{in water} exhibition by Xavier Cortada

May 3 – August 3

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“{in water}”

Diatoms are water-bound, single-celled symmetrical organisms encapsulated in silica.  They harness the power of the sun to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and are responsible for generating one-third of the air we breathe.

Its shell, all that remains from the diatom that lived in the past, is used by scientists today to see what was as they research crucial environmental issues in the century to come.  Scientists—and artists—can determine the past salinity of water by examining the glass shells of diatoms preserved in sedimentary core samples.

Each diatom species has a different salinity preference, so changes in the mixture of fresh and sea water (driven by sea level and changes in water management) can be inferred from past diatom remains.

Xavier Cortada collaborated with Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research (FCE LTER) scientists to better understand the impact of global climate change on our ecosystems. The works in the {in water} exhibition are inspired by their scientific research.

Diatom,” (2014), is his first work ever depicting a diatom: Using a microscope, Cortada captured the image of a diatom from samples used by Florida International UniversityFCE LTER scientists study the ecology of the Everglades and sea level rise.  In the art, Cortada’s diatoms hover over a layer of images (Cortada captured using Google maps) showing the artificial canals and lakes created to develop parcels of developable land where the River of Grass once flowed.

His latest diatom-themed work, “Diatom Court” (2018), is outside the Hibiscus Gallery in the gardens. On Earth Day 2018, it was unveiled as a permanent, site-specific, ceramic installation on the grounds of Pinecrest Gardens.

Xavier Cortada, “Diatom,” archival ink on aluminum, 36in x 18in, 2014 (edition 1 of 5).

About the Artist

Xavier Cortada’s art-science practice is oriented toward social engagement and the environment. He has created art installations in the Earth’s poles to generate awareness about global climate change: In 2007, an NSF Antarctic Artist and Writer’s Program Fellow, the artist used the moving ice sheet beneath the South Pole as an instrument to mark time; the art piece will be completed in 150,000 years.  In 2008, he planted a green flag at the North Pole to reclaim it for nature and launch a reforestation eco-art effort.

Cortada often collaborates with scientists in his art-making:

At CERN, Cortada worked with a physicist to develop a site-specific art installation capturing the five search strategies which the CMS experiment has used to discover a new Higgs-like particle.  The five giant banners hang at the location (100m below the ground) where the particle was discovered.

He has also worked with a population geneticist on a project exploring our ancestral journeys out of Africa 60,000 years ago, with a molecular biologist to synthesize an actual DNA strand made from a sequence randomly generated by participants visiting his museum exhibit, and with botanists in participatory eco-art projects to reforest mangroves, native trees and wildflowers.
Cortada is currently working with scientists at Hubbard Brook LTER on a water cycle visualization project driven by real-time data collected at a watershed in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

At Florida International University, Cortada collaborated with Florida Coastal Everglades LTER scientists in using the diatoms they study to address sea level rise and environmental degradation. From 2011-18, Cortada based his engaged art-science practice at Florida International University. He served as Artist-in-Residence at FIU School of Environment, Arts and Society, the FIU College of Arts, Sciences & Education, and the FIU College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts.