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Presenting Body of Water: An Exhibition Expedition

By Morrison Mast

Renowned conservation biologist E.O. Wilson states in his 2017 book, The Origins of Creativity: “Scientists and scholars in the humanities, working together, will, I believe, serve as the leaders of a new philosophy, one that blends the best and most relevant from these two great branches of learning.” In the spirit of Dr. Wilson’s words, Oceanic Society is proud to announce the launch of an art-science collaboration with artist and professor Sara Mast of Montana State University, Bozeman, MT. The proposed work speaks directly to the core of Oceanic Society’s mission by aiming to deepen the connections between people and nature through an immersive art installation.

Body of Water will use video animation, surround sound, and sculptural installation to create an immersive ‘exhibition expedition’. The title Body of Water implies the connection between our own bodies and that of the ocean. The work aims to create ‘somatic identification’ between the viewer’s body and the body of our oceans, reminding us we are one and the same, that every threat to the ocean is indeed a hazard to our human bodies as well. As Dr. Sylvia Earle so succinctly states: “No ocean, no us”.

This work is an artistic expansion of Oceanic Society’s Blue Habits program, an effort to create and test science-based tools that motivate lasting human behavior changes that contribute to healthy oceans. Body of Water is the cultural component of this design challenge and will be unveiled to the public as a part of Oceanic Society’s 50th Anniversary in San Francisco in 2019.

In this “submersive” art installation, projected animation will surround the viewer in a ‘moving painting’ of the marine world, and as the viewer sees and feels the ‘hand’ at work, their imagination fills in the gaps. This gives the viewer agency and engages ‘embodiment’ and identification with ocean life. The original soundtrack blends the sounds of the ocean with the human voice and whale song, embedding the viewer in a conversation (or dialogue) with ocean life.

25-foot strings of plastic garbage generated by students from community and waterway clean-ups in all 50 US states will be used as the raw material for collaborating artists to create a large scale, sculptural installation that integrates the collective effort required to create a more ‘oceanic society’.

At this historic tipping point for our oceans, our behavior in relationship to our oceans requires a change of heart. Body of Water activates deep, bodily affiliation with the ocean by engaging touch, proximity and intimacy with undersea life. The encircling experience arouses empathy, overcoming detachment with kinship in order to motivate human action from within.


Sara Mast’s creative research has focused on interdisciplinary art-science collaboration that integrates painting with video animation, sound and installation. She has co-led projects such as Bioglyphs, which featured exhibitions of living bioluminescent paintings, and Black (W)hole, in which Mast collaborated with astrophysicists to create an installation that incorporated data visualization of gravitational wave frequencies. In these and other works, Mast has convened an array of experts from the fields of neuroscience, physics, architecture, music technology, computer science and other creative fields. Art and science venues range from Petach-Tikva Museum of Art in Tel Aviv, Israel and China Contemporary Art Research Institution, China Universities, Shanghai, China to Manhattan College, New York and MIT’s celebrated Cambridge Science Festival.

Through this “exhibition expedition,” Oceanic Society is hopeful that Body of Water will help raise awareness and inspire action in a segment of the public that may not have access to our many international expeditions, but who, as citizens in the organization’s founding city of San Francisco, have an outsize potential for impact on the health of our oceans.

Author

Morrison Mast is an Oceanic Society naturalist and special projects manager, and has devoted his career to wildlife conservation and education. Morrison holds a dual B.S. in Biology and Environmental Policy from the College of William and Mary and is a U.S. Student Fulbright Scholar.