VR – coral reefs

As one of the 1st of 60 artists-in-residence with Google’s Tilt Brush, a portal of awesome opened up for me! Immersed in a dark space, magical colorful dream world comes to life before your headset-wearing eyes with your movements. The “brushes” are a mix of markers, paint brushes, physical-feeling extruded light, audio-activated pulsating colors…it was such a great residency.

Playing with materials without any outcome in mind is so important to my well-being. Even with an idea in mind, letting the tools illuminate the way is a candy-colored high of inspiration.

Since the residency, I’ve been invited to create work as an impromptu, live performer for various events. Most of the time I’m in the flow of making something that is projected onto a large monitor in real time so the audience can see what I see. It’s a fabulous job and I hope to do more soon! One event was Virtual Tomorrow in landlocked Columbus, Ohio. How great to be able to create reefy scenes and talk with attendees and local tech team about corals and Living Sea Sculptures while so far from the ocean.

On the other side of the discussion, some people express anxiety about Virtual Reality. Clearly, VR has its distressing arenas, as with all tech innovation that leads to roads unknown. So, use it as a tool to highlight what matters to you. For me, that’s the coral reefs, marine world, surreal nature, and healing the environment that we all share through imagination, collaboration, and action. Being able to move in space and wave wands to create 3D worlds is magic.

 

Zoe is in the SEA!!!

After 5 days of electrolysis
After 5 days of electrolysis

On Sept 8, 2016, we received our final signature from the government to install Zoe in an incredible home. Zoe touched the seafloor in Cozumel, Mexico on September 23, 2016.

Plans to be part of MUSA in Cancún were blocked due to challenges with our electrical and internet needs. Unlike the cement sculptures, Zoe requires more infrastructure.

Huge thanks to Ingmar Gonzalez Krotzsch for introducing me to Cozumel and uniting an incredible team! He envisioned exactly where it would go and – voilá! Isabel Caamaño Ricken, our brilliant coral biologist, applied for the final permit, along with her inventor brother, Pancho (Francisco) who together have a manifestation to place sculptures into this unique coral restoration lab and underwater art museum, Musubo. This Underwater Golden Diver Museum is a featured attraction of the annual Scuba Fest, organized by Gilda Sigie, who warmly invited Zoe to come to life in this special place.

Coral reef restoration installed in Cozumel
Zoe is in there!

Zoe is now in good company with bronze busts of Sylvia Earle, Jacques Cousteau, Ramón Bravo, and numerous Fractal Artificial Reefs and Reef Balls. Since 2006, the site aims to increase biodiversity and investigate coral regeneration after devastation from hurricanes and pollution. Sand Dollar Sports Dive Shop owner and project internet+electricity sponsor, John Flynn, and his dive guides want to reduce negative tourism impact on the natural reefs through rehabilitation and ecological recreation programs. You’ll see corals colonizing Zoe soon!

Qualti Innovaciones Marinas did a fabulous job installing with their hurricane-proof patented anchors. It was an underwater performance watching Laura and Pancho work skillfully in silent tandem. Thomas Sarkisian, electrical engineer from Global Coral Reef Alliance, has been awaiting over 5 years to turn on the electricity. Right after the switch was flipped on September 29th, the minerals began to deposit and fish started to arrive to eat the algae. YEA!!!

First two fish visiting coral reef restoration project
Our first two visitors

The marinero and capitán were key with the placement of Zoe and the camera into the sea. Here you see Pancho and Thomas preparing the Tilt Pan Zoom View into the Blue Camera to begin livestreaming. Trevor Mendelow has been configuring remotely with Danirel Alvarez Junco of Sand Dollar and the dedicated crew of Soluciones Xtreme Net who laid and wired our cables…a big production!

Blue Camera being installed in Cozumel coral reef restoration project
Blue Camera live stream being installed

My great great thanks to ALL OF YOU, my dear backers for being with me since the very beginning in 2011, and to the hundreds, thousands of others I’ve met along the journey that made this possible! Your contributions kept us going and the sheer number of you was constant motivation!!!!

new installation bio-rock coral reef restoration project Cozumel
October 4th, I took so many photos 🙂

You must come to the island to snorkel or dive. Only a 40 minute ferry ride from Playa Del Carmen (close to Cancún). Zoe is about 4m deep and open to the public. Very calm water and an ideal place to get certified in diving if thinking about it? Snorkeling is fine!

The water is crystal clear and fabulous for viewing our livestream. Content is underway for Zoecoral.com site built by amazing TED Fellow, longtime tech consultant and Zoe collaborator, Jen Indovina!

Many special thanks to my loving family, Luis Bourillón, Marisol Rueda Flores, José Luis Funes, Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, Serguei Rico, María Antonia Gonzalez, Lorenzo Rosenzweig Pasquel (FMCN), Lyn Ohala, TEDxCancún, Soluciones Xtreme Net, Staff of Sand Dollar Sports Dive Shop and Sunset Restaurant, Andrés Uscanga, Yibrán Aragón, Marenter, Todo Inoxidable, Infectango, SupporTED, Autodesk, Shaan Hurley, INapesca, UNAM, Cable Cozumel, the black bunny that just hopped by, and every friend, collaborator, acquaintance, coach not listed here who offered help, kindness, direction, mentoring, introductions, dancing, food, fun!!!

ALL of YOU are the reason. Logramos! Next phase, monitoring and colonizing ~~~

With love and fishes, Colleen and Living Sea Sculpture

Scrawled File Fish visiting Zoe coral reef restoration Cozumel

To follow on Facebook; twitter @livingseasculpt

Here to contribute to the monitoring, sensors, and maintenance

Luz Verde for Zoe

It’s happening! I’m sitting outside using some wifi in Puerto Morelos while all the puzzle pieces are Tetrising (verb) into place to install Zoe in Cozumel sea by month’s end. So exciting to be working with such an incredible crew. Here are just a few from Qualti Innovaciones Marinas who worked on the authorization with the government and will be responsible for installation with the rest of the US and Swedish team coming in on Wednesday.

Qualti Innovaciones Marinas

Last Wednesday was a quiet moment of joy relief happy peace to watch Zoe be moved for the first time since 2011 from her waiting place in Punta Sam, Cancún back to Todo Inoxidable (steel factory) where we built her in 2011.

IMG_3007 (1)

Tomorrow we’ll make some quick fixes and changes so we can ferry her over to Cozumel end of week. Yea!

I’m being eaten by mosquitoes, so will be brief! (A couple friends have Zika, not good). It has taken an incredible amount of people to get this far, and my gratitude is running over.

Very happy that after more than 5 years, we have a super location and home for this Living Sea Sculpture. And you will be able to view it and interact from the livestreaming webcam!

OpenROV in Quintana Roo

Just launched our expedition on Open Explorer. Hugely grateful to David Lang, Fellow TED Fellow and co-founder of OpenROV, for helping us to receive a grant to play with this new toy and tool.

Please follow along at ROVing the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef!

OpenROV 2.8 Mini Observation Class ROV
OpenROV 2.8 Mini Observation Class ROV

We’ll be ROVing in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, starting in June. Very excited about this new Caribbean adventure with so many incredibly fun, caring, and brilliant people. Lots of complex ecosystems and biodiversity at stake, so we want to build momentum to protect and nurture our interdependence and learn from the past, present, and daily future.

I was just asked, so here you go~ ROV means remotely operated vehicle. Part of the Robotics glossary: An underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) is a mobile robot designed for aquatic work environments. Remote control is usually carried out through copper or fiber optic cables.
We should be receiving our ROV kit by end of month with hope to go out on first run to celebrate a birthday. Building an ROV and observing underwater life with loving friends – super way to begin a new year!!!

