If I had to convince someone why the sea is a place to save I might have to turn to Jules Verne to say it for me… “On the surface, they can still exercise their iniquitous laws, fight, devour each other, and indulge in all their earthly horrors. But thirty feet below the (sea’s) surface, their power ceases, their influence fades, and their dominion vanishes. Ah, monsieur, to live in the bosom of the sea! …. There I recognize no master! There I am free!”
This is probably somewhat what brought me to Pemuteran, for some reason that I don’t even fully know, the sea is just me. The office to the left was mine for the month. I came here to work at a community coral restoration project that uses a mineral accretion process to turn metal into limestone which in return evolves into a living coral reef. Basically because once coral is introduced into the equation by attachment it begins to grow five times faster and the threshold of temperature it can withstand is increased enough to protect it against bleaching.
It sounds quite novel, but in fact its a science thats been around for about 30 years. There’s lot’s of people doing it, famous designers like Tom Dixon and other TED Fellows such as Colleen Flanigan, even scientists in Mozambique are in on it. One of the reasons why I’m drawn to it is because its a very active way to get people physically involved in protecting the ocean. My own work has this personal motto it constantly says to itself, “impossible by one, attainable by many”. I try to cultivate a collectives creativity, combine it with my own and turn it into something new.
However it’s not just the community outreach that intrigues me, you get to be in some way an alchemist that performs seeable magic. For a material junkie like myself, it’s a dream worth living.
The place I was at ran this quite ingenious “Support a Baby Coral” program where they get people to donate 35 euros for a name that they make out of metal and turn into tiny biorocks. They take pictures and then a year after send another when it’s grown and transformed. We would get a sponsors name every couples days and attach it.
I came as part of the kungfu4coral project I’m working on right now. It’s a project based on my belief that the traditional methods of environmental activism are dated and what needs to happen is a retooling of how environmentalists reach out to the public. From PC to iPhone, from Email to Facebook, from QQ to Weibo, we have constructed a new spectrum of communication tools. We use social media to engineer a new form of self but how do we use it to construct a new definition of environmentalism? How can we relate the ever-growing digital world to the ever-shrinking real world?
From the beginning of my arrival I searched for the material that my culminating sculpture would be made out of. The ones in the past were made of rebar and had to be to welded together. However since I’m a terrible welder and terrible perfectionist this time it just wouldn’t do.
Needing to find something that was common, something that people had and might possibly donate I chose bikes. A totally cliche form for sculpture, but it’s cliche probably for a reason. I bought one to use as an example and then sought out locals, explaining the process while asking for old bicycles. Soon after I had gotten in total 5 bikes, three were from local kids, mine and one other from a nearby home-stay.
There was one problem with the bikes in that there were parts that weren’t metal, so if hooked up they wouldn’t mineral accrete. I decided that I would wrap them in metal and have the limestone envelope it in the end.
I told the guys that here is a puzzle. How do we construct it without electricity? How do we make it with the least amount of bought metal? How can we make the process dictate the design? I came up with the idea of making it out of pipes and using a metal thread maker to make parts connectable and screw into each other. We would probably have to do some welding but it wouldn’t have to be done on site. In the end what it became was beyond my expectation and what it becomes will be far beyond my imagination.
What I think I learned at INK is something similar to what my idol Jacques Cousteau once said “When one man, for whatever reason, has an opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself.” That in my own understanding means all of us. So to finish my piece I want to share it with anyone that wants a part of it. It’s nothing grand, compared to my other work that ends up in museums this looks more likely to end up in a dump. But it’s an experiment to make the work and process I do better.
So I have around 80 spots on the structure to attach a name of anyone that wants to donate 35 dollars. Of which will go towards the cost of me buying the anode, cathode and power converters. Basically your name would be made out of wire and over the years will become part of the structure. Coral will grow on it and it will slowly disappear and evolve into a reef. I made one for INK already so that next year at the conference I can show others the transformation.
I thrive off the byproduct of learning about your own culture by participating within another. It can be as simple as the way we perceive materials or as complex to the way we comprehend the arts. However it is that dialogue, the transitional pull, that I feel can provide new insight into our own intimate history and contribution. While as in the past I have felt I controlled the variables of my art too much this time I feel I succeeded in creating something that wasn’t just mine. The organization I was at flourished because people gave them the trust they needed. Yes the locals destroyed most of their environment and that bringing it back to its original glory might never happen but I feel it doesn’t mean they have lost their chance to try.
By Joey Ellis, INK2011 Attendee