Tideline by Isabel de Vasconellos

Fresh from the launch of Corpus Maris I, commissioned for this year’s Sydney Biennale, and adopting a reduced footprint approach to making that is being supported locally by Messums Creative, Julia Lohmann fabricated a series of seaweed sculptures for the gallery in Wiltshire in March. A long-time champion of kelp as a material for reimagining living with our resources, Lohmann’s luminous structures suggest new propositions for sustainable creative practice. ‘Every species has an equal right to life on this planet. We can use the same human ingenuity that has led to the climate crisis we are facing now… to protect and regenerate the ecosystem that sustains us.’

Tom Waugh’s Anthropocene Fossils propose what paleontological specimens of the future might look like. Taking some of most eminently disposable yet least biodegradable objects of our era such as coffee cup lids, picnic cutlery and Styrofoam, Waugh carves them into salvaged stone and marble, ‘emerging from boulders and rocks like futuristic ammonites’.  His Carrara marble Knife and Fork poke out of the slope between the Barn Gallery and the Mess Restaurant. Exquisitely hyper-realistic yet humorous, they confront the absurdity of our hunger for convenience at any cost.

Also outside the Barn is Ros Burgin’s Lifelines. Coral reefs are some of the richest and most diverse ecosystems on earth, representing an important source of food and income to more than 500 million people worldwide, and they perform a crucial role in coastal defence. They are formed of the calcium carbonate skeletons of corals, small, immobile organisms closely related to jellyfish. Under pressure from pollution, over-fishing, sea temperature rises and bleaching, reefs have declined by 50% since 1950. Burgin’s work maps out the world’s remaining tropical coral reefs across four handcrafted Lignum surfboards.

Inside, Tania Kovats’ Bleached anticipates what future museum presentations of these vital and fast-disappearing habitats might look like. Taking specially-fabricated coral from a decommissioned exhibit from The Deep aquarium in Hull, Kovats sliced through the

reefs and presented them in a series of vitrines, first shown as part of Hull’s City of Culture in 2017.

Dorothy Cross’s Jellyfish Lake was inspired by the artist’s research into pioneering marine biologist Maud Delap, who in 1902 became the first person to rear jellyfish (in an aquarium at her home in Valentia Island, County Kerry) and to observe their full lifecycle. Filmed in the lakes of Palau Micronesia (itself at the sharp end of sea level rise), the video shows hundreds of tiny, delicate jellyfish swimming around the head and shoulders of a woman, whose hair floats with them in the swilling water. Lulling and dreamlike, the film captures a moment of coexistence that brings to mind Rachel Carson’s observation, ‘It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose, should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.’ The challenge now is to channel the curiosity of scientists and creative thinkers towards devising new activities and modes of existence.

Photographed during a 2015 visit to Iceland, the glaciers forming the basis for Wayne Binitie’s Liquid Paintings and Octet sculptures no longer exist. These works mark the beginning of a continuing collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey that saw Binitie’s work, Polar Zero, forming the centrepiece of an exhibition during the United Nations COP 26 Climate Conference last November. ‘The scale of the topic is so overwhelming and so complex that it can feel distant, even apocalyptic. People need something tangible to get hold of, that collapses that distance.’

In a small sand-island in the North Sea, a tiny figure filmed from a drone walks in ever decreasing circles around the tightening perimeter of the shore. As the tide comes in and eats away at the sliver of land, so it and the figure’s room for manoeuvre reduces and ultimately disappears, vanishing under the inevitable waves. Like other works in the show, Simon Faithfull’s Going Nowhere 1.5 brings humour and absurdity to bear on a situation which can seem hopeless and beyond our understanding.

Dolosse are reinforced concrete blocks used in large numbers as a form of coastal sea defence. First used in 1964 in the South African port city of East London, they have since proliferated in different geometric forms wherever sea level rise has started to encroach. The name Dolos is derived from the Afrikaans word for the ox knuckle-joint bones used in divination practices by healers. Henrietta Armstrong’s Throwing Bones II is an installation of 50 forms inspired by the Dolos, cast out of plaster and arranged in a random interlocking mass. Reminiscent of discarded baubles or games of chance, they touch playfully and lyrically on the landscape of risk and unknown consequences steadily transforming our shorelines.

In 2018, Richard Long produced a series of screen prints, based on drawings he made from mud taken from the banks of the tidal River Avon in Bristol, where he first played as a child. ‘Even as a kid I was fascinated by the enormous tide, and the mud banks, and the wash of the boats as they swept past… I guess it’s right to say that I have used that experience in my art: like water, the tides, the mud. All that cosmic energy is there in my work.’

Nature and the environment have informed Kurt Jackson’s practice ever since his university studies in Zoology at Oxford in the early 1980’s. ‘I paint the sea, her ways and guises, her manners and moods, as metaphor and topographical seascape. I see the pollution daily.’ Painted for Surfers Against Sewage in 2016, Mermaid’s Tears referred to the resin pellets and microplastics, now an indivisible facet of his turbulent and sublime seascapes. This mingling of poetry and menace has always been part of our dynamic with the sea, and informs the titles of his two paintings, She gives and takes, this big blue ocean, this carbon sink, this blue lung, and We breathe the ocean’s breath and she breathes ours.

Tideline addresses both the awareness but also the possible responses to the seen and unseen impacts of human activity on the bodies of water covering approximately 70.8% of the earth’s surface. It flags concern and also presents potential for change.

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