 

 

 

Fundación Aitana Connects with Corals

FundacioAitana6webGustavo Navarrette and I arrived at Fundación Aitana in Cancún on March 19th to give our Zoe Reef reFORMed art and science workshop to the fabulous children, their nurturing families, and generous volunteers. As always, my favorite part is being drawn into the unknown and the surprising results. It is like watching something bloom in real time as we feel and see our way forward in each emergent moment.

FundacionAitana3web
Making Papier-mâché corals

Everyone semi-consciously feeds each others’ curiosity to try different approaches to painting and creating. And the speed! Working in groups like this builds beautiful fluid momentum so that by the end of 2 or 3 hours, wow, so many corals and fish!

FundacionAitana17webConversations and laughter, it was really fun and inspiring to work with these kids who are cancer patients and survivors. Not once did it seem like anyone was ill, but they are at high risk and need local care facilities. Fundación Aitana is working to bring pediatric oncology to Cancún because they don’t have it. The families have to go hours to Merida, Cozumel, and beyond. This leads to huge expenses and deaths that could be avoided. Right now as I wrote that sentence I see a parallel with the corals, how they have diseases and need urgent care too. It is nice to have times where fun activities help us to enjoy and heal ourselves and other species in some way.  There is wonderful comforting connection in that.

FundacionAitana4web

 

 

 

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.

IMC exhibit

Respire 1.0 our first prototype
Respire 1.0 our first prototype

From the opening reception of the exhibit, TrashTara: It Starts with an Inhale on November 6th, until the closing reception on December 2nd, the Co-Create residency with James Tunick at THE IMC LAB + GALLERY continued in the backdrop. Unlike conventional gallery spaces, the 6th floor venue is a mixed-use morphing environment for artists and a few other small businesses to share. The Respire prototype and immersive installation truly gained a life of its own as James added interactive audio and visuals of data and living reefs projected onto the wall, ceiling, and kinetic sculpture.

Fellow artist-in-residence, Dan Baker’s, hanging art pieces made of retrieved plastic from local waterways were synced with data streams from an Alaskan tidal buoy in preparation for his upcoming exhibit, Ebb and Flow. A monitor showing the tides looked like an EKG. Though conceived separately, they added naturally to the concept and sensory media exploration. I brought over a small mineral accretion experiment I was working on at NYU in Natalie Jeremijenko’s XClinic to directly link coral health and innovation elements visually and physically to participants.

5 Gallon mineral accretion tank at IMC

Motion tracking was triggering the inhales and exhales of the Respire sculpture. The  electricity to the biorock mineral accretion tank was on the same outlet, so anyone moving in the space activated or deactivated the electricity; it was like watching life support go on and off. When the sculpture was idle, black and white images from iron lung artificial respiration projected onto the sculpture representing the bleached state of coral and the need for human action to restore vitality and prevent increased mortality. James and I will continue R&D to evolve the project, tying interactivity and effects more intimately with climate change, coral restoration and life support, and interdependent interspecies health.

And what about TrashTara? I had proposed to produce video and photos from my excursions to receive an LMCC grant. My first experience editing with final cut pro, it was a sweet feeling to observe the raw results, far from pro but close to my heart. Colby Cannon, Rob Bregman, and Dan Baker all gave me some quick tutorials. I grabbed poignant GoPro clips from my street outings together with some footage of me collecting butts day and night. Watching my selected snips of documentation linked together randomly led to a meaningful string of spontaneous interactions I had with people throughout Manhattan. I knew people would be receptive to cigarette butt recycling and pollution conversations if they were first uplifted by someone in a costume embodying a compassionate artwork. The face to face experience and kind moments were proof that impressions and attitude, perceptions and expectations are always operating consciously and subconsciously. Everything about the experience was socially enlightening for me and others, and hardly anyone I met knew that they could recycle butts in New Jersey at TerraCycle.

