ArtCOP21 ZOE Reef reFORMed

Before I arrived in Mexico late December 2014, I was already anticipating COP21. I had marched with the Climate March in New York in September, and am in the wave of humanity doing something to address and reduce our carbon crisis.

My initial aim was to work with interactive technologists to projection map ZOE, our Living Sea Sculpture in Cancun, onto a unique building in Paris during this important Climate Change event. With a live-streaming webcam from View Into the Blue, not only would people online be able to tilt, pan, and zoom to observe and interact with our underwater project, we would interpret the visuals and the data, incorporate animation and effects, bringing this DNA-inspired coral reef ecosystem into the conference to reflect our dynamic ocean-human interface in dire need of attention and direct action.

When the Monterey Bay Aquarium invited me to be part of their Art and Climate Change campaign leading up to the conference, I was thinking it would be great if our plans to install ZOE in the sea the week of December 7th-11th would go through, synchronizing our coral regeneration work here with the mass global intention rippling across the planet. Working with Karla Munguia, a documentary filmmaker with years on Animal Planet, gave us some comraderie around conservation as we made this short video.

Corals here in Mexico have been feeling the heat this year. Bleaching is happening all through the region. I had a good talk with one of my collaborators at INAPESCA about what they are discovering recently. With so many variables, including an intense influx of sargassum seaweed since May, the usual onslaught of improperly treated sewage, and other contaminants from development, and the added heat this year, they see rises in algae and bacteria that severely affect the immunity and health of the corals, large and small. It is a big mix of damaging ingredients, and yet, resilient corals stay strong and are dominating communities where less hardy strains are deteriorating.

I’ve been designing the layout for planting 10 native coral species we would like to populate onto ZOE once it’s installed in the ocean. It’s exciting to envision how they might grow, and how other organisms and fish will come to animate the habitat. Just as I was getting ready to make a photoshop depiction, Somyaku found me through Instagram. He’s a kindred spirit, passionate to create beautiful and functional coral habitats with a reverence for closeness with nature and a desire to express our creativity in harmony with living beings. Here’s one of his renderings of ZOE with corals
. ZOE was made in 2011. This is an actual photo of the completed sculpture (on land) taken by Mike Gerzevitz and now being immersed digitally for us to imagine.

ZOE-Fi_edit-FULL_TRUE-wm_2MB(1)-1Somyaku’s background in Ikebana ties with lots of concepts I’m having lately about my Bauhaus Design training at UCLA – this layering of schools of thought and practice that are our heritage and how they all intersect in the field of Art as Ecology. I’ll share more about that fusion in another post. Back to COP21…!

We joined #ArtCOP21 through their online events all the way from Mexico. People everywhere are making art and statements, fueling the tide for renewable energy and a healthier world based on awareness of finite resources, cycles, and our dependence on Earth. Our ZOE Reef reFORMed project (you can see us if you zoom in over Cuba on their map) came together really quickly with the most amazing people. Truly grateful to Miranda Oriz at Centro Bek for spearheading the “coalition” to help us create art and educate kids about the science in time for COP2. Our inaugural workshop on December 10th was successful. Kids and their parents were invited through this collaborative project into longterm solutions for healing coral reefs, to participate in protecting and rebuilding our vital connection with them and all Life.

TEDxCancún

Sunrise in Cancún

Sunrise in Cancún photo Colleen Flanigan

September 18th, 2015 was the first ever TEDxCancún. It took Mónica Alba and her team 4 years to get the license because there was some doubt at the top that Cancun is a “real city,” not just a Spring Break party destination. It definitely is a developing place deserving of critical thinking and ideas worth spreading. From the cenotes to the sea, to birth, communities, entrepeneurs, tech, there is a lot of growth and desire for intelligent change.

I was honored to be among the speakers (my talk is live now). It gave me such a warm sense of belonging, especially since I had a flicker of a thought about having a TEDxCancún back in 2011 when I was here making the Living Sea Sculpture, now titled, ZOE. How sweet to participate in this amazing event while still awaiting permits to install ZOE into MUSA, the underwater museum (ok, we did get permits on August 21st, yea! but are now awaiting copies of permits..like fractals it goes on). It is nice to be seen for what you are working on even while in process of the process towards the perceived goal – coral refuge in the water with live-stream webcams. This specific project has taught me that growth is not a straight line, and I have had to forgive myself and others for missing deadlines that evaporate like steam.

