Just Below the Surface

June 26 – August 31, 2018

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Xavier Cortada, “1896,” 16″ x 12″, archival ink on paper, 2018.


About “Just Below the Surface”

Xavier Cortada’s “Just Below the Surface” series was informed by science research and Miami history.

In creating the signed, number, limited-edition prints for the Just Below the Surface series, he used a microscope to photograph shells of diatoms preserved in sedimentary core samples. Diatoms harness the power of the sun to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. They are responsible for generating one-third of the oxygen on the planet Since a glass shell, all that remains from the diatom, is used by scientists today to see what was as they research environmental issues crucial to the city in the century to come.  Scientists—and artists—can determine the past salinity of water by examining the 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

The diatoms depicted in the foreground of the three works were living on Biscayne Bay at three points of Miami history:

  • The Diatom in 1566 was creating the very air Adelantado Pedro Menendez de Aviles breathed as he planted Spain’s flag on the edge of the#MiamiRiver.  The background utilizes imagery from my “First Encounter” mural that permanently hangs at the entrance of Miami City Hall. (http://cortada.com/2018/justbelow1566)
  • The diatom depicted in the foreground of the second work in the series was living on #BiscayneBay in 1896. It was creating the very air City of #Miami #Incorporators breathed as they stood in a pool hall on the North Bank of the #MiamiRiver and brought the city to life. The background utilizes imagery from my “The Incorporators” mural that permanently hangs at the entrance of Miami CityHall. (http://cortada.com/2018/justbelow1896)
  • And the diatom in the third work was creating the very air that the Miami Beach founders breathed in 1915 as the city was being brought to life.
    In the art, there is a large diatom just below the surface.  It is wrapped in red –almost to look like a hemoglobin molecule that transports the oxygen in our blood. The diatom and the whole web of life it supports above and below the waterline is our lifeline. Above the horizon, I’ve arranged images of this diatom into a circle to symbolize the Miami Beach sun rising above the water and shining its light on the the city.  Through time, season after season (represented by the sun divided into four parts), the city grows, new life.  I’ve layered the sun over a historic city map. All around the diatoms are floating into the air– making the actual air.  A large image of the work hangs in the entrance of the City Manager’s office. (http://cortada.com/2015/JustBelowTheSurface)

Special thanks to Dr. Evelyn Gaiser and her  Florida Coastal Everglades LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) team at the Florida International University and FIU School of Environment, Arts and Society for their support in creating this


About the Artist

Xavier Cortada serves as Artist-in-Residence at FIU School of Environment, Arts and Society and the College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts.

Cortada often engages scientists in his art-making: At CERN, Cortada and a particle physicist created a permanent digital-art piece to celebrate the Higgs boson discovery. Cortada has worked 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.

He has collaborated with a population geneticist to explore our ancestral journeys out of Africa 60,000-years ago, with a molecular biologist to synthesize a DNA strand from a sequence 400 museum visitors randomly generated, and with botanists to develop multi-year participatory eco-art efforts to reforest mangrovesnative trees, and wildflowers across Florida.

The Miami artist has created environmental installations (North Pole and South Pole) and eco-art (TaiwanHawaii and Hollandprojects, and painted community murals addressing peace (Cyprus and Northern Ireland), child welfare  (Bolivia and Panama), AIDS (Switzerland and South Africa) and juvenile justice (Miami and Philadelphia) concerns.

His studio is located at Pinecrest Gardens.