From EVGrieve blog post by Andrew (no last name)
TrashTara’s Butt Brigade Poster made in collaboration with Colby Cannon

The photo I used is from Scotland a few years ago when I was intrigued with arty butt shots before I was thinking about how that tiny remnant could harm marine life. NOTE:  I WANT $1 (or more!) to go towards coral restoration, but it is an ideal not yet real. Something to work towards.

TrashTara : It Starts with An Inhale

I was walking in the East Village with my dog, stopping for him to pee and for me to take a photo of a cigarette butt flattened in a crack in the sidewalk, when it struck me – are these recyclable? They’re everywhere. Beyond grabbing my attention for arty butt shots, they really shouldn’t be everywhere I look. Turns out, yes, they are recyclable. And that was it. I finally knew WHAT TrashTara would be collecting in her Catch-All…

Since late April, I’ve been a Co-Create Artist in Residence at The IMC LAB + GALLERY, owned by James Tunick and Carrie Elston-Tunick. Loving it! While here, I’ve created my latest alter ego, TrashTara, and been out on the streets of Manhattan. She/me has been hand-collecting those butts, the most littered object in the world, while talking to people and gathering footage with a GoPro.

TrashTara in Tompkins Square Park, East Village. Photo courtesy of Stanley Raffes.

Most people don’t know that cigarette butts are such a huge problem for the environment or that they can be recycled. After the last relaxing drag, there’s satisfaction in flicking them to the ground to roll their way into cracks, storm drains, and gutters.

Strom drain on Ave B in East Village

It needs to seep into the mainstream knowledge that cigarettes have non-biodegradable plastic filters, and that nicotine is a very toxic pesticide. Each butt could spend 10 years tossing around in the ocean and water supply killing wildlife and polluting ourselves. One cigarette butt can kill fish in a liter of water. TerraCycle has initiated placing receptacles in cities around the world, and inviting people to join their butt brigades to send in cigarette butts. I’d like to set up a TrashTara Butt Brigade so that every pound of butts collected by those collaborating with me will result in $1 towards Living Sea Sculpture coral reef habitat.

TrashTara’s Catch-All

The tar-filled filters can be cleaned and transformed into plastic pallets, anti-corrosives for steel, and textiles. If we can get the 4.5 trillion of them off the ground and into the up-cycling circuit – I heard SF spends $11 million each year on cigarette collection alone – we can save lots of lives and money.

When TrashTara is out at night, her headdress, or as synthetic biologist, Oliver Medvedik, co-founder of GenSpace calls it, her “GMO Tiara,” has fluorescing proteins that come from corals and jellies. With the addition of Ultra Violet LEDs, the GFP and RFP glow.  I wanted to avoid plastic resins, and am fascinated with bioluminescence and fluorescence in nature, so we collaborated to create a potentially controversial object. Synthetic biology is complex; the layers of ethics, philosophy, politics, and science involved in genetic research are many and divisive, so I’m grateful I had the opportunity to experiment with proteins as paints to get closer to the reality of how vast this field is and how the concept of “GMO” is completely unknown to most of us in a hands-on way.

TrashTara buttpicking in Gramercy

Also for the upcoming show, James Tunick and I have been developing the first prototypes for Respire – The Coral Corollary, an interactive, multimedia immersive exhibit correlating coral health with human health incorporating data, kinetic sculpture, audio and video so that through their senses and emotions, participants feel connected to corals, the living, breathing animals and plants that share our world with us and take care of us in so many ways. They need us to redesign how we perceive and intersect with their habitat if they are to survive. James is programming micro-controllers that sense human participant and ocean data to trigger responsive movement, lighting, and effects in the sculptures and space.

