The Air We Breathe
The Air We Breathe is a collection of abstract paintings and sculptures that reference seagrass meadows’ ability to produce oxygen. Oceans produce 50% of the oxygen on earth from plankton, vegetation, and bacteria photosynthesizing. Usually, we don’t think about where our oxygen comes from, we just expect it to be there. Seagrass, known as the “lungs of the sea,” are important under-recognized producers of oxygen. They sequester carbon from the atmosphere and support the respiration of creatures and humans alike. The exhibition challenges how we perceive oxygen as a given. Our choices illuminate the spaces between known and unknown, the scientific and invented, and the constant and ever-changing.
The ocean’s surface looks serene; however, underwater there are many variables affecting water quality and the vitality of coastal ecosystems. For example, Almost One Third depicts how 29% of seagrass meadows have disappeared globally. This painting questions how we choose to look at our connection with the natural environment. Almost One Third showcases muted violet grays to evoke the nostalgia of the once flourishing seagrass. The composition emulates the fluidity of water resulting in no focal point for the eye to rest: lines weave in and out of surfaces, and the barely discernible numbers 2 and 9 undulate. These numbers are intentionally placed to activate the viewer’s perception; maybe to even invite the viewer to question what they are perceiving.
Without seagrass, there is no aquatic vegetation to hold down sediment to slow down shore erosions. Seagrasses store more than twice as much carbon dioxide per square mile as forests. Their rhizome roots stabilize and trap sediment which helps improve water clarity and quality. They help buffer coastlines against storms. How do we respond to all the ancient carbon, once stored in the seagrass meadow’s root system, being released back into the atmosphere? To visually represent the statistical data of one meter of seagrass generating 10 liters of oxygen per day, The Air We Breathe is viewed in a one-meter closed-off space, surrounded by 10 liters of volumetric forms. It celebrates how seagrass gives us oxygen, through geometric and organic forms.
Abstract sculptures called Offshoots are installed on both walls and floors. The floor pieces are tactile. Visitors will be invited to hold sculptures while viewing the paintings and wall sculptures to represent how conserving seagrass is participatory. Once they interact with Offshoots, visitors can document their emotional responses in the back room which displays an installation of a seagrass rhizome including a video projection of Bubbles, circular wire sculptures to contribute to called Making O2 Bubbles, and sticky notes to attach responses.
In this exhibition, I explore the interdependence of humans and living organisms in our coastal environment. In order to sustain our well-being, we need to remember that we exist through the concept of reciprocity. We all have the agency to make changes and new connections.
To learn more about seagrass and Nedret’s paintings in her own words, read on…
10 Facts about seagrass & marine life
- Seagrass mitigates the effects of climate change by absorbing about 10 percent of the total estimated organic carbon sequestered in the world’s oceans each year.
- Seagrass absorbs 50% of the oceans’ Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
- Seagrass can absorb carbon up to 35 times faster than Amazonian rainforest
- Seagrasses stabilize sediments and reduce wave action by 20 percent, slowing beach erosion and lessening storm damage to coastlines.
- Globally 29% of our seagrass habitats have died in the last century due to poor water quality (runoff from septic tanks, fertilizer use), storms, and heatwaves.
- Seagrasses provide crucial refuge for numerous species of juvenile reef fish
- A single acre of seagrass can support nearly 40,000 fish and 50 million small invertebrates, such as lobsters and shrimp.
- 21⁄2 acres of seagrass (roughly the size of two football fields) provides habitat, erosion control, and other benefits with an estimated value of nearly $29,000 a year.
- Seagrass meadows support 20% of the worlds major fisheries and provide vital nutrition to about 3 billion people.
- In some places, 1 acre of dense seagrass can sequester more than 1,200 pounds of carbon per year—equivalent to the amount emitted by a car traveling about 6,259 miles, more than twice the distance across the U.S.
Sources: Pew Charitable Trust; PADI blog, Nedret Andre
This underwater scene is painted in gray blues with warm undertones that filter through the background. Splashes of red oranges weave throughout the canvas illuminating a watery space glistening in light. Here, I imagine the process of photosynthesis in seagrass meadows. Sunlight mixes in with carbon dioxide and water to create oxygen and food in the form of carbohydrates. Seagrass feeds itself and others while also providing us lifeg-giving oxygen.
The Air We Breathe
In The Air We Breathe, I encourage viewers to experiment with visual amounts by standing in a square foot space and picking up a liter volumetric sculpture. My hope is that it will give a greater sense of what 10 liters really look like. One square foot of seagrass gives us 10 liters of oxygen daily. It would take 50 square meters fulfill a single human’s daily oxygen needs.
Absorbing Light (Prochlorococcus)
Absorbing Light is the largest painting I have ever made, and yet it is depicting one of the smallest marine organisms that exists. Prochlorococcus is a type of tiny phytoplankton that releases tonnes of oxygen into the atmosphere. Millions of them can fit into a drop of water and they are the most abundant photosynthetic organism on the planet.
