The Ocean Inside

By Susan Hoffman Fishman

Dutch-Canadian printmaker Eveline Kolijn grew up in the Caribbean where she developed an enduring interest in natural history and the environment, as well as a love of the ocean. Having spent a great deal of her childhood scuba diving in the coral reefs, she originally thought of becoming a marine biologist before her life took her in another direction. 

In 1997, Kolijn emigrated to Calgary, Alberta, a land-locked province in Western Canada where she established her printmaking practice. During her explorations of the region, she visited areas in the Canadian Rockies that were riddled with coral fossils dating back millions of years to a time when the land encompassing Alberta was a tropical sea. Similar in structure to the living corals in the Caribbean today, the coral fossils reinforced Kolijn’s ongoing interest in coral reefs and her concern about the current degradation of the beautiful reefs that she had known as a child. 

Repeated visits to the Island of Curaçao, where her parents had settled and where the reefs had deteriorated to a disturbing level from the effects of the climate crisis and other environmental stresses, motivated her to begin what was to become a three-year project that she called The Ocean Inside. The name acknowledges that even in a place where the sea is nowhere to be seen, in the “inside” of her country, there is evidence of sea life.  

Rocky Mountain coral fossils

A multimedia installation incorporating printmaking, video, animation, and sound, The Ocean Inside addresses the environmental status of and critical functions provided by our oceans, and the threats to the marine life living in them. The project evolved in stages as Kolijn added all of its various components.

For many years, Kolijn filmed underwater footage, primarily in the Caribbean, which captured both the beauty and degradation of the shoreline and coral reefs. Based on the success of previous installations in Australia and Spain with similar materials, Kolijn knew that for The Ocean Inside she wanted to project edited video footage from her underwater video archive onto a translucent polyester veil that would be handprinted with a network of phytoplankton – microscopic marine plants that are a major source of food for marine life and are responsible for producing an estimated 50% of the world’s oxygen. The patterns on the printed veil, which would be embedded with glittering mica, would intersect with the projected imagery to create a dynamic, shimmering and layered effect. Kilijn calls the veil a representation of “the web of life.”

Ocean Veil, print detail. Lino-print with mica on polyester voile showing the reflective and light blocking qualities of the veil, 270 x 420 cm (2017). Photo by Eveline Kolijn.

Additional elements in the video include animated versions of Kolijn’s printed images that dance and pulsate across the screen, as well as ceramic discs printed with coral images. She also created sixteen poetic statements that encourage viewers to personalize the video experience. Rather than using music as a soundtrack, she recruited individuals to read these statements in their Indigenous or native languages, which included Dutch, English, French, Greek, Japanese, Mandarin, Nahuati, Papiamentoe, Polish, Russian, Shona, Spanish, Tagalog, Te Reo Maori, and Urdu, to emphasize the universal nature of water and the global reach of the climate crisis. One example of such a statement is, “My blood is my private ocean containing a chemical memory of the source of life.” 

The Ocean Inside has been installed in Calgary (2017 and 2019) and in Spain (2018), and was scheduled to be installed in Puerto Rico at the Southern Conference Graphics International and in Crete in 2020, but were either cancelled or postponed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Coral Phages: Guardians of the Host or mediators of Infection? Photopolymer and zinc intaglio, 33 x 48.3 cm, 1/14 (2020). Collection Zuckerman Museum of Art (Kennesaw State University, GA, U.S.A.) as part of the Southern Conference Graphics International archival collection. Reproduced with permission of the portfolio curator. Photo by Eveline Kolijn.
TIDALECTICS

In 2020, Kolijn curated and produced a boxed print portfolio entitled, Tidalectics, which incorporates the work of 11 printmaking artists who collaborated with marine biologists to create artwork related to the ocean. She selected the title – which had been used by Stephanie Hessler in her own book by the same name and referred to a new worldview of the ocean that merges the arts, sciences, history, and environmental studies – to emphasize the cross-disciplinary nature of her project. With the assistance of Dr. Mark Vermeij, a leading figure in current marine biology research in the Caribbean, Kolijn recruited each of the artists and then matched them with marine biologists, based on the artists’ preferred area of interest. 

After a number of virtual interactions, the artists created visual responses to the work of their collaborating scientists. Kolijn partnered with Dr. Forest Rohwer, Principal at Rohwer Lab in San Diego, California, whose research focuses on the role of microbes and viruses in coral reef health and disease. Her piece in the portfolio, Coral Phages: Guardians of the Host or mediators of Infection?, is a photopolymer and zinc intaglio print. She was quick to point out that the scientists involved in the project were delighted that the artists were interested in what they were doing and pleased that their work would reach audiences beyond their scientific disciplines.

These days, Kolijn is reading, studying, and reflecting on what it means to be an artist in the Anthropocene. She says, “for a long time residing at the periphery, the topic of art and environment is poised to take center stage.” With both The Ocean Inside and Tidalectics, she has demonstrated that visual art can play an important role in providing comprehensible access and an emotional connection to the scientific world.

(Top image: Video still from The Ocean Inside projected on the Veil (2018-2019). Photo by Eveline Kolijn.)

This article is part of Imagining Water, a series on artists of all genres who are making the topic of water and climate disruption a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances, projects and publications that are appearing in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme.

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Susan Hoffman Fishman is a painter, public artist and writer whose work has been exhibited in widely in museums and galleries throughout the U.S. Since 2011, all of her paintings, installations and photographs have addressed water and climate change. She co-created a national, participatory public art project, The Wave, which addresses our mutual need for and interdependence on water and which has inspired thousands of adults and children of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to protect this vital resource. Her most recent body of work calls attention to the growing number of rampikes along our shores – trees that have been exposed to salt water and died as a result of rising tides.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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