The works of ceramic sculptor Courtney Mattison are exquisitely shaped, meticulous with intricate detail, and demand attention.
The Los Angeles-based artist has been aptly described as an “advocate of the oceans” and her provocative three-dimensional renderings, formed of glazed stoneware and porcelain, are astonishing proof of her dedication to the seas in general and coral reefs. specifically.
On display in the Herman Melville Room at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Mattison’s installation is a physical manifestation of his desire to deliver an important message: Coral reefs are increasingly threatened by greenhouse gas emissions, ocean pollution and overfishing, to the point where they could “stop working” by the end of the century.
Mattison knows what she’s talking about. With an interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts in Marine Ecology and Ceramic Carving, and a Master of Arts in Environmental Studies from Brown University (and thesis credits at the Rhode Island School of Design), she harnesses both the sensibilities of the left and right brain, and her work resonates with a terrible sense of urgency and frank, relentless beauty.
The continued degradation and / or elimination of coral reefs would likely lead to a domino effect of mass destruction. Many marine species would likely become extinct, eventually causing severe food shortages and negatively impacting a number of industries, starting with the fishing, pharmaceutical and eco-tourism sectors. Rapid coastal erosion would occur and coastal flooding would become more and more common. A series of increasingly tragic – and preventable – consequences loom on the horizon.
Mattison’s “Malum Geminos” takes up an entire wall of the gallery. The term is Latin for “evil twins” and was coined by Dr Jane Lubchenco who, during the United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009, described ocean acidification as the “evil equal twin” of change. climate.
Lubchenco also called the acidification of the ocean “osteoporosis of the seas”. Mattison’s “Malum Geminos” becomes an avatar of this osteoporosis with its interconnected elements of yellowing faux coral and its cracks and surfaces treated to mimic decay.
Among the elements of “Malum Geminos” are shapes that are hard not to anthropomorphize: semicircular shapes that resemble human skulls with something akin to eye sockets and toothless, gaping mouths. Other elements are projected onto the wall, branching out like a beggar’s hand, begging for mercy and struggling for survival. And certainly, real coral reefs need help.
Parked in the gallery is a display case containing rarely exhibited corals and sponges from the Whaling Museum’s Natural History Collection, which reminds viewers of humanity’s “ocean mania”. A small sign near the glass case reads that “although their beauty is intoxicating, remember that they are skeletons and their collection resulted in their deaths.”
Mattison displays sculptures from his “Fossil Fuel Series,” which examines the links between greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and coral bleaching. While there is something whimsical about the series, there is also something more than a little disturbing about the barnacles sticking out over oil cans and bright red gasoline cans.
In a similar vein, there is “Catch of the Day”, a beautifully executed life-size stoneware and porcelain wall sculpture that looks exactly like a white plastic plate, fork, knife and spoon, grotesquely intertwined with coral and other marine life. .
In his series “Hope Spots”, Mattison offers a minimum of optimism. The series mentions vital marine ecosystems in need of protection, including the islands of Micronesia, the island of Seychelles, and the Charlie-Gibbs Rift Zone, a “major disruption” of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between the islands. Azores and Iceland.
Mattison’s work is meant to serve as a wake-up call. But in an age of climate change skeptics, science deniers and conspiracy theorists, hopefully the alarm sounds loud and clear and disturbs the complacent. Mattison is more than a “defender of the oceans”. She is the ocean warrior of the art world, trying to turn the tide.
“Turn the Tide: Courtney Mattison” is on display at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, 18 Johnny Cake Hill, New Bedford until May 1.