Sonia Levy's research-led practice considers shifting modes of engagement with other/more-than-human worlds in light of prevailing earthly precarity. Her work operates at the intersection of art and science, a co-becoming of practices tending to the reweaving of multispecies worlds. WE MARRY YOU O SEA


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We Marry You, O Sea engages with Venice and its lagoon “from below,” with the aim of focusing attention on the city’s submerged, life-giving, and altered bio-geomorphological processes rather than on its often-recounted political and military histories. Underwater filmmaking opens new ways of knowing the materialities of the Venice Lagoon and exposes a fractured and troubled environment that complicates mainstream historical narratives that start above the water’s surface. By attuning to the ebb and flood of the lagoon, we start sensing the interplay between land and water, life and decay, and the intimate processes shaping this environment. Noticing the kinds of life made possible in this damaged watery space compels us to delve into the ways it has been profoundly transformed.

We Marry You O Sea as a Sign of True and Perpetual Dominion takes its title from the words uttered during the Venetian ritual The Marriage of the Sea, which was held annually on Ascension Day between the eleventh and eighteenth century. During the event, the Doge, the patriarch of the Venetian Republic, would wed the lagoon by casting a golden ring into the water, declaring dominance over the sea. The artist reframes Venice’s enduring relationship with its permeating waters by reflecting on this ongoing legacy of quests for mastery over watery environments. How, this work asks, might we imagine different futures for Venice if we begin to experience the lagoon as a lively place populated by manifold ways of living and dying?

In the lagoon, a space requiring continuous modifications for human settlement, wetlands and infrastructures have long been intertwined. Venice’s consolidation as a trading hub and epicenter of naval advancement during the Middle Ages prompted major hydrological engineering to maintain the lagoon’s shallow depths for defense purposes. However, in the twentieth century, harrowing modernization transformed parts of the wetland into petroleum refineries and one of Italy’s largest container terminals as part of an effort to turn the lagoon into an industrial frontier. Urban anthropologist Clara Zanardi has described how these transformations spatialized class divisions in a new way, while also causing irreversible ecological degradation that has profoundly altered the lagoon’s lifeways.

The film presents these histories of modernization by interweaving rare historical photographs from Venice’s Giacomelli Photographic Archive with submerged perspectives of the present conditions of the lagoon. The historical significance of these photographs is emphasized by the negative black-and-white reversal of the submerged perspectives, connecting past and present and unfolding futures within the lagoon’s contaminated waters. An original score, created by a chorus of human voices and underwater sound recordings, further emphasizes the links between submerged spaces and human domains. The composition captures the lagoon’s pulses and the impact of industries—from aquatic sounds drowned out by boat noises to the rhythmic poundings of industrial activity amid surging tides—as it gestures toward the profound interplay between human activities and the lagoon’s shallows.

We Marry You O Sea as a Sign of True and Perpetual Dominion (2023) Trailer

A film by Sonia Levy

Commissioned by TBA21–Academy and TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary with the support of STARTS, an initiative by the European Commission, and the European Marine Board’s EMBracing the Ocean artist in residence program, an activity contributing to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–2030) as well as the local support of the Marine Biology Station Umberto D'Ancona, University of Padova.

Underwater Cinematography: Sonia Levy with the help of Sam Smith
Cinematography: Sonia Levy
Editing: Sonia Levy and Sam Smith
Underwater Sound Recording: Jez riley French with the help of Pheobe riley Law , Sonia Levy
Choral Arrangement and Composition: Esmeralda Conde Ruiz
Choir: E Ensemble; Renata Adamcova, Vicky Annand, Madeleine Buckley, Emily Charles, Martin Colley, Belen Duran, Alison Furnham, Allan Gardam, Noriko Gregory, William Hammonds, Jane Higginbottom, Henry Milton, Alison Monaghan, Helen Monaghan, Javier Navarro, Tina Vifor, Walney Virgilio, Anne White
Score recording and mixing: Nick Powell
Researcher and assistant: Chiara Famengo
Scientific Advisors: Heather Anne Swanson, Alberto Barausse, Ifor Duncan

With the kind permission of
SEPOline: a project to apply innovative solutions for artisanal fishing (EMFF Veneto region – Measure 1.26 INNOVATION – Beneficiary: Scientific Institute CESTHA, Experimental Center for Habitat Conservation)
Archivio fotografico del Comune di Venezia, Fondo Giacomelli [Image no. GN007554, GN005374, GN007454, GPRO0065, GPRO0063, GPRO0069]
Archivio fotografico dell’Ente della Zona Industriale di Porto Marghera

