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Under the Sea

  • Education

  • Oct 1, 2011 – May 28, 2012
  • Kidspace

Visitors to Kidspace at MASS MoCA found themselves surrounded by artistic renderings of sea creatures, plant life, and other natural elements when Under the Sea featured six internationally acclaimed artists who explored the ocean as habitat, myth, and a necessary element of life on earth. Through various themes and innovative materials, the artists examined the mystery and power of the ocean as well as the catastrophic consequences of our abuse of this natural resource.

With just cardboard and paint, James Grashow created a school of brightly colored fish and a larger-than-life mermaid that swam through the gallery. As each cardboard sculpture eventually dissolved in water, the viewer was invited to ruminate on the transience of these supposedly seaworthy sculptures.

Sculptor Aurora Robson used only plastic bottles and paint to create colossal coral reefs and plankton that served as a meditation on our overconsumption of plastic and our pollution of the ocean. Based on childhood nightmares of sea creatures, Robson’s work illustrated the power of transformation as a once-feared entity became one of beauty, and what was once garbage became art.

A self-proclaimed “river-gazer” since childhood, sculptor Ginger Ertz worked with chenille stems to depict the movement of waves and ripples in the water. Her work for MASS MoCA, which also included an oil spill, considered the effect of our pollution on the ocean. Because each sculpture evolves during her artistic process, she viewed it as a metaphor for how life changes over time, a metaphor also reflected by the movement of water.

Manhattan-based photographer Dirk Westphal shared the inherent beauty of clownfish and damselfish through colossal, wall-sized photographs of astounding clarity. Having first encountered damselfish at the ocean as a child, Westphal sought to invoke the awe he feels for the fish, which are not afraid of anything.

Part science, part art, the sculptures and video art of Deborah Wing-Sproul invited the viewer to meditate on the vastness and strength of the ocean and the corresponding fragility of human life and the consequent implications. Her sculptures of spoons and slippers made entirely of seaweed disintegrate with time, illustrating the important connection between the inhabitant and its habitat, for only out of the water does seaweed become brittle. Her video art inspired viewers to ponder the ocean as a connector for all cultures, as its strength and fragility require the humility and compassion of people across the globe.

Sculptor Johnston Foster showed alternative uses for discarded items by creating his sharks entirely from materials salvaged from roadsides and dumpsters. Intrigued by the fascination that people have with sharks as a predator and the sensationalism surrounding them, Foster constructed sharks displayed on traffic cones. Although his work began as a physical exploration of the material, the material itself encourages the viewer to think more about the connection between the plastic deposits in the ocean and the traffic cones, tires, and plastic which comprise his sculptures.

Kidspace has an extensive program for the school groups in the North Adams Public Schools and North Berkshire School Union. As part of their school curriculum, students from Greylock, Brayton, and Colegrove schools in North Adams and from the towns of Clarksburg, Florida, and Savoy visited the exhibition with Kidspace staff and education interns to view the work and create their own art in response to the exhibition. An interdisciplinary curriculum guide developed by two local educators was presented to the participating teachers.

Download the Curriculum Guide here
Download the Gallery Guide here

James Grashow, photo by Art Evans

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