TEDxCancún was Incredibly well organized, so many super volunteers, workshops for us speakers, celebrations…I was moved to tears at the end by how hearty it all was because of the passion, generosity and commitment of the leaders and dreamers who made it happen. Initially, I went to the first planning meeting with Mélina Soto, Elisa Lopez Garcia, and Mónica Alba. I was excited to gather information from other organizers so they could prepare their speakers and volunteers. Lots of good energy builds up around these events, and you want to dive in. What a happy surprise when they asked me to speak! Grateful to be acknowledged and have the opportunity to tell my story about the “Symbiosis of Corals and Tango.” I tangoed in with Mario Oswaldo of InfecTANGO. Tango dancing was my metaphor for coral restoration, partnerships, and the journey of ZOE as an art and science collaboration. Over the top nervous this time, I wanted to practice and be truly present on stage so that I could enjoy, improvise a bit, and connect with the audience if possible. I had all the support in the world writing my words, rehearsing, and when I got on stage, there was calm and spaciousness inside. I could see all my words coming from the script while still able to think and react without losing track or being blinded by some adrenaline shock of white light. What a dream to feel solid and ease after so much inner struggle.

photo María González

photo María González

I am still in Mexico, here in quiet Puerto Morelos. Have been here with some trips away since late December. We have mineral accretion tank experiments going on since May to bring more of the coral scientists into the process. I love learning about the corals and how the electrolysis works; lots of variables and keeps me engaged with what I am so passionate about while the permit dance has been ongoing for ZOE.

…Something about being in Mexico has made me shy away from blogging. I don’t know why. I have been learning Spanish and wanting to stay in the moment with being here. And there is a lot of heat… yet, none of that explains why I shy. There is no excuse, so back to TEDxCancún! I hope you will visit their site in a month to see the talks.

The sunrise at the top of the page is my view on September 18th thanks to TEDxCancún and Secrets of the Vine. What a HUGE gift to have room service and such care while I was stressing and needing the love. It made all the difference to be well-fed and pampered by the friendly hotel staff. And again, all the TEDx volunteers who treated us speakers with glowing respect and joy, handholding and soothing. I was embraced by their presence. I can’t thank them enough!

On Our Radar

Respire – The Coral Corollary is acknowledged by Creative Capital’s On Our Radar through September 30th, 2015. Another highly competitive grant for artists, Creative Capital generously represents some 400 artist projects who made it to the 2nd or 3rd round of their selection process through their searchable database.

IMC respire1 from Colleen Flanigan on Vimeo.

This raw video I took one night while interactive technologist, James Tunick of The IMC LAB + GALLERY, and I were co-creating the 1st phase prototype of Respire gives a peek into our process for integrating sensor driven kinetic sculpture, audio, and video in an immersive installation. Also in this clip you can see the EKG-like screen which shows tidal data that drives the vertical movement of resin-covered plastic objects and bags found in waterways hanging in the background which were created by James Baker for his IMC show, Ebb and Flow.

My handheld shaky walk takes you to the small Biorock accretion tank with experimental mesh forms being electrified through seawater to precipitate mineral deposits.

photo colleen flanigan

The audio includes movie soundbites, something James Tunick explored. I had not thought about bringing voices into the project, so it was interesting to observe in myself and others how human voices and sci-fi memories stimulate a broad range of responses. I was also intrigued by his addition of morphing climate change and global graphics as surrounding projections. That is one of the best parts of collaborating, of course, trialing and riffing off of each other with curiosity as we dive into our imaginations, areas of expertise, and the unknown. Play and surprise is key.

Black/white video from actual iron lung footage in the 1940’s and 1950’s is spliced with vital coral imagery projected onto the “breathing coral” made with plastic bags sewn together over a steel sculpture to portray contrasts of vitality, mortality, and medical intervention. Breathing and movement of participants in the space, as well as ocean data, will continue to be the life force activating the exhibit.

In the next iteration, I imagine creating a very different feel and experience with the addition of an iron lung I purchased off ebay in 2012 so that the touring exhibit can more directly correlate to life support, concepts of technological advancement and cures for ailing coral reefs worldwide. Use of the ceiling has always been in the plan, and being in Mexico these past few months snorkeling and diving has shown me ocean illuminations that inspire how to bring a person in the land space to feel like they are in the sea, a sensory metaphor to being the coral. Whether you’re lying in the iron lung looking up after a “nurse” helps you inside, or you’re another observer interactor, I want to transport you, connect you with the non-verbal, fluid water animal that you are, breathing and reflecting, pulsing with a mysterious underwater corollary.

Geometries Patterns Music

Like Swirling Marbles, wind and current on the clear water distort the coral fragments below                                                                                                                                   photo Colleen Flanigan

I’m studying Spanish while here in Mexico, and had the fortune to meet Dr. ‘West’ Marrin in class last week. Through our raw Spanish conversation, we realized we had a mutual fascination with the ocean, not only in the macro sense, but in the micro, sonic, geometric, and chemical. We got lazy (or real) and spoke in English to discover we had a number of mutual friends and colleagues in common back in the US, and that Art and Science are core to our work.

As I’m developing new design ideas for Living Sea Sculpture reefs, sound waves of music  permeate. Music is the ultimate art form in its temporal nature yet eternal ability to effect us on a cellular and emotional level. We can always turn to a piece of music and be transported, moved, energized, saddened, hyped…the waves of sound are powerful, and of course, the ocean waves can take you under, take you somewhere far away, or lull you to sleep. How are sound waves of music and waves of water related, both the physical movement, the structural components and geometries, and the concept of rhythms and cycles.