I hope you can come to the show! TrashTara will be at the opening.

photo by Colby Cannon

 

 

 

 

 

ZOE looks ahead in the midst of spawning and pollution

Aerial view of Gulf of Mexico

I opened my window just as we were flying over Punta Nizuc where we plan to install ZOE. There is a lot of ocean in the photo, but I was so focused on Punta Nizuc, it was a great surprise to see the reefs and aqua clear waters where we plan to put our coral refuge. Without Google-Earthing, I could get an idea of the broader seascape of the area. We plan to locate ZOE near the resort in shallow waters.  There are species of corals that like being very close to the surface.  Actually, while snorkeling in the area, the healthiest coral reefs seemed to be in the shallows.

Not far out from the dock is the site where we will anchor the sculpture.  The rest of my August visit entailed meetings with the Director of the Marine Park and the MUSA directors, as well as scientists at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México (UNAM) in Puerto Morelos to develop our proposal for a scientific research collaboration between Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP) and UNAM.  Growth monitoring is our main focus, as well as observing differences between neighboring natural corals and those on the Biorock® mineral accretion reef.

Autodesk has generously offered to come to Mexico to train us in their latest photogrammetry process, the cutting edge in 3D digital modelling.  They’ll train me, my team, including a group of university students, in how to capture the photos of our coral transplants and neighboring corals.

Coral scientist, Serguei Rico of UNAM, is working with me on our proposal to ensure ZOE is a conservation experimental project of the National Marine Park as well as a tourism attraction for MUSA.  He was telling me that another PhD student wants to start experimenting with taking photos to digitally model corals for monitoring coral growth as his thesis. As he was describing it, I couldn’t help but jump in and tell him that part of the project was to offer free training for just that! Perfecto.

Serguei has been following how corals have been effected by nitrogen run-off and other pollutants since the emergence of mega-tourism. Sewage from all those hotels along the Hotel Zone in Cancun and down the Riviera Maya is deep injected. It seeps into the aquifers and ocean causing corals to suffer new diseases.  There were only 3 inhabitants on Isla Cancún in 1970. Now there are over 722,000. With no treatment plants, you can see how this is an epic problem with all that untreated shit running into the sea. Corals are much more sensitive to the bacteria in sewage than humans, and the parts per million are well-beyond their standards.

While I was in Mexico this trip, I witnessed baby turtles being released on a full moon. (next post.) I wish I could’ve joined the small group of scientists watching corals spawn at night, but they want to protect the animals while they are making babies from too many intrusive people. I understand needing more privacy, and wanting to avoid the potential for humans to get crowded and bump into the reefs.

Sunset before spawning
Spawning gives a smokey milky appearance. Acropora Palmata aka Elkhorn Coral.
Endangered corals spawning in August, 2014

Spawning photos are from PN Costa Occidental de Isla Mujeres, Punta Cancún y Punta Nizuc.

The dream to plant some corals onto ZOE is getting closer to being realized.  Working with the scientists, meeting the resort manager, connecting with other artists who want to be part of the local team to install and create future works…It was a wonderful process and we took many steps forward.

Look closely and you can see where we plan to install as soon as we do.

 

 

 

 

Birthday wishes

It’s my birthday.  Not Living Sea Sculpture’s birthday, Colleen Flanigan’s.  What did I wish for?  I wished that I would continue to only pay attention to signs of love and stay wide open to all the good around, and that the Living Sea Sculpture in Mexico would be installed.

First wish is totally happening! Second wish is on its way.  I’ve been communicating with individuals and people in organizations every day as I intuit and research who to reach out to next to clear the path into the sea for ZOE (previously titled DNA Dividing).  MUSA has a new executive director who has offered some assistance, and the founders of the underwater museum were supposed to be meeting last week to add “more efforts.”  The Mexican Consulate in New York, the Tourism Board, people who know people in Akumal and Cancun, Oceanus in Chetumal, The Nature Conservancy, The World Bank,…I am reaching out to complete this exciting chapter for coral colonies that has been filled with politics and slow steps towards economic, social, and ecological transformation.

