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Fourteen Days at-Sea in the Mapless Blue

Three weeks ago I stepped off the R/V Falkor after 2 weeks at sea. This was my first artist residency, creating art on a research vessel crossing the Pacific. I found it rather humbling being on a 280 ft vessel with only 33 people as we crossed the equator. We were literally a tiny dot in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Before the residency, I was filled with feelings of excitement — the new and unknown — yet also a part of me was fearful. I thought witnessing the effects of climate change on the ocean and people studying this might be intense.

Indeed, there were these sobering moments. Once while speaking to a young Ocean Physicist PhD I was brought to tears as he went into detail about his studies of heat (carbon) absorption into the ocean, and one specific situation of a chain reaction of polar icecaps melting. It’s easy to get lost in feelings of hopelessness and despair about the losses we are experiencing with climate change. But I can tell you I felt serious elation at the sight of a beautiful, healthy coral reef system in Fiji. More colorful and complex than I have ever seen before. It was magnificent and inspiring and hopeful. At times my emotions reflected these contradicting sides of sadness/grief of human-induced catastrophes, then hope/humility to experience such intense beauty of our natural world. My artwork will no doubt be influenced by this experience for years to come.

I asked the scientist mentioned above what he felt was the most important thing for us to do in this age of climate crisis. He said something that made an impression, and something we all know….“there is no one magic bullet, but we need a spiritual and cultural shift," an important place to start is with a better connection to our food sources; specifically shopping at farmers markets. This ultimately has a multi-beneficial effect on our community, economy, and healthier for ourselves. I was really happy to hear this, as it hits the nail on the head for our work on The Culinary Edge TV. Promoting locavore lifestyles, avoiding meats from industrial feedlots, and shifting away from plastics; our program aims to share authentic food adventures and always highlights local, sustainable options. That conversation was a big takeaway for me, and he also said one last thing, “plant trees.”

Art Aboard

During the two weeks on the R/V Falkor, I completed about 14 works and discovered a few new techniques I’m looking forward to exploring further. I completed three major projects onboard:

ROV PAINTING; This coral painting will be installed on the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) SuBastian in January 2020.

Mapping the Line series; investigates our ship’s route and seafloor mapping. We only have 9% of our ocean floor mapped, we know more about the moon than we do about our own ocean. Click the link above for a blog entry on this project.

2,745 Nautical Miles; Movement Painting A Visual Memory of our Days at Sea: Daily movement paintings which allowed the ship’s movement to solely manipulate fluid paint on a canvas substrate. All of these projects resulted in new techniques and pushing the artistic boundary.

I made many abstract studies inspired by the ocean surfaces/horizon lines to be used for a collage project. Also, I made another handful of works while I traveled across the southern coast of Fiji, from my port of entry in Suva to the International Airport in Nadi. It was a productive three weeks to say the least!

Art left Behind

As part of my residency, I select a few pieces of art to give to the program. I came to the ship knowing I would be leaving an important piece onboard, but I left leaving two pieces behind. The first is the ROV painting of the Antler Coral, and the second was a very impromptu work of art on plexiglass. Somewhere on the internet, I’ve seen these glass paintings, they’re essentially like painting in reverse. So, when the ship’s Bosun, Lars, showed me a piece of plexiglass available I was eager to give this technique a try. My intention was for it to be a temporary piece, as it is easy to scratch the paint off once dried. But this work gained a lot of attention from the Falkor crew. They liked it so much they said it needed to stay onboard.

The title is inspired by the initiation ceremony when we crossed the equator. Yes, there is quite an initiation ceremony! It began as a trial on the bow of the ship for us pollywogs that have never crossed the equator on a ship before. We went on trial for our crimes committed against King Neptune, and my crime: creating representational art of King Neptune’s Domain, without permission - I was very guilty!

The initiation was all fun and not humiliating at all. (Unfortunately, I think I have to keep the pics of me kissing a fish offline.) This work also reminds me of the flying fish I frequently saw onboard, really the only marine life during my time at sea. So, I am also titling it Flying Fish. Sometimes the best work is made when expectations are low.

Representational Art of King Neptune’s Domain, or (Flying Fish), 2019 Acrylic Paint on Plexiglass, 28x33x.25”

Being at sea

Being aboard the Falkor was my first time on a sea-fearing vessel and seeing no land in sight. It was exciting to peer into this world of maritime navigation. We toured the huge engine room, viewing the many systems used to operate a high-tech vessel such as the hardware for high-speed data transfer, computer processing, and navigation centers. The ship has a water desalination system that provides clean drinking water and gray water for septic systems. Of course, my favorite was the galley, which was so well organized with spices, stocks, herbs, and cans of food. Onboard, one of the things I immediately observed was the synergy of the crew and the many jobs required to keep a ship up, running safely, organized, and fed! People often call the Falkor a floating village and it’s not far from the truth. The ship runs 365 days a year, takes on routine maintenance, and goes into dry-dock every 2 years.

The ship was very comfortable, with air-conditioned berths, hot water, and a fairly quiet engine. People say it’s the Cadillac of research vessels, it made me wonder about the conditions of seafaring before modern comforts. The book which accompanied me, on loan from the Hawai’i State Public Library and returned 4 weeks late (so worth it), was The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s (1859-1860) New World, by Andrea Wulf. I had not heard of the great explorer and naturalist but quickly learned there are numerous rivers, waterfalls, parks, and species all named after him. This book was the perfect complement to my time at sea, taking me into the world of explorers from long ago. Perhaps more importantly how his observations in nature brought a higher understanding into the interconnectedness of nature as one big living organism, and also the artistic and poetic expression of the scientific study of nature. The book also spoke of his influence on Charles Darwin, John Muir, and Henry David Thoreau. Needless to say, I too will inspire by learning about him for the time to come.

Fiji Time!

Once I hit land in Fiji, I had 10 more days of travel before flying back to Hawai’i. It’s not often that I travel with so many art supplies, I took advantage of this and set up many temporary studios in hotels, bures (traditional Fijian hut), and sandy towels along the way. I wanted to savor that refreshing feeling of being on land again, especially in the midst of this new lush tropical environment and incredibly friendly culture. I went from the rainforest to the coral coast, day trips to surf and snorkel, and to the markets by cab, bus and foot. I highly recommend a visit to this island nation.

The trip re-infused me with a love of travel and adventure as well as allowing me the opportunity to witness the incredible web and interconnection of nature that becomes evident in the middle of the ocean. I am very grateful for the opportunity to sail along with Schmidt Ocean Institute’s team and ultimately strengthen my bond to the ocean, to the sciences, and to myself. As Humboldt said, “It is essential that human knowledge is shared, exchanged, and made available to everybody.” I’m happy to have the opportunity to learn more about the mysteries of our ocean and gain a closer connection to the mission of the Schmidt Ocean Institute — to create a deeper understanding of the ocean so that we can better care for it. (Be sure to follow their social media because they live to stream amazing dives into the deep, and maybe someday we will see my painting on their submersible at the bottom of the ocean.

Deeply grateful for all the support that helped me get here. Thank you for reading, Love and Aloha, Bailey

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