West Marrin was a guest contributor to SciArt in America last June with this article, Functional Art and Water Science p.34 (scroll to p.18 in the pdf at the link). As a proponent of the genre, Art as Ecology, I am invested in raising the bar for functionality of art forms to the place where (once again) art is considered of equal value to math and science by world leaders and in the classroom because someone at the top realizes that without the ability to perceive your surroundings, discern the world with all of your senses, and imagine myriad juxtapositions and connections with your self as the common denominator, the common identifier that makes meaning to be offered to the world, then we as a civilization will erode powerful sensitivities and problem solving abilities within our species needed to evolve.

So back to the music idea before I rant about how much time, money, and resources are spent to produce a violent society rather than a creative and farsighted one.

“I envision combining a piece of music’s sound-waves with ocean sound-waves into a large sculptural coral reef. La Cumparsita, the last piece played at every milonga (tango party), is symbolic to me because dance is a well-known metaphor for life, and the idea of coming to the end of a fabulous time again and again and again at the end of each party, while we are facing the 6th mass extinction, there is something poetic, hopeful, and morbid united. Is it too far of a stretch to link the end of a dance to the end of a species? A dance that will happen again, but never the same. I want to embed that idea of the dance of life in a non-literal way, and music and sound epitomize that concept. Something transcendent or essential…Breaking down this narrative of cycles into sonic visual patterns for the purpose of regenerating endangered coral reefs and biodiversity through art and science investigation gives me a ground and rhythm to engage with such complex abstractions and information.”
That was part of my email to West today, to which he replied, “…As far as the rhythms of tango and the cycles of nature, they have a common source that is inherent in everything from the regeneration of coral reefs to the birthing of galaxies. All are based on the same fundamental geometry of nature that is expressed spatially as patterns and temporally as rhythms.”
And so, I’ll keep recording live music with my iphone. I like to watch the sound waves while envisioning a living reef composed of musical algorithms with the help of Autodesk software and scientific consultations into a score tuned for the sea.

Prototypes for Coral Housing

Form is part of the formula for creating coastal community housing. Here we’re trialing  project housing (not necessarily low cost to produce, but readily available for marginalized coral communities) on small-scale so we can ramp up to meet the growing needs of the globe using a simple math equation:

~!^!~  + **^V^** + /\/\/\#<><>#/\/\/\ = <{*}(>>>)<

(form + volume + comfort = housing)

I arrived in Mexico with some steel screen that stirs my imagination for mineral accretion potential. I knew somehow I’d meet the place to play with it to make bumps on the flat mesh. Walking home the other day, I saw this place.

Carpenter shop in Vilas Morelos 1, Puerto Morelos

“I bet that’s the place,” I was thinking, as I almost walked in, but then, no, I kept walking. Next day I was walking past again just as a dumping rain began. I ran from the other side of the street to a tree, because you know how a tree will keep you dry when the rain is bucketing down. A young guy came out of the shop (I didn’t quite realize my perfect timing yet with the storm and my tree canopy attempt), and waved me to come inside.

And there I was. Inside. Martin, the carpenter who owns the shop (sorry I don’t know his last name) nodded for me to bring my metal and we could figure it out. Rain passed and soon I returned. Because neither of us are fluent in each other’s spoken language, I found it comforting to find materials and tools to try things and share the process of figuring things out more manually and with wordless ahas. The first attempt to carve domes was labor intensive and not successful.

Luckily we found holes! At the ends of tubes, on tools, everywhere and all sizes.

Pressing the screen into a tube hole to make bumps

In a dream recently, I used a hydraulic press to make the bumps, so it was a relief to discover that all we needed was our hands. Now we have a prototype with this material. Small or large-scale, finer screens and meshes have so much to offer the realm of building artistic and functional mineral accretion coral housing, breakwaters, and sculptures.

Form and texture for Biorock tank experiment

Imagine on a large scale, how will the corals and other organisms settle onto the bumps and valleys? How could we make really large forms with a hydraulic press or other machine? Or from multiple small forms all welded or woven together?

Who will settle on the inside of a tubular form? Which surfaces will gather more minerals?

Soon I hope to start an experiment with these prototypes at the government coral nursery in Puerto Morelos. Working with biologists, we can observe and cross-pollinate. They have systems for cultivating corals and are open to investigating new ways to offer best chances of survival. They want to see if corals do grow faster and how it effects their density. I’m excited to be working with the actual species that will be planted onto ZOE, a Living Sea Sculpture in Cancun, with the actual team of scientists that cultivate those species.

As an artist, I feel fortunate to be coming from a position of curiosity and freedom to research, express, and interpret. I am learning a lot about humans too, and the constructs we have built around our disciplines. Scientists tell me how dangerous it is to associate with the wrong scientists. How their reputations and theories are so carefully protected and boxed-in by the steely rules of SCIENCE. Peer-review and rigorous controls have their purpose, and their pain. I believe artistic investigators need to be part of scientific discourse so that new, sensory perspectives flow in and loosen some of the clamps of entrenched “reason.” Art and science collaborations heighten our intuition and create dialogue around the beauty and mystery seducing us to begin with…

Back to Martin – his daughter is in Ensenada, Mexico, the other side of the country, researching marine algae for cancer cures. His son is recovering from dengue fever. Through his craft and his children, we bonded for oceans and cures.