"Bloom: The Elephant Bed" is an art installation by John Grade at our new art museum, The Lightcatcher. It's difficult to capture the utter serenity of this piece in a picture alone. These paper sculptures hang in an enclosed room, and seem to emanate a calm presence. I'd like to spend an hour just sitting on the floor alone with them, basking in their peace. Here is the artist's statement:
"Floating inches below the surface of the sea are tiny microorganisms called coccolithophores. Individually, they are too small to see, but grouped together they form such large masses that they can be seen from satellites blanketing hundreds of miles of ocean, coloring the water a bright turquoise. Unlike any other type of phytoplankton, each coccolithophore surrounds itself with a microscopic plating made of limestone (calcite).
"When a coccolithophore dies (they have a life span of a few weeks), this outer shell slowly sinks to the ocean floor. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, these shells accumulated and formed a sedimentary layer that can be seen today as the white cliffs of Dover along England's southern coast. Geologists named this exposed accumulation of calcium made from the casings of coccolithophores, the 'Elephant bed.'
"Over the past decade there has been controversy over the role of coccolithophores as they relate to the health of the world's oceans and global warming. They thrive in areas of the sea that are otherwise largely lifeless, primarily in sub-polar regions. Generally, when coccolithophores inhabit an area, they dominate and supplant other forms of phytoplankton. In the past two years, coccolithophores have begun to cover large areas of the Bering Sea. This surprises some scientists because the Bering Sea is usually a very nutrient-rich body of water. In the long-term, coccolithophores appear to be a positive force in the reduction of greenhouse gasses. With the formation of each calcium shell, a small bit of carbon is removed from the environment to become part of the shell that will eventually sink harmlessly to the ocean floor. But an immediate concern arises when a coccolithophore takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere (for sustenance) because it is simultaneously releasing a small portion of it into the sea. This can cause the upper layers of the ocean to become warmer and stagnant-- essentially creating a 'dead zone' in the ocean suitable only for sustaining more coccolithophores. Over the past ten years, coccolithophores have been a growing presence in the world's oceans as they cyclically bloom in greater numbers.
"One of my goals with the installation of Bloom is to employ scale so that we can tangibly encase ourselves within a form inspired by the shell of a coccolithophore. I am also interested in impermanence, at directing our attention to what is compelling within a state of decay or disintegration. The sculptures that are gradually lowered into the pool of ink will collapse, sink and flake apart slowly while the remaining sculptures will dissolve almost instantly when we walk them out of the museum and directly into the bay at the close of the exhibition."