AAAS exhibition captures an undersea world worth conserving

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer

Rachel Simmons. Wonders (of the Sea)

“A composer, an artist, a physicist and a philosopher walk into a bar,” said artist Rachel Simmons, introducing her work to a crowd at the opening of Beneath the Surface: Rediscovering a World Worth Conserving at the American Association for the Advancement of Science on November 17th. What emerges is a curious combination of sound and graphics interpreting the underwater experience of our noisy marine activities for terrestrial human perception. Noise is a problem for whales that communicate by sound.

Rachel Simmons. Wonders (of the Sea).

Rachel Simmons. Wonders (of the Sea). Credit, Jennifer Riem

Simmons teaches at Rollins College near Orlando, and regularly draws on her scientific colleagues for collaboration and inspiration.

Describing the construction of her ceramic coral reef Courtney Mattison said that the corals’ chalky exoskeleton and her artistic medium share base materials—and fragility. Her art is also heavy. Though most of her clay corals are hollow, the wall in the AAAS lobby had to be reinforced to support the weight of the installation.

Above the artist’s head, bone whites and pale grays replace the vibrant glazes, illustrating the “bleaching” of stressed corals that have evicted their photosynthesizing algal cohabitants. Corals are vastly disadvantaged by the loss, usually triggered by changes in water temperature, of their symbionts.

Courtney Mattison. A Coral Reef Story.

Courtney Mattison. A Coral Reef Story. Credit, Jennifer Riem

The exhibition features seven artists and ranges from descriptive nature photography to overt criticism of modern culture and its discarded byproducts, with Simmons’ and Mattison’s work somewhere in between.

“Fortunately for me, I don’t have to come to conclusions. I just have to ask questions,” said Simmons. “It’s the scientists’ job to make conclusions.”

But it’s the public’s job to decide how to use the information, the exhibit’s curators would seem to reply.

Beneath the Surface is on display, and open to the public, at AAAS headquarters in Washington DC until March 2nd.


Listen to the art at Simmons’ site

Rachel Simmons Pulse Ping

Author: Liza Lester

ESA's Communications Officer came on board in the fall of 2011 after a Mass Media Science and Engineering fellowship with AAAS and a doctorate in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Washington.

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