Into the Great Dying: Waters We Share
A site specific interactive installation that addresses climate change, coral bleaching and plastic pollution at the Faena Art Project Room in Miami. The installation brings to light the beauty, fragility and destruction of Florida's coral reef ecosystem and invites the public to immerse themselves inside a "dry" ocean floor that is filled with everyday trash elements. Accompanied by a mesmerizing soundscape, created by artist Brett Olivieri, the work is an invitation to reflect on the impact we have on the ocean's health. The exhibition had many outreach and programming components including an opening reception, a workshop, a masterclass in ceramics, artist talk, panel discussion and article features.
Interview with Nora Walsh for Faena Art
Blending Art and Science
"Into the Great Dying: Waters We Share,” the latest site-specific installation at Faena Art’s Project Room from Brazilian environmental artist Beatriz Chachamovits, immerses viewers in the beauty, fragility and destruction of the ocean’s coral reefs. “I want people to be aware that the choices they make as individuals and the way we behave as a society influences the health of the ocean no matter where they are because we’re all connected through water,” she said.
Chachamovits’ acclaimed body of work is a response to extensive scientific research to understand the underwater world and the problematic phenomena caused by rising water temperatures, ocean acidification and plastic pollution. “After I do deep dives into scientific studies, talk to specialists and observe the corals first-hand, I create works that communicate what’s really happening inside of the ocean,” explains the artist. “For example, the majority of my sculptures are white. This happened when I understood the significance of coral bleaching and its devastating repercussions.” Climate change has been identified as the leading cause of coral bleaching and once corals die, entire reef systems and all the wildlife they support become endangered.
The exhibition, which took more than a year to complete, features 17 coral structures made entirely by hand using a ceramic technique called handbuilding. A small piece takes around five days to build, while larger sculptures typically take more than two weeks due to the level of detailing. “My goal is to create the feeling corals elicit by portraying the vast array of species, textures and shapes that exist in a reef.”
To encourage viewers to become aware and reflect on the reality that how they walk on the earth impacts reef ecosystems, Chachamovits covered the exhibition floor with slabs of unfired clay hidden under a blanket of sand. As guests move closer to each sculpture, they’ll feel the clay crush beneath their feet. “When you invite the public to interact with the artwork, it becomes more deeply imprinted in their memory and hopefully stays with them long after they’ve left the exhibition,” explains Chachamovits. “My aim is that once people are back in the natural world, they’ll be more cognizant of how their behavior might be harmful to the environment and inspire action to care for the oceans and coral reefs, and consequentially, the whole planet.”
The choice to have the opening reception on April 22nd, Earth Day, highlights the plight of the coral reefs as an important aspect of climate change and adds to the overall context and narrative of the exhibition. Here are some images of the reception:
The installation was featured on Vogue China July's issue for the article Endless Summer:
Full translation of the interview by Lexi Chan, Senior Features Editor:
How did the idea of “Into the Great Dying: Waters We Share” come out?
The idea for “Into the Great Dying: Waters We Share” came from a desire to transport the public to an ocean floor so they can see what is happening to coral reefs around the world. I wanted to focus on the beauty, fragility, and destruction rate of the ecosystem. This unseen and silent event is altering our life-sustaining climate at a very dangerous pace. As an environmental artist, it is very important that I convey the effects of climate change on our still existing underwater ecosystems to the public in an engaging and thought-provoking way. I also wanted to connect, through the title of the exhibition, how that reality relates to the history of our planet and how that is affecting us today. The Great Dying is a term that describes the worst ever mass extinction that happened about 250 million years ago. Today it is being used to talk about the current and upcoming mass extinction that the Anthropocene is bringing about onto the world as we know it.
Can you talk about the individual sculpture pieces in specific? What are they?
The seventeen sculptures presented in the exhibition are part of a larger series called “What Remains is Fading Quickly.” They are hand built ceramic sculptures of endangered coral species from the Florida Reef Track. Each sculpture is a thoughtful curation of species that we can find inside the ocean. All sculptures are only fired once, making them more fragile and susceptible to breakage just like corals themselves. My goal is to create the feeling that corals emit by portraying the vast array of species, textures, and shapes that exist in a reef while also showing the effects of coral bleaching and plastic pollution on these extremely delicate beings.
Why is everything in white?