Which makes me jump to yesterday.  I went on a birthday art outing with a friend to see Kara Walker’s, “a Subtlety,” or “The Marvelous Sugar Baby,” made of sugar at the soon to be demolished Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

"a Subtlety" by Kara Walker. Presented by Creative Time at the Domino Sugar Factory.

This political, visual homage to mistreated humans is poignant to our present day humanitarian desire to create healthier relationships with other species and our living environment.  It might seem like a stretch, but for me and many others who want to restore dying ecosystems and think big picture long term, abuse and disrespect of a group of people in many ways is similar to abuse and disrespect of other species and natural resources; both are perpetuated by the greed and pervasive ignorance of “authority.”

Kara Walker's installation at the Domino Sugar Factory

At this free exhibit, open through July 6th on Fridays and weekends, thousands are flocking to see the sculptural sugar interpretations of people who were repressed and treated as commodities by others lording over them with calculating, callous power.  This large-scale public work would have been impossible to imagine as something to be accepted, let alone publicly and culturally honored, 40 years ago.  Change happens fast.  Change happens slowly.

Kara describes the work:

“An homage to the unpaid and overworked artisans who have refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the kitchens of the new world on the occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.”

For the sake of metaphor, we can insert other species into context as the “artisans”: those who are not being seen for their worth.  With so much red tape and destructive human forces killing without conscience or logic, when in the 21st century will society reach critical momentum to recognize ourselves in other living beings, and then take it a step further, and make decisions with their well-being in mind?  Steps forward and steps back, all along the winding path there are those who operate from places of love, trust, and ambitious equality.

Many artists fall into that lump. Art emerges from imagination linking concepts, emotions, skills, and materials. It is largely underestimated and undervalued in all its forms, even though it is the medium that can reveal multitudes of meaning and guidance because its essence is sensing, “seeing,” and expressing with impact.

Through this carefully planned, impressive construction, Kara Walker molded a story of a painful history of repression and offered a unique form of care and respect.  Witnessing the sugar – it was saying a lot in silence – I was not so subtly reminded of where we come from, and where we can go if we choose.  I felt levity in the space, possibly because so many of us never knew this specific era personally, and possibly because of all the white light and visitors. I was in awe at her monumental work built from our sweetener to shed light on a dark secret.

"a Subtlety" by Kara Walker at the Domino Sugar Factory, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Underwater Cities – When?

Arup Biomimetics' Syph

I’m talking about humans. Obviously there are multitudes of living cities made up of marine organisms populating and migrating to dwell in the sea, but will humans begin to colonize the ocean? Is it a good thing? A necessary thing? How will this exploration protect itself from adding to the demise of ocean and Earth health? Why is it taking so long?…lots of questions to think about on this frontier.

Ocean Cities are definitely part of the pioneering future. Both Trendhunter and Ecofriend featured the Syph above, a concept design proposal for a competition envisioning Australia 40 years from now.

I feel inner conflict between a sense of invading wilderness and striving to live in harmony with other species as we continuously sway the balance on our curious and precarious, uncertain path to sustaining biological evolution.  The trillions of dollars spent to manufacture, engineer, and execute methods to kill people illustrate that the financial resources are there.  From governments to wealthy private patrons, the desire has not been great to develop architecture and human habitat in the ocean.

Experimental short-term stays for science and education, as well as hotels,  have been emerging for over 50 years.  These carefully controlled environments could become prototypes for off-shore housing in areas like the Maldives that are likely to be the first victims of sea level rise.

According to BBC Future, visionary ocean explorer, Ian Koblick, was ready to bring on underwater habitats in the 1970’s.  Now at 74, he admits that it is not likely in his lifetime to see his futurist vision realized.  He is the owner and co-developer (with Neil Monney) of the Jules Undersea Lodge, which used to be the La Chalupa Research Laboratory, also developed and operated by Koblick, to study the continental shelf off the coast of Puerto Rico.  From scientific investigation to contemporary tourism and mainstream ocean outreach, this habitat has served diverse populations of many species.  It is an example of what might be possible if more interest and demand for underwater cities grows.

