Recently I relocated my core studio to the Maldives to continue working on a project I started 30 years ago; that of creating installations & interventions underwater and on land exploring the polarity within this disappearing landscape.
An important part of my process is to relocate the studio to work directly from within the chosen landscape. This allows the environment itself to provide the materials and enable the process.
This project will include a collection of letters, texts, PhotoGrams and installation works; revisiting locations where in the late 80’s I made my first interventions.
The letters written from the shoreline will include diary notations, manifesto excerpts and a collection of polaroid PhotoGrams. These are my momento mori to these lands, created from the shade of a tree where the letter was penned and the photogram etched in dappled light. A direct conversation with the landscape, fragmented and alive; the pages of which will be sent in differing directions around the globe; to make the conversation physical by placing it in peoples hands; each a piece of the story collectively coming together through a series of stamped and sealed letters mailed through the postal system.
Each letter will be accompanied by a 5×4 inch polaroid PhotoGram created with collected rubbish and plastic from the coral reefs of the Maldives region. Laying them directly onto an 8×10 inch polaroid without the use of a camera, using moon light or the setting sun to expose the image. These polaroids will be used as location proofs to ‘dial in’ a new collection of direct to film PhotoGrams using the same camera-less technique but this time exposing 8×10 inch transparency film plates using the differing environments and materials found along the journey.
Perhaps the most eloquent of marks to be made by any human are those that disappear as soon as they are made, much like these polaroids & film plates.
My work has always been an investigation into the ennui and confusion of modern life, pared down to the elementals of a transient moment in time, like all things never to remain.
This project stems from my first experiences as a young artist, rough sleeping on beaches creating sculptures from washed up and natural materials found along the shoreline, taking them underwater and creating interventions on endangered or recently dynamited reef systems. This happened a lot in the past, where hotel & property developers would buy beach front land that was cheap due to difficult offshore reef systems, and then to forcibly remove them to make way for softer waves and sandier beaches. I saw this first hand and it immediately compelled me to action; documenting the eco-system in advance of the reefs destruction & afterwards as a momento mori for what once was.
Most of these underwater installations were well offshore and difficult to swim to, so photography was used to fix and extend the work to allow others access to its reasoning. The decision that water was to be my medium as an artist was firmly set in those early days; it was difficult work and often dangerous. Free diving alone offshore, and tanked on deeper dives, with materials that would fight me in their bid to stay afloat, with inquisitive and often hostile receptions from the residents waiting for me. During this period I dived exhaustively many times a day which over the years has made its mark on me.
This period was a time when there were so many fish in the ocean in vast shoals, now humans are clustered together in huge numbers on land just like the fish in the seas that I remember; and now the big fish shoals are gone. that is a dead certain.
The Maldives region is an important climate change indicator zone with their entire population and its lands at risk of rising water levels, where the entire nations population may be forced to consider relocating. In 2013 the National Geographic quoted that with the average land height of this coral country of only 4 feet they are expected to be underwater by 2060 at current sea level rise rate.
Sea level has been rising by 0.07 inch (1.7 millimetres) per year since 1950, on a globally averaged basis. However, an average rise of 0.13 inch (3.3 millimetres) per year from 1993 to 2008 suggests that the pace of sea level rise is accelerating. Sea level rise is attributed to two main processes. First, human–induced warming of the oceans, stemming from our heat–trapping emissions, causes seawater to expand. This thermal expansion has contributed about 25 percent of the long–term rise in sea level over the latter half of the 20th century. However, this percentage is expected to fall as the second source of sea level rise; shrinking glaciers and ice sheets worldwide adds a growing percentage of water to the oceans.
Yet my intention is for this to be a positive intervention, with a mind towards designing a more sustainable future, with progressive thinking, the people of these lands can not only survive but thrive; rethinking architecture to work with the landscape; recycling of every available resource and a cultural education program so that the huge numbers of visitors can be shown how they can make real change and have a direct impact on the environment and take the message back home with them. It is after all these lands that are affected at source by the rest of the worlds activities, so surely the message should start here. A celebration of integrating design and environment for all our futures, not only in this place, but a global movement of rethinking ‘convenience’ and how its effect can be far reaching, even to these remote shores.
Today as in the past we fight battles over access to oil, soon those same wars will erupt over humanities hunger for clean water, this subject takes much of my daily thoughts, this the great fate of humanity has been a core element of my artistic manifesto from the very beginning. Water is such an important medium for me to continue exploring. Its environmental signature is a conversation that I have made a lifelong commitment to; that of fresh clean water unencumbered to all living species, and, clean oceans enabling their vital ecosystems to thrive; right now across vast areas around the globe they are barely surviving.
There is divinity here in this startling beauty, raw and temporary to all. These are my whispers from the landscape, in its sublime & beautiful ebb into the folding seas.