Penny Chisholm from MIT discovered these small phytoplankters in the 1980s and has worked on Prochlorococcus for over 35 years. Her research has helped shape our understanding of the different types of ecotypes (or geographical varieties within the species), and how collectively the species has over 80,000 genes. Together, her lab found that each of the main Prochlorococcus ecotypes has its own genomic “island,” a patch of genes that confers specific adaptations to an environment. One island helps the microbe survive in very low-phosphorus waters, for example.
Almost One Third, Oil on Canvas,
Almost One Third, about 29% of our seagrass meadows have disappeared globally. Seagrass meadows sequester carbon 35% faster than the rainforest. I tried to imagine what happens when there is no aquatic vegetation to hold down sediment to slow down shore erosion. How do we relate to all the ancient carbon that was once stored in the seagrass meadow’s root system, but is now being released back into the atmosphere? Almost One Third is a type of questioning about how we choose to look at our connection with the natural environment.
Inlet I- IV
Seagrasses are flowering saltwater plants that live in shallow waters including inlets. They can grow at the edges of the shoreline and bring an abundance of life to an otherwise stark area. In this multi-paneled painting I wanted to capture the ever-changing nature of inlets, and how they are shaped and reshaped by nature. They attempt to parallel the feeling of “constant change” wrought by the ocean and weather.
This change can be seen for example in Sebastian Inlet, in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon. Here a rich diversity of seagrass species can be found including manatee grass, paddle grass, shoal grass, Johnson’s seagrass, star seagrass, widgeon grass and turtle grass. However, seagrass ebbed to its lowest numbers in 2012, when about 60 percent of the estuary’s seagrass died off due to algal blooms.
With continued monitoring and marine protection from Atkins North America, seagrass meadows are growing in 2021. Atkins required a mitigation strategy to protect sensitive seagrass habitats for boaters using Sebastian Inlet. The result has been a steady increase in seagrass, currently at eight square acres in the past decade. This shows the importance of protecting and monitoring this sensitive habitat, as it’s much faster to destory than to rebuild.
50 Million Invertebrates
In this painting I wanted to capture night time light underwater. The ocean is a mysterious place bustling with life. While abstract, I imagined what an acre of seagrass might look like teeming with invertebrates. Animals that don’t have bony skeletons like sponges, corals, jelly fish.. lacking these ridgid structures I depicted them as large and small overlapping shapes. I used saturated complementary colors of orange and teal blue to mimic the flickering of underwater light.
4.7 Billion to 30 Billion
The numbers in this piece specifically reference economic figures related to the cleanup of Boston Harbor in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The harbor had been heavily polluted due to industrial development and population growth since the nineteenth century. By the mid-1970s, organizations within the Boston community started to fight for a cleaner Boston Harbor. After the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, a court-mandated cleanup of the Boston Harbor began in 1986. Thanks to all the communities joining forces , we now enjoy clean waters where seagrass has returned to Boston Harbor.
The title of this piece specifically reference economic figures related to the cleanup of Boston Harbor in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The cost of the cleanup in the 1980s was 4.7 billion dollars, but an economic evaluation of the cleanup suggests that its now-functioning ecosystems provide our society an estimated value of $30 to $100 billion.
Seagrass can be both sexual and asexual. They can either reproduce sexually with seeds just like terrestrial plants or asexually by cloning themselves.
The world’s largest living plant has been identified in Western Australia in Shark Bay as Posidonia Australis. This plant is 112 miles long and is so large because it clones itself. It creates genetically identical offshoots called Polyplodidty.
In June 2022 Elizabeth Sinclair and her colleagues published fascinating results of their 10-year study of this organism. Scientists sequenced DNA from seagrass samples in 10 different locations, and confirmed that they were identical. Therefore, it was able to grow vegetatively by stretching its rhizomes outward.
In my offshoot sculpture series, I wanted to capture the movement of new growth in three dimensions. What would a meandering offshoot look like? I created both relief sculptures and three-dimensional sculptures to capture the fascinating ability of seagrass to clone itself.
Illuminated, Coralline Algae
Coralline Algae is a type of macroalgae with the special skills of calcifying within its vegetative cells. This diverse group of algae is present in coastal system around the world. Highly adaptable, Coralline Algae can be found in full sun intertidal regions, the darkness under rocks as well as habitats that the sun’s rays do not penetrate at all, such as 250 meters underwater (the Photic zone, where sunlight illuminates the ocean, goes to 200 meters).
In Illuminated, I depicted the algae’s ability to adapt to a variety of illuminated habitats, and particularly photosynthesis in low light. I surrounded the algae with with abstract shapes of invertebrates, acknowledging it as being a reef habitat.
Chloroplasts are a particular type of plant cell structure. They are what allows the conversion of light energy into carbohydrates and oxygen. When I imagine cellular structures and oxygen, I imagine the chloroplasts converting light into these crucial elements. Chloroplasts are found in plants like seagrass, algae, and in cyanobacteria.
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