Many thanks to: María Montero Sierra, Markus Reymann; Meredith Root-Bernstein, Sam Smith and Chiara Famengo; Filippo Picardi, Emily Sepe, Cristina Breggion, Andrea Sambo and Mattia Panin; Matteo Stocco and Giacomo Carraro; Federico Riccato, Riccardo Fiorin, and Giacomo Cipolato; Barbara Vanin, Roberto Ranieri and Michela Ballarin; Gianluca Palma; Federica Cacciatore and Rosella Briscolò Brusà; Angela Pomaro, Irene Guarneri, Fantina Madricardo and Marta Picciulin; Jane Da Mosto; Pietro Daniel Omodeo; Francesco Visentin; Amina Chouaïri; Pietro Consolandi, Miriam Calabrese and Barbara Nardacchione; Paolo Rosso; Hélène Wand-Polak and Albert Levy; Hanna Rullman and Gabriella Hirst; and Filip Tydèn.

Installation view of Sonia Levy: We Marry You O Sea, Liquid Intelligence, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, 2023.  
Photo: Roberto Ruiz | TBA21

Screening of Sonia Levy: We Marry You O Sea, Cinema Gallegiante, Venice, 2023. Photo: Riccardo Banfi | Microclima 2023



Sonia Levy facilitated by Chiara Famengo 
with Alberto Barausse, Stazione Umberto d’Ancona, University of Padova and the advisory support of Amina Chouairi (Università Iuav di Venezia), Louise Carver (Lancaster University), and Pietro Daniel Omodeo (Ca’ Foscari)

This project aims to develop fresh insights into the Lagoon's history, agency, and governance by adopting a material and analytical perspective "from below." Although the Lagoon appears well studied and understood, recent hydrological modifications have reshaped the possibilities of life within it. The imposition of top-down governance structures has further exacerbated fragmentations, resulting in a contentious mosaic of institutions and conflicting practices that further disrupt the intricate biogeomorphologies of this locale. These transformations, a combination of waterscapes engineering, environmental alterations, societal changes, and the broader impacts of climate change, have resulted in challenges to understanding an ecosystem. Its significant alterations sometimes exhibit perplexing behaviour, suggesting a state of unpredictability and enhanced complexity, compromising the Lagoon's lifeways.

Our participatory workshops are designed to employ an "epistemology from below"2 acknowledging the Lagoon's dynamic and ever-changing nature. By examining shifting marine environments and emphasising often overlooked ways of knowing and being within the Lagoon, we wish to integrate scientific, local ecological, and artistic knowledge towards a non-exploitative relation to watery environments. The initiative actively involves marine scientists studying this fragmented water body alongside Lagoon fishers and local stakeholders, fostering a collaborative learning environment to interpret these aquatic assemblages within their socio-ecological depth. The term "from below" draws inspiration from "History from below," a historiographical approach that prioritises the experiences and perspectives of ordinary andsubaltern people over those in positions of power. Extending this methodology, our project broadens the scope to encompass a more inclusive understanding of historical agents, including the more-than-human worlds, to foreground the socio-ecological dependencies of the Lagoon. How, these workshops will ask, could Lagoon’s governance be negotiated by implementing diverse perspectives and fostering more environmentally just practices?

In our endeavour to explore changes in the Lagoon and their impact on life, we draw from diverse forms of knowledge and experiences, encompassing scientific insights and local ecological perspectives of those who intimately navigate the Lagoon on a daily basis. Our goal is to create narratives that shed light on the intricate interplay between governance, history, practices and hydrodynamics, geomorphology, and the thresholds that have altered life’s possibilities.

The series of workshops will be centred around three main topics: spatiality, temporality and valuation.

“Laguna dal Basso” is a long-term project initiated in 2022 with the support of TBA21–Academy and STARTS, an initiative by the European Commission, currently funded by the European Marine Board’s EMBracing the Ocean artist in residence program (2023-2024), an activity contributing to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) as well as the local support of the Marine Biology Station Umberto D’Ancona, University of Padova.
The project is currently affiliated with Ca’Foscari’s University, The New Institute: Center for Environmental Humanities (NICHE).

The project is rooted in Sonia Levy’s film and research, “We Marry You, O Sea, as a Sign of True and Perpetual Dominion”, a cinematic inquiry “from below” that delves into Venice’s subaqueous realms, providing insights into the current conditions of the Lagoon. This cinematic inquiry unveils rarely-seen archival images capturing the industrialisation of the Lagoon. Beneath the water’s surface, the project introduces new dimensions of knowledge, encouraging reflection and complicating mainstream historical narratives that typically begin above the water’s surface.

1 In our approach, we intentionally avoid compartmentalising geomorphological and hydrological processes from their impact on life, and reciprocally, we avoid disconnecting life from its influence on these processes.

