I am trying to find a way to deal with the enormity of the Anthropocene calamity for which I too have blood on my hands – this merely by being part of the human race. These recent works may seem like deceptively romantic depictions of the ocean but they mask a different reality. Diversity is being lost on a daily basis and it is difficult for me to imagine anything but a dystopian future world. The ocean has become for me the quintessential metaphor for the way that mankind is steering the earth into an irreversible void.
Rampant pollution of the ocean is not a new topic.
There is no cation for seawater, which consists of approximately 32 salts (H2O + Na+Cl-So4-Mg2+Ca2+K-HCo3-, et cetera) so a symbol will have to do.
The ocean is being more and more regarded as a seemingly endless human resource for a seemingly endless eruption of humanity. It is also the most democratic recipient of the abuse that humankind foists upon the earth – from unbridled harvesting (inclusive of desalination) to unbridled dumping (inclusive of pesticides and plastics). It is easy to be oblivious of looming disaster, since water, like democracy, is persistently perceived romantically due to its provocative allure and beauty. “Democracy is like the experience of life itself – always changing, infinite in variety, sometimes turbulent and all the more valuable for having been tested for adversity” (Jimmy Carter, Speech to Parliament of India, 2 June, 1978). Unlike democracy, water is not like the experience of life itself – it is life itself. Like democracy, the ocean’s value is being tested for adversity, possibly beyond endurance.
Dystopian trailer #1
Oil on canvas (1200 x 1500mm)
Dead zone #1
Mixed media (1190 x 840mm)
Ecological dead zones of the ocean are predominantly due to anthropocentric factors that create hypoxic areas in which the oxygen required to support marine life is depleted. Due to the decay of algae, elements such as nitrogen and phosphorus (the building blocks of single-celled organisms) increase and cause Cyanobacteria (also an algae) to bloom. Cyanobacteria are a type of photosynthesising bacteria – they, along with plant-like diatoms (microscopic one-celled algae with silica-filled cell walls) and coccolithophores (with calcium carbonate plates) are some of fascinating phytoplankton that form the plankton community. Trust us humans to upset the delicate balance required to keep the necessary algae flourishing. There are now over 400 identified dead zones.
Dead zone #1 (detail)
The dust will not settle on Selene
Selene is the Greek goddess of the moon. On 20 July 1969 I was a teenager in awe of the landing of the Apollo Eleven Eagle lunar lander on Selene, the earth’s nearest neighbour. With her lean and still atmosphere of largely sodium and potassium Selene had been barraged by solar winds, asteroids and meteorites. Human impact thus seemed insignificant and human heroism prevailed. What I remember most vividly, aside from the rather bleached appearance of the moon, was the sight of our own planet – our Blue Planet – seen from our moon. What an exquisite sight that was! Although the three astronauts of Apollo Eight had, in 1968, first viewed of our planet in space, it was the moon landing that brought the enormity of that reality home to me – we were a life-sustaining planet spinning on its own axis in space. I was a cynical teenager, yet I set aside my distrust of human actions, at least until the dust on the moon created by these intrepid humans settled.
Fifty years on I have seen far beyond Selene, not only through the lenses of my own telescopes, but due to staggeringly advanced technologies that draw the seeming infinity of space into close proximity. Unmanned spacecraft have beamed back colourful close-ups of 63 moons in our solar system where primitive life forms are surmised to exist. All due to human brilliance.
Yet, the product of such human brilliance knows no mithridate to the ubiquitous ecological calamity on earth that has at its origin the self-same human race. To what good can we put new knowledge of space and its often incomprehensibly beautiful stuff when our own planet burns, drowns and gasps in its own toxic dust?
After fifty years my distrust of human actions is manifest. Selene, drive your white chariot across the sky each night but do not trust your ‘brilliant’ spatial neighbours. The dust left in the wake of human endeavour will not settle on Selene until the dust settles on earth.
The dust will not settle on Selene
Mixed media on canvas, in six parts (93cm x 139cm)
Website of South African Artists