Thursday, Oct 1 | 9:00-10:50 am

SETTING THE STAGE | Room 210 (Instrumental Hall)

Salt Water Skin Boats: Attentiveness and Art in the Anthropocene

Erica Grimm

…the ocean contains the switch of life. Not land, not the atmosphere.
The ocean. And that switch can be turned off. 
Alanna Mitchell

Oceans placental, but soon a new hydro of gone
Dennis Lee

This paper invites session participants to consider, from a variety of methodological vantage points, what we know about the global ocean, how it is changing and what the implications of that change are. We will consider why paying attention to the anthropocene is so important, that perhaps science and arts-based research need each other, and see visual work that uses embodiment metaphors for understanding complex global eco patterns. So long an emblem of healing and spiritual solace, what might it mean to consider that the ocean is sick?   

We know oceans contain 97% of the earth’s water, produce half the oxygen in the atmosphere and regulate earth’s climate. We know life depends on water, and that global oceans are a finely tuned chemical soup that incubates life. We know humans are 70% water and require an equally finely tuned chemical balance.

We know ocean acidity and temperature are rising and salinity patterns are shifting. These rapid oceanic changes alter rainfall and storm patterns, result in floods, drought and weather disruptions. We know glaciers and icecaps are melting, and that there are patches in the ocean with no oxygen. We know plankton are the real lungs of the planet. And we know their shells and skeletons are dissolving.

We know these changes are caused by human behavior, that they started with the industrial revolution, and are ushering in a new geological epoch called the anthropocene.  We know a lot about the ocean, yet we have only begun to learn of the systems’ complexity, mystery, peril and the need to pay attention. 


Erica Grimm is a Canadian visual artist, researcher and educator whose work is exhibited widely and is in collections such as the Canada Council Art Bank and Richmond Art Gallery. Her material practice is rooted in embodiment and liminality, and is fueled by a sense of urgency regarding environmental water issues. Her written practice explores the epistemological and ethical implications of the active practice of making and suggests attentiveness is key to aesthetics. 2002 Invited Nash Lecturer and named University of Regina Distinguished Alumnae, she is Associate Professor and Chair, Art + Design, SAMC at TWU.

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Edith Krause

Scientists have long been warning us, with limited success, of an impending ecological crisis.   Since the obstacles to addressing this issue are largely political and cultural in nature, perhaps artists can play a role to engage the public in critical discussions.

Of ecological concern is plastic in the oceans.  Myths abound about a plastic island the size of Texas floating in the middle of the Pacific, conjuring images of a post-industrial tropical dystopia.   What actually exists is far more sinister:  a vast soup of abandoned fishnets, lost cargo and post-consumer plastic waste, most of it rendered to microscopic, phytoplankton-sized particles by sun, wind and wave. Thus plastic becomes food for filter-feeders and enters the food chain.  What is the ecological cost as plastic moves up the chain from zooplankton to fish, seabirds, marine mammals and ultimately to humans?   What is the legacy of a civilization addicted to consumerism, material wastefulness and convenience?

These questions inspired "Disposable", a body of artworks from a continuing collaboration between artist Jo-Ann Sheen and myself.  Totemic collagraphs of fast food packaging attest to the almost religious attachment our society has to convenience and safety.  Screen-printed juxtapositions of plankton and plastics raise the specter of ecological cost.   Tangled fish line and plastic objects found on local beaches obscure digital images of profoundly beautiful and fragile life-forms.  An exhibition of these prints in a small community gallery provided opportunity for engaging the public in discussions on the problem of plastic waste.  These encounters also raised the issue of art as a means of public education:  is it legitimate to use art as a vehicle for activism and advocacy, or does this render it propaganda? In a climate of unprecedented urgency, perhaps we need to re-examine our understanding of the cultural value of art.


Edith Krause is a printmaker whose art practice has drawn heavily from her previous work in marine and aquatic ecology.  In a desire to address the ecologically tenuous state of the ocean, she borrows from ecological field practice to collect plankton and from microscopy to photograph the collected organisms.  These photographs become references for her woodcuts and serigraphs.   Her use of printmaking, the creation of images from a matrix, as a medium for creating images of life, also created from a matrix (DNA) is deliberate.

Edith lives in Langley, British Columbia and is an art instructor at Trinity Western University.

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What's in Store: The Challenge of Sea-Level Rise

Sam Pimentel

Large-scale ocean changes are underway, sea temperatures are rising, ocean acidity is increasing, and sea-level rise is accelerating.  This talk will present a brief and accessible overview of the current science.  The focus will be on sea-level rise and the contribution to this from loss of land ice.  This includes how glaciers and ice-sheets are dynamically responding to a warming world.  I will touch upon the potential ‘tipping points’ of large-scale disintegration of the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheets.  I will conclude that anthropogenic planetary changes are significant and that we are already committed to further changes; furthermore, it is not yet clear whether it is possible to avoid major thresholds.  These changes are difficult to comprehend they are often distant in time, global in scale and involve daunting numbers.  An interdisciplinary approach is needed to help make sense of the situation.  The scientific voice is somewhat limited by the constraints of measured scientific language whereas artists are free to express the essence of the situation.  The artist can translate cold scientific information into something tangible and it is the arts that can be thought-provoking and engage human emotions.  The task of moving toward environmentally sustainable global management is enormous. We must encompass science and the arts to bear on these problems and bring about the adjustments in human behavior necessary for a more stable future.


Sam Pimentel is an assistant professor at Trinity Western University in the Faculty of Natural and Applied Sciences.  He has a Ph.D. in Physical Oceanography from the University of Reading, UK.  His Ph.D. studies involved modeling diurnal cycles in sea surface temperatures in order to remove biases from the satellite observation record.  His current research program involves modeling glaciers and ice-sheets with the aim of understanding their dynamic response to climate change and better quantify future sea level estimates.  He has previously been involved in an interdisciplinary project called The Geological Turn.

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