Beatriz Chachamovits, an environmental artist and educator, on her citizen-science approach to awakening our love and care for the ocean and ourselves
The 17 pure-white ceramic sculptures emerged at 3420 Collins Avenue as if they were left behind by a long-lost ocean. The contrast of bright white and shadow has a cataleptic effect that’s heightened when one considers their hand-built fragility and real-life coral’s vulnerability to human trash. As viewers move closer to each endangered element, immersed in an accompanying soundscape, they feel sandy clay crush beneath their feet. It seems with one wrong step, this mesmerizing ecosystem will collapse into the clay.
“The ocean is the most fragile environment. I want people to be aware that the choices they make as individuals and the way we behave as society influences the health of the ocean no matter where they are because we’re all connected through water,” states Beatriz Chachamovits, an environmental artist, marine researcher, and educator from Brazil.
In 2018, Beatriz moved to Florida to be closer to the world’s third-largest barrier reef and the only barrier coral reef in the continental United States. Florida's Coral Reef stretches approximately 360 linear miles from Dry Tortugas National Park west of the Florida Keys to the St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County.
Coral reefs safeguard against extreme weather, shoreline erosion, and coastal flooding and help form the sandy beaches and quiet lagoons that are signatures of Florida’s tourism industry. Today, this coral reef ecosystem, which is also home to around 1,400 distinct species, is at grave risk due to rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification, plastic pollution, and coral bleaching.
“That’s why all my works are white,” explains Beatriz. “Some species are already extinct. You can only find them in labs where people have collected their genotypes and are trying to reproduce them.”
Need more eyes upon the water
Corals are animals that live in colonies and maintain a symbiotic relationship with tiny algae inside of their tissues. When corals are stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing the coral to turn completely white and can die. Known as coral bleaching, this devastating phenomenon has affected more than 75% of the world’s reefs; and 30% of those reefs experienced bleaching so harsh they didn’t survive.
Human carelessness above the surface, like construction runnoff from coastal development, broken sewage systems or illegal dumping of waste are particularly challenging Miami’s Biscayne Bay. The runoff leads to sedimentation, which pollutes marine ecosystems and blocks the sunlight algae need for photosynthesis. When light is blocked, the immobile coral reefs bleach and die.
“Miami Waterkeepers is an organization that I respect a lot here in Miami because they are monitoring the health of our waters, and they're doing it through people who can alarm if something goes wrong or there's a construction site dumping stuff in the Bay. And that's where citizen science comes into the game. And this is something that I participate in and support. We need more eyes upon the water that the government or institutions can't do.”
The present in the past
A little over 250 million years ago–before dinosaurs walked the Earth–the planet had already faced an epic challenge known as the Great Dying: rapid warming caused the largest extinction event ever when 90% of life in the oceans and 70% of life on land vanished. Oceans lost around 80% of their oxygen, with parts of the seafloor becoming completely devoid of oxygen. Scientists believe this warming was caused by a massive spike in greenhouse gas emissions, potentially caused by volcanic activity.
“It’s imperative to convey this scientific knowledge into our daily reality as we face climate change. That's why I call my exhibition “Into the Great Dying.” But then the subtitle to it is Waters We Share. It is about that we're all connected through water. We are sharing this blue planet because it's made out of water. And everything around it depends on water. And all of us are responsible for this dying.”
As a self-described hopeful pessimist, Beatriz believes that artists are still “the architects of the future who shape, culturally, what we would like to happen and what is happening now.”
“Art has a superpower to connect people through hearts, which is very different from science, media, and other formats to awake people to what's happening in regards to climate change. And that's how I come in as an environmental artist to work with that notion of understanding and feeling the importance of our fragile ecosystem.
“Once you find the thing that you were obsessed about, that you love, that you can't live without, you will advocate for it. I feel my role is to simply make people fall in love with the ocean.
Even though my work is seeming sometimes doom and gloom, and melancholic, it is also about extreme beauty. It's also about the diversity of shape, form, and texture, and all of those things, come together so that people can have that taste of what a reef can really be.
If they're so beautifully white, can you imagine how gorgeous they are colorful and alive?”
On view through June 25
Into the Great Dying: Waters We Share by Beatriz Chachamovits
Faena Art Project Room
3420 Collins Ave
Miami Beach, FL 33140