The title is inspired by UCSC SEACoast “Slow Seminar: Political Geomorphology” which took place on April 20th, 2023.

2 Omodeo, Pietro Daniel (2022). Hydrogeological Knowledge from Below: Water Expertise as a Republican Common in Early‐Modern Venice. Berichte Zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte 45 (4):538-560

Click the image to download the workshop descriptions



Every living being is an experiment made out of the flesh of the planet. In order to navigate it, the stars have to become a part of you. This episode of Magical Fresh & Salty Conversations features two discussions that touch upon the interests of the STARTS residents: Sonia Levy is joined by scholar, writer, and surfer Karin Amimoto Ingersoll, while her collaborator Meredith Root-Bernstein talks to philosopher Emanuele Coccia. Together, our guests look at the possibiliy of knowledge otherwise emerging from our interactions with watery spaces. How can immersed perspectives generate epistemologies that challenge imperial structures? How can thinking at the interplay of surface and subsurface processes help us understand both human and more-than-human agency in a changing world?

Part I: Sonia Levy with Karin Amimoto Ingersoll

A Kanaka master navigator enacts his oceanic literacy daily by embodying about 3,000 environmental pieces of information and making about 200 decisions based on the corporeally collected data.
In her conversation with the artist Sonia Levy, Karin Amimoto Ingersoll, a Kanaka Maoli political scientist, writer, and surfer based in Honolulu, discusses her notion of "seascape epistemology”. How can embodied literacies like navigation (ho’okele) and fishing (lawai’a) offer cultural affirmations that open up alternatives to the neocolonial systems that continue to subjugate Hawai’ian identity? In their residency project, Sonia Levy and her collaborators think from within the depths of a very different space: the Venetian Lagoon. How can Ingersoll’s approach informs Levy’s submerged perspectives, initiating life-affirming passageways of knowing and being?

Part II: Meredith Root-Bernstein with Emanuele Coccia

In this conversation, the lagoon is a cocoon: a place of transformation where every single living being reciprocally transforms and is transformed by its environment. The interdisciplinary conservation scientist Meredith Root-Bernstein talks to the philosopher Emanuele Coccia, departing from his works Metamorphosis and The Life of Plants. Examining various approaches to agency and image-making, the residency project was interested in wetland flora as agentive beings instead of passive tools in lagoon restoration projects, echoing biological and ecological concepts such as developmental plasticity and ecosystem engineering. Our guests delve into this interest in moving beyond questions of observation, or gaze, toward a situated and embodied understanding of life on Earth.


Magical Fresh & Salty Conversations is produced by TBA21–Academy with the support of STARTS, an initiative by the European Commission.

Special thanks to our guests: Emanuele Coccia, Karin Amimoto Ingersoll, Sonia Levy, and Meredith Root-Bernstein.

Editor at large: María Montero Sierra
Sound edited by: Elena Zieser
Introduction and credits voice-over: Nathan Johnson
Music by horizonsnd.
Underwater sound recordings of the Venetian Lagoon by Sonia Levy and Jez Riley French
Produced by: Miriam Calabrese, María Montero Sierra, Katarina Rakušček, and the artists.


This episode of Magical Fresh & Salty Conversations features the artist and STARTS resident Sonia Levy in conversation with Erika Balsom, a London-based scholar and critic working on cinema, art, and their intersection. During their STARTS residency, Sonia Levy and her collaborators, environmental anthropologist Heather Swanson, ecologist Meredith Root Bernstein, and landscape architect Alexandra Arènes, looked at the Venetian Lagoon through the lens of nature-based solutions to mitigate flood risks. What issues arise from Venice’s long history of taming its waterscape? With a shared commitment to noticing more-than-human worlds, the group strived to forge their own understanding of the controversies arising from the lagoon’s water management.

In Sonia’s eyes, lagoons are fascinating places to think about the meeting of different bodies of water - fresh and saltwater. Filming underwater became a way to get to know the ephemeral world of the lagoon and its processes of transformation in the hope that this submerged perspective might also bring about speculative approaches to policy change.


Magical Fresh & Salty Conversations is produced by TBA21–Academy with the support of STARTS, an initiative by the European Commission.

Special thanks to our guests: Erika Balsom and Sonia Levy.
Editor at large: María Montero Sierra
Sound edited by: Elena Zieser
Introduction and credits voice-over: Nathan Johnson
Music by horizonsnd
Underwater sound recordings of the Venetian Lagoon by Sonia Levy and Jez Riley French
Produced by: Miriam Calabrese, María Montero Sierra, Katarina Rakušček, and the artists.

by Karin Ingersoll [text]

Produce to accompany the installation for Liquid Intelligence, curated by Chus Martínez with Soledad Gutiérrez and María Montero Sierra, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid


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