Rice University: Art exhibition inspired by ‘BLEACHED’ corals

A science and art exhibition showcasing the wonders and perils of colourful coral reefs is going on display in Southampton. The BLEACHED exhibition is a collaboration between the University of Southampton and the Artist Collective ‘Vulgar Earth’.

A science and art exhibition showcasing the wonders and perils of colourful coral reefs is going on display in Southampton. The BLEACHED exhibition is a collaboration between the University of Southampton and the Artist Collective ‘Vulgar Earth’.

BLEACHED, at the God’s House Tower Gallery (3rd – 5th June 2022), explores a new way of communicating the threat to the world’s delicate coral populations using visuals. This diverse and immersive exhibition contains moving images, sculptures, installations and 2D work that challenges the viewers perception of these ecosystems. The ‘glow in the dark gallery’ displays fluorescent art objects alongside actual living corals.

Scientists Professor Joerg Wiedenmann and Dr Cecilia D’Angelo from the Coral Reef Laboratory at the University of Southampton worked with 15 artists from Vulgar Earth who share concerns for these diverse ecosystems.

Coral reefs are threatened by global warming that can cause bleaching. Temperatures rising just 1˚C above the usual summer maximum causes the damaging coral bleaching process. The coral’s white limestone skeleton shines through its transparent tissue and is exposed to the eroding forces of the environment.

In early 2022, the iconic Great Barrier Reef in Australia suffered its sixth mass bleaching episode during which more than 90 percent of the reefs were affected to some extent by bleaching.

Dr Cecelia D’Angelo, Lecturer of Molecular Coral Biology at Southampton, says: “Unfortunately, recent episodes of global bleaching caused by unusually warm water have resulted in high coral mortality, leaving the world’s coral reefs struggling for survival.”

However, Professor Joerg Wiedenmann continues: “Our research has shown corals have several strategies to recover from bleaching such as displaying neon colours. This reduces the light stress in the bleach coral tissue helping the algae to re-populate the host.”

Coral lives in a fragile, mutually beneficial relationship with tiny algae embedded in its cells. Within a few years an entire coral reef can break down and the biodiversity that depends on its complex structure is lost.

Simon Meiklejohn, founder of Vulgar Earth and curator of BLEACHED, says: “The exhibition has allowed us to speak in unison on a single subject that has powerful implications. Our message is backed and informed by science. The imagination of our artist helps us to see the world anew, for real. Through beauty we hear of danger, through delicacy strength, and through understanding we see hope.”

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