to the kitchen, the video undertakes an empirical inquiry into the capacity of chemical elements.

Sporting a bodytech suite for feeding and monitoring the metabolic processes of her body, the performer lays out the concept of cosmic cooking right there, in the woods near Zurich. Rather than the production of edibles, it aims at the transformation of matter into different states of being by extracting, distilling, filtering, cooking, jellying, reducing, decomposing, pulverizing, macerating. The video foregrounds the materialities and processes by which human and other organic bodies are kept alive, intensifying the relations to the subtle, multiple, living world.

This happens in full awareness of the fact that it is the chemical composition of the universe that constitutes materiality on earth. Next to the petri dishes and pipettes, various diagrams on the lab table point to essential cosmic components: carbon monoxide, methane, interstellar formaldehyde, hydronium ions, nitrous oxide. They are the building blocks for genetic material. More importantly, it is the building up of oxygen in the atmosphere that finally drove the evolution of thinking minds: Human consciousness depends on 21% of oxygen. Tinkering with the chemical composition of the atmosphere is not only impacting the climate on Earth, it directly affects the capacity to think which enabled the conception of technologies that changed planetary chemistry.


Ursula Biemann (born 1955, Zurich, Switzerland) is an artist, writer, and video essayist. Her artistic practice is strongly research oriented and involves fieldwork in remote locations where she investigates climate change and the ecologies of oil, ice and water. She works the findings into multi-layered videos by connecting the micropolitics on the ground with a theoretical macro level, proposing a reflexive exploration of planetary and videographic organization.

Biemann’s pluralistic practice spans a range of media including experimental video, interview, text, photography, cartography and materials, which converge in highly formalized spatial installations. In her videos, the artist interweaves vast cinematic landscapes with documentary footage, SF poetry and academic findings to narrate a changing planetary reality. Her work also adopts the form of publications, lectures, and curatorial as well as collaborative research projects.

Her earlier writing and experimental video work focused on the gendered dimension of migration. She also made space and mobility her prime category in the curatorial projects “Geography and the Politics of Mobility”, “The Maghreb Connection“, and the widely exhibited art and research project Sahara Chronicle on clandestine migration networks. With Black Sea Files (2005) Biemann shifts the primary focus to natural resources and their situated materiality. In 2010 she became an initiating member of the World of Matter collective project on resource ecologies.

Her recent fieldwork has taken her to the Amazon and the Arctic region where she engages the larger temporalities of climate change with the project Forest Law, Deep Weather and Subatlantic, amplifying current discussions around ecology, multispecies communication and videographic world making.

The artist had solo exhibitions at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein n.b.k., Bildmuseet Umea in Sweden, Nikolaj Contemporary Art in Copenhagen, Helmhaus Zurich, Lentos Museum Linz, and at film festivals FID Marseille and TEK Rome. Her work also contributed to major exhibitions at the Arnolfini Bristol; Tapies Foundation Barcelona; Museum of Fine Arts Bern; LACE, Los Angeles, KIASMA Helsinki, San Francisco Art Institute; Jeu de Paume, Paris, Steirischer Herbst, Graz, Kunstverein Hamburg and many others; In addition, the artist has participated in the International Art Biennials in Sao Paulo, Gwangju, Shanghai, Shardjah, Liverpool, Bamako, Istanbul, Montreal, Venice, Thessaloniki, and Sevilla.

Ursula Biemann received her BFA from the School of Visual Arts (1986) in New York and pursued post-graduate studies at the Whitney Independent Study Program (ISP) in New York where she lived most of the 1980s. Until 2014 she was a senior researcher at the Zurich University of the Arts and still gives lectures and semiars worldwide.

Biemann is appointed Doctor honoris causa in Humanities by the Swedish University Umea (2008) and received the 2009 Prix Meret Oppenheim, the Swiss Grand Award for Art. She is on the board of the academic journal Geo-Humanities.