Climate Journeys Part II: Sailing the Southeastern U.S. and the Caribbean

I live in nature. Surrounded by it, I experience every subtle shift and change. I witness an amazing array of species as they inhabit the same place, and I am exactly where I want to be. I never could have predicted this would be my life. I never thought I’d give up my studio, my workshop, all my tools and supplies. I loved being a full time studio artist. But at some point, as an environmental artist, it wasn’t enough. As my ideas grew, the studio felt too confined, too removed, so isolated and incapable of adequately experiencing and expressing (incubating and containing) what I needed to say. Being more visual than verbal, that’s really what art is to me; another means of expressing a concept or idea.

Coast

Having sold the bulk of our possessions, my studio now fits in eight small drawers and paints live in a tiny bin. The sailboat is impossible to keep tidy and organized, and mold is a constant problem. But when I step out of the cabin into the cockpit, I see dolphins and egrets. I see pelicans and sea squirts.

And I talk to people. I’ve met the high powered corporate lawyer for a Fortune 100 corporation who discreetly helped her company acquire and donate thousands of acres to local conservation organizations. I’ve met men, former military, who are going back to study the sources of plastic in the gyres. Conservationists and scientists working on different campaigns which, in the end, are all related. I meet so many amazing people who all have interesting ideas about their place in nature and how they interact with it.

I also see things. Plastic debris, the dead remains from parties over the weekend littering the disappearing salt marshes. Fuel spills in water filled with wildlife. Artists who throw the dirty water used to clean their brushes directly into the waterways where those animals live, eat and reproduce. And I see the scars on the dolphins as they lethargically swim by. Entire blocks of downtown Charleston flood with an above average tide or an average rain because of rising sea levels. The issues take multiple forms, are complex and systemic. As one can’t look at each issue in isolation, each issue can’t be solved in isolation.

There are really two aspects to this project, Define Earth, when broken down. There is the artwork and the exploration and research leading to its creation.

The exploration starts as my partner, documentarian Kevin Murphy, and I sail to locations experiencing some form of ecological degradation and species decline. During the next three years, we’ll visit places in the southeastern United States and the Caribbean, including Indian River Lagoon, FL; Gardens of the Queen, Cuba; Curacao, Venezuela; Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, Columbia. In each place, we’ll meet with conservation organizations, scientists and researchers studying the issues leading to this loss, as well as locals to learn what impact these issues have on the population at large. During the course of that research, we’ll extensively photograph each location, record interviews and collect studies. I also collect relevant waste or abandoned materials to use in creating the artwork I call “creatures.”

Creatures 1

In short, my sculptures and the corresponding images present a barren hypothetical future. Composed of the collected waste materials, printed scientific reports, area photographs and other items, the works themselves reveal what brought on their existence. They divulge the potential of what we create here and now with our consumption and lifestyle choices.

I want this work to be hauntingly beautiful, engrossing yet uncomfortable. The colours too harsh and the landscape too bleak. They are visual explorations of what we will leave behind when the planet is no longer capable of supporting life as we experience it now. These creatures are attempts of life to spontaneously manifest from the waste materials discarded or deemed too inconvenient to retrieve. These creatures are photographed and filmed in locations related to the content of work. The images and video convey the “life” of the creature, struggling to survive, defend their place, procreate, but ultimately incapable of living. Installed in issue specific locations, these pieces tell stories and contain the history of what led to their creation; oil spills, planned obsolescence and an overburdened waste stream, over-fishing and rampant tourism, rising sea levels and changing climate conditions from global warming, methane harvest and release, and a whole host of human driven actions.

Creatures 2

Jacques Cousteau said “People protect what they love.”

As we enter a third mass extinction event, I hope to inspire the audience to value and love what we still have by depicting the potential of what we’ll lose. By demonstrating how that loss is being made manifest, I hope to spark that curiosity and understanding of what is causing the degradation, to educate and instill a sense of responsibility. I hope to help people actively think and look more closely at the world around them, and at the impact of the large and small decisions we make in our everyday lives. To step up, take responsibility and action to halt destructive practices.

The time is now. We don’t have a prolonged future to mull and debate. And while many consider this to be a political debate, I wonder why it isn’t a moral one. If it isn’t our best interest to just take care of our home. To take responsibility and care for the only place we exist in this universe. Our planet is a precious, living jewel filled with an abundance of life. Let’s treat it as such and protect what we love.

______________________________

Natalie Abrams’ sculptures explore the systemic nature of environmental and social issues. Transitions from organic to man-made and repurposed materials connote the transition of landscapes under duress. Abrams’ work is at the heart of collaborative undertaking Define Earth Projects; a circumnavigation exploring threatened ecosystems and the populations dependent on them, producing site specific installations, exhibitions and publications. Abrams’ artwork has been exhibited nationally as well as participated in residencies at Sam and Adele Golden Foundation for the Arts, Redux, Escape to Create and McColl Center for Art and Innovation.

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