The conservationist in me meets up with the visionary progressive and hopes for more conscious exploration and development for this still young field:  Pioneering not to conquer, but to cultivate new biomes in the ocean.   It is another provocative dance between technology and survival for so many species on this burgeoning planet.

 

prehistoric to present – forests from the trees

Tree of 40 Fruit, 2008 - present

Recently I was at an event where a beautiful tree by artist, Sam Van Aken, was being auctioned off to benefit Creative Capital. It was not in full flourish yet, but still a young green leafy growth with 20 varieties of stone fruit grafted: a technique whereby tissues from one plant are inserted into those of another so that the two sets of vascular tissues may join together. This vascular joining is called inosculation, and allows for asexual propagation of related species.

The process takes years for Sam to work with his plants to cultivate these sculptures that have a life of their own.

Sam with one of his hybrid trees, 2013

Here is a description, in his own words, about this hybridization and interdisciplinary project.

 The Tree of 40 Fruit is an ongoing series of unique hybridized fruit trees. Blossoming in variegated tones of pink and white in spring, through a process of sculpting by way of grafting and pruning, each tree in this series has the capacity to grow 40 varieties of fruit from the family of stone fruits including peach, plum, apricot, nectarine, and cherry, and will reach an approximate size of 20’ tall with a canopy of 20’.

 

The Tree of 40 Fruit are allegorical sculptures. As a symbolic number found throughout western religion, culture, and government, the number 40 symbolizes the infinite, a bounty that is beyond calculation. Like the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, these trees are a potential; they are the beginning of a narrative that transforms the site they are located in. The far-reaching implications of these sculptures include issues of genetic engineering, biodiversity versus food monoculture, and, ultimately, the symbiosis of humankind’s relation to nature. 

 

One of the most challenging aspects of the work is the planning or envisioning of how each graft, time of blossom, and fruiting will change the aesthetic and balanced quality of the tree. It is at this point that the process becomes sculptural. Nature poses a challenging collaborator. Where a bronze sculpture would provide an easier ally, working with living material can be temperamental. But it is this living quality that I feel gives the tree its greatest impact and potential.

 

The innate challenge of attempting to effect an aesthetically directed and functional “lifestyle” for multiple organisms without overshadowing nature’s voice within each tree is a microcosm of the perennial, universal quest for balance in uncertainty.  This is the same story with Living Sea Sculptures.  Although I have yet to begin “pruning” the aquatic topiary-like forms, I’m thinking of how to bridge the divide between destructive human desires, needs, actions and constructive organic ecosystems. Artists who work with other beings that don’t speak in words are blurring the lines of art, science, and technology as they develop interspecies projects and dialogues.  I’m in awe of the quiet partners, since they’ve been around for so many thousands, or millions, of years, and in relation to them, we are Earth dwelling novices exploring their unique reproduction and life-giving bounty.

Now, to share a quick look into our ancient tree-lined past.  In case you haven’t heard of the primeval forest in the waters of Alabama, it dwarfs our relatively new research into collaborating with living nature.  Buried for years without Oxygen, it has persisted with its Cypress smell intact.  In 2005, Hurricane Katrina most likely ripped back the protective layers of sand and sediment to reveal this 50,000 year old forest.  One person suggests it has been in the ocean for 12,000 years; most accounts I find say it is estimated at 50,000 years old, but as you see in the video, it is not long for this exposed world.

Something about unexpected ancient forests surviving in the ocean juxtaposed with a 40 stone-fruit forest springing from one tree…I can’t stop thinking of Thoreau’s quote that I saw this past week while helping a friend wrap up his mother’s, Barbara Rothenberg’s, artwork at her studio.

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”- Henry David Thoreau