Art + Design Exhibition: Water Samples and Skin Boats
Water Samples and Skin Boats
Erica Grimm, Tracie Stewart, Sheinagh Anderson
Whether coursing through the atmosphere, ocean, river estuary or our veins, water sustains all life on the planet and is the theme of this exhibition. Using embodiment metaphors to call attention to human-caused ocean change, the work is informed by Alanna Mitchell’s award-winning Seasick: Ocean Change and the Extinction of Life on Earth. Based loosely on coracles–ancient water-going skin boats–these “material-semiotic entanglements” are woven with willow, walnut and dogwood branches, and skinned with airplane dacron, beeswax, bathymetric ocean maps, scientific formula and ocean poems. Sheinagh Anderson’s ambient soundscape is composed as a living, breathing, sounding entity that emanates from within the illuminated boat-like-body-like forms suspended from the ceiling. Together, sound and form weave an immersive aqueous experience for the viewer. Of the Salt Water Skin Boats series, curator Laura Schneider writes: “The fleshy boat-like objects float overhead, submerging us in an imagined aqueous environment: a briny sea, a deep ocean channel, or perhaps something more elemental, like a womb.”
At once flesh and ocean surface, the boat hulls remind of surface cracks in ice, rivulets of light, or is it melting glacial water? Each vascular hull is layered with mathematical formulae that condense the science of climate change into succinct, numerical models. These cryptic scientific codes are juxtaposed with poems–prayers for the ocean and provocations written in the voice of the ocean–contributed by an impressive list of Canadian poets, who responded to a call out for ocean poems.
A collection of 571 water samples exhibited in tincture bottles wrap around the gallery. Water makes up 75% of newborn bodies and is essential for life, yet despite Canada’s abundant fresh water, potable water is not available in many Canadian indigenous communities. Surprisingly, the chemistry of blood plasma, tears, amniotic fluid and the global ocean share similar salinity and pH levels. Just like human life, ocean life is very sensitive to chemical changes, and thrives within narrow ranges. For example, atmospheric carbon dioxide, absorbed by the ocean, converts to carbonic acid. An unintended but very real consequence of burning fossil fuels is the acidification of the ocean. Rising acidity levels are inhospitable to organisms like plankton. Without oxygen-producing plankton our atmosphere would resemble the atmosphere at the top of Mount Everest. Paying attention to water, its chemistry, cycles, and connection with planetary ecosystems is critical–or, just like the plankton, life for future generations will be uncertain.
The SAMC Gallery exhibition program is an initiative of the Art + Design department, curated by Edith Krause.