Freud famously described religious experience as an oceanic feeling – the vast ocean has all the majesty and mystery of a God. But this particular God isn’t immortal. In fact it is perilously close to extinction. And we don’t have to look too far for the culprit. As Nietzsche said, man killed God.
Vast and unimaginable in scale, covering some 70% of the planet’s surface, oceans define, sustain and characterize the planet’s ecology. More than half of our oxygen supply is produced by the microscopic plant life that suffuses the earth’s oceans, though for how much longer is unknown. This is where all life on this planet began and if it dies it will take all of us with it.
Centuries of human exploitation of the ocean, from coastal development, to over fishing, pollution and heightened acidification fuelled by global climate change has caused devastating and perhaps irreversible damage to the planet’s most important ecosystem. The very substance of our oceans has been critically endangered: aggressive fishing practices have depleted the ocean’s fish by a cataclysmic 75%. Coral reefs, the rainforest of the ocean, are declining rapidly too, bleached to death by high sea surface temperatures.
The obliteration of such complex habitats has given rise to vast and monotonous expanses of despoiled, marine ‘deserts’. The detritus or ‘junk’ of capitalist consumption form new anthropocentric ecosystems – highly visible territories of giant islands of trash and oil slicks are underscored by ‘invisible’ pollutants; a plethora of chemicals and micro plastics from fertilizers and the textile industry which have infused themselves into the composition of the ocean. Evolution has been pushed in an unknown direction. Ironically, it is one of the oldest life-forms in the sea, the jellyfish, which may turn out to be last surviving ocean creature. Indeed, jellyfish have bloomed to such an extent they threaten to extinguish all other ocean life. They are an organic form of junk.
Science can tell us what’s wrong with the planet, but ultimately science cannot fix things. There is no scientific solution to be had. The only viable solution is a cultural solution: on a planet-wide scale we need to change behavior. We need to (1) awaken people to the critical urgency of the environmental catastrophe unfolding beneath the waves; (2) we need to engage people in the process of changing behavior; (3) but most of all we need to make them care about what’s happening to the planet.
How are the processes of ‘oceanocide’ imagined, represented and experienced in the creative sphere? How can discourse and negotiation between artistic and scientific disciplines facilitate the insertion of meaning into our experience of environmental change?
IN THIS ISSUE
The Ocean Gleaner – Pam Longobardi (with interview by Celina Jeffery)
What must we do about rubbish? – Ian Buchanan
Tightening the net: in search of alternatives to destructive fishing and meshing programs – Andrew R. Davis and Allison Broad
Bodies Beneath – Jayne Wilkinson
Drop-Off – Jonathan Bonfiglio
Where Nature Prevails: Elisheva Biernoff’s Without, within at Walter Phillips Gallery – Emma Campbell
The Ethics of Instrumentalization: Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s from here to ear at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art – Laura O’Brien
Towards the Essential Reduction of a Drop of Water: An Interview with Wilfredo Prieto – Adam Barbu
The Great Mystery: Corey Arnold in Conversation with Elizabeth Spavento – Elizabeth Spavento
Cove – Alexander Duncan
Entitlement 1 – Simon Gilby (with text co-written by Dave Whish Wilson)
Oceans of Junk – Cynthia Minet
The Advance – Susan Murrell
The Intimate Realities of Water – Adrian Parr
Sounds from a Watery Grave – Daniel Trivedy
Sea Change – Harja Waheed
This issue was edited by Celina Jeffery and Ian Buchanan
We would like to thank Natasha Chaykowski who acted as the review editor.