58th Venice Biennale: Personal Structures

I have always been drawn to the sea. It is a mysterious abyss both fascinating and terrifying. Water is our greatest resource, and we are dependent on it to survive. We know little about it even though it occupies seventy percent of the planet’s surface. The beauty of the ocean, its endless shifting from serene to deadly and back, its maritime lore and history, and our physical relationship to the ocean (we have the same percentage of salt in our blood as does the sea) have informed a lifetime of creative exploration. We live surrounded by various kinds of water until the day we die. I am a cancer survivor, and in 2005 my work shifted. I began reading scientific studies that predicted the next cure for cancer could originate from the ocean while concurrently reading about the rapid rate of pollution worldwide. My art evolved from a personal relationship I have always felt to the ocean to a global concern about ocean pollution and our intertwined mortality. Climate change demands new and different ways of navigating how we exist. Plastic is here to stay, but as a civilization we have come to realize we have too much detritus and we need to consume responsibly. The warming of the ocean due in part to floating plastic has already affected over 700 species of marine life and is causing coral reefs to die at an alarming rate. Ocean currents cause plastic detritus to circle the planet as it breaks down, creating large gyres of swirling particles.

Being an artist and an avid sailor, I am drawn to the tension between control and surrender, and I embrace the unpredictability of the materials and processes I use in making my art. Bits of scavenged plastic are often embedded in paper or used to create marks and textures. Exploration and experimentation are core to my process. The work in the exhibition The Invasion of Hull Cove is influenced by an experience of walking on a Rhode Island beach after a storm and seeing pink, fleshy colored, rusty-red vegetation over a foot deep piled on the shore. It was beautiful, but my gut reaction was that it did not belong. It was a type of invasive algae that had come from Asia and can now survive in a New England climate. I want viewers to be attracted to the beauty of my piece, but on closer inspection realize beauty is camouflaging danger. Surprising three-dimensional shapes emerge from the algae-printed wallpaper. Wavelike, they undulate and jut out from the cadence of the pattern. Beauty is my tool to seduce the viewer into contemplating a troubling message.

My work combines my need to make art that is visually arresting with my passion for marine advocacy. I want to initiate a conversation about the peril we will face if we choose to ignore climate change. Many of my exhibition installations polarize works about cause and effect, the past and the present, love and loss. Now that I live on an island on the East Coast, my source of inspiration is my view. We protect what we love.

Personal Structures, The Global Arts Affair Foundation, European Cultural Center, Palazzo Mora, Venice Italy