Clinton Courier – Jenna North, an artist currently living in Utica, used the Maldives ecosystem as a theme for her works currently on display at the Kirkland Art Center’s “Telluric” exhibition.
An adult Oriental Sweetlips fish flutters along a vibrant coral reef in the Indian Ocean, just below the island nation of The Republic of Maldives. The horizontal black stripes that cover his white body offset the bright reds, oranges, blues and greens of his surroundings. The varied black dots on his yellow fins and tail shine through the salt water, allowing him to be seen from great distances. Sweetlips are the most common fish in the Maldives, which is located just southwest of the southern tip of India.
Jenna North, an artist currently living in Utica, used the Maldives ecosystem as a theme for her works currently on display at the Kirkland Art Center’s “Telluric” exhibition. One of her paintings depicts several Sweetlips fish swimming together in the ocean, with pipelines in the background. North said her art is typically inspired by environmental issues such as hydraulic fracturing practices, or hydrofracking, and climate change.
In 2011, she visited the Maldives as part of a month-long research residency through the National Gallery of Art. While visiting, she learned of their struggles with rising sea levels, a phenomenon spurred by global warming, that is threatening to put parts of the nation underwater. One of the projects she planned while visiting the Maldives stemmed from that issue.
“I spent a little over a month working with a lot of the local artists, designers and architects to establish a plan to do a large public art project [in the Maldives],” North explained. “It would basically create an illusion of a corner of the Capital island Malé being underwater.”
The public art project is called “Underwater Maldives” and its purpose is to bring awareness to the potential consequences of global warming.
After her return to the US, North began planning another project she’s calling “Submersive Gardening.” The principle is to create a series of 19 ponds in different locations around the world that symbolize the 19 atolls present in the Maldives Islands, one of the area’s defining qualities.
“Atoll” is a word that was created by the natives of the Maldives that is used to describe a ring-shaped coral reef that encloses a shallow lagoon. The coral of the atoll often sits atop the rim of an extinct volcano which has eroded partially beneath the water. The lagoon forms over the volcanic crater while the higher rim remains above water or at shallow depths that allow the reefs to grow. Atolls are found mainly in the Indian and Pacific oceans.
North said this project is still a proposal, as she is developing a working prototype in SUNY Morrisville’s greenhouse.
“I’m basically going to re-create each atoll in a pond,” she said. “I’m using a 3-D printer, working with a couple different scientists, and they’re going to be kinetic. [The pieces] are all going to be connected by cables that will hold them underwater every two to five minutes and they’re going to grow plants. It’s aquaponics.”
Aquaponics combines raising fish and the soil-less growing of plants in one integrated system. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in. Green fiber-optic cables will surround the perimeter of the pond to simulate seagrass.
“It’s functional art,” North explained. “All of the plants are edible, the fish are for harvesting, it’s educational.”
Two pond sites have already been chosen. She will be creating one at SUNY Morrisville and one at “Sculpture Space,” an international artist residency program, in Utica. She said she would also like to create one on Hamilton College’s campus as well.
North will be returning to the Maldives for about 10 days in March to continue her “Submersive Gardening” project. While visiting, she will also be working with Hope 4 Women International, an organization working towards empowering women, and the DHI Youth Movement in an effort to spread art around the nation.
North said due to the current political climate, during her next visit she will need someone with her for protection purposes.
“It’s actually dangerous there,” she said. “I’m being supported by the Art in Embassies Program to go back and I have to have an officer with me at all times. It wasn’t that way before. Because the Embassy is bringing me in to bring art to a country that is pushing it out, that makes me feel like I’m a little more at risk.”
Former Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed, the nation’s first democratically elected leader, resigned in 2012. North had met him twice during her visit in 2011, and he was very supportive of her public art project. Abdulla Yameen has since taken over as president.
As a result, her “Underwater” public art project has been put on hold indefinitely due to political changeover in The Republic of Maldives.
North is now uncertain if her project will still be supported by the new government, because the plan involves altering a city owned building. She said she would like to wait until the next election before she resumes work on that venture.
The previous is an excerpt from an article by Mark Warren. For the full text see: http://clintoncourier.com/articles/2-04-2015/local-painter-uses-art-to-bring-awareness-to-environmental-issues/