All of the sculptures are white because they recreate and represent coral bleaching and coral harvesting. Coral bleaching is a coral’s response to various stressors like changes in temperature, light, or nutrient supply. Corals are animals that have a mutualistic relationship with microscopic algae called zooxanthella that lives inside their tissue. These algae are corals’ primary food source—they make sugars through photosynthesis and are the ones responsible for their vibrant colors. When the coral is stressed, instead of making food, the zooxanthellae produce toxins that trigger the corals to expel them, which in turn leaves their tissue transparent and exposes their white calcium-based bones. Coral harvesting is the illegal removal of corals from the ocean to use them as decorations or to make jewelry. Many countries like the US have very strict laws to protect corals from that process, but it is still estimated that around two hundred million dollars of corals are poached for that purpose each year.
What was the process like? What’s the biggest challenge?
I feel like the biggest challenge was to deliver the experience in the timeframe I was given. Even though I already had existing sculptures from previous shows, to pull off this ambitious project in a little over three months was intense, but at the same time very exciting. In terms of the process, working with Faena Art on the exhibition was an immense pleasure. With their support, I was able to create larger scale sculptures that I had before, and working in the Project Room gave me the space to experiment with a new type of installation that was immersive in an all-encompassing way. They were so encouraging when it came to realizing my vision from the beginning and stopped at nothing to make it come to life. Specially the Director of Exhibitions, Ana Clara Silva, who I can say was my rock throughout the whole process and beyond. I spent many long hours inside my studio carefully building new sculptures just for this exhibition while working on the design of the space with my team. A small piece takes around five days to build, and larger pieces can take more than two weeks due to the level of detailing. The idea of filling the entire space with sand came very early on. Since most people don’t have access to the reef, even here in Miami, bringing that feeling to them was very important to start the conversation. At first I wanted the sculptures to be immersed in water and displayed inside small pools, but I later came to realize that this was too literal. Also, to make the pools I would have to use marine grade resin known to be a very toxic material to work with. That is when I decided to use a vibrant blue plexiglass—this reflected the idea of water—and to paint the room with the same hue, then build a visual separation of these blue plexiglass islands with the sand that was already there.
Besides the artwork itself, is there any special designs (sound, light) that you would like to mention?
The installation is accompanied by a mesmerizing soundscape, created by artist Brett Olivieri, that cascades through feelings of bliss and anxiety, inviting people to reflect on the impact we have on the ocean's health. By using minimal hanging lights that focus on the sculptural clusters, my intention was to create an immersive atmosphere that gives viewers the feeling that they are underwater and the sense that they are part of that ecosystem.
What do you expect the audiences to take away from this experience?
I believe that when you invite the public to experience an immersive installation, it becomes deeply imprinted in their memory and hopefully stays with them long after they have left the exhibition. My hope is that once people are back in the natural world, they’ll be more cognizant of how their behavior might be harmful to the environment and that they’ll feel inspired to actively care for the oceans and coral reefs—and consequentially, the whole planet. I want people to be aware that the choices we make as individuals and the way we behave as a society influences the health of the ocean no matter where we are because we are all connected through water.
Summer is coming, everyone is heading to the beach; can you share some advice for them to better protect the sea environment?
I would love to share some advice on how to better protect the ocean environment during summer! One of the most important things I’ve learned is that regular sunscreen is very bad for corals and marine animals alike. There are several chemicals found in sunscreen (like oxybenzone and octinoxate) that can accelerate coral bleaching, impair neurological and reproductive abilities, increase levels of disease and miscarriages, and act as hormone disruptors impacting the immune system of corals and marine animals. Unfortunately, the term “reef safe” is not regulated, so please look at the active ingredients in the sunscreen you are purchasing. A mineral-based cream like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide is the best option for your skin and the environment.
Another important piece of advice is to bring a reusable bag so you can collect the trash you might bring to the beach, or even the trash you see around you. Plastic pollution is a top concern when it comes to the health of our planet. Also, please be aware of our natural world because it is in peril, we must do everything in our power to protect, instead of disturb it. Keep in mind that is better to look than to touch—our bodies have bacteria that can be very harmful to sea creatures if we touch them.
In your mind, what is the “perfect summer”?
The perfect summer to me is one where we can connect with and be inspired by nature, and of course, spend time outdoors with our loved ones.
It was also featured in Faena Hotel's Journal on April and May issue:
In celebration of Aspen Ideas: Climate in Miami Beach
Coral ecology, awareness class and sculpture workshop with the Overtown Optimist Club
Ceramic Master Class on how to build a wall mounted coral cluster sculpture for Faena Rose Members
Artist Talk with Ana Clara Silva, Director of Exhibition at Faena Art