This October I was lucky to work as a representative of the Monterey Bay Aquarium alongside members from the Tag-A-Giant Foundation and Stanford University, to tag and release giant bluefin tuna in Nova Scotia. The Tag-A-Giant team has been working in the remote town of Port Hood on Cape Breton Island every fall for the past 8 years to deploy electronic tags that teach us about the migrations and feeding ecology of these magnificent (and increasingly rare) fish. The results of this intense research effort can be seen here in a recent publication by my colleague Dr. Steve Wilson.
Nova Scotia is known for its rough weather, and this October we saw 30-40 knot winds and 8 foot seas for days on end. Trust me, it's really hard to successfully tag and release a 1,000lb tuna with that much ocean motion! Even though this was a bummer from a research standpoint, it meant I had a lot of time to work on art projects back at the rental cabin!
There is an active commercial fishery for giant bluefin in this region; large tuna are regularly caught, packed in ice, and shipped next-day air to Tsukiji Market in Japan to supply high-end sushi restaurants. However, the fish are so big that they cut the tails and heads off to fit them in their cardboard coffins. The tails and heads are typically thrown away, but you know me... discarded materials are my thing!
I came prepared and brought some oversized rolls of rice paper and canvas, brushes, and jars of acrylic paint from California. I collected a discarded tail from a 1007lb bluefin and set to work filleting the tissue off the section of backbone as I wanted to achieve a skeletal look for the final print. Hours (and a gallon of bleach) later, I set up shop in the loft of the cabin and began the ancient Japanese process of gyotaku, or fishing rubbing.
I brushed acrylic paint evenly onto the fish tail and carefully laid a large sheet of rice paper over the tail (without smudging or spreading paint to the rest of the paper). I applied even pressure with a sponge, carefully stretching the paper around the contours of the fish, and voila! A gyotaku print from the tail of a ~25 year old giant bluefin tuna!
I made a number of these bluefin tail prints and I'm planning to donate any proceeds to the Tag-A-Giant Foundation so they can continue their conservation research efforts. It's only through longterm scientific surveys like this that we can actually understand bluefin populations well enough to create management models that effectively protect this species from overexploitation.
I spent the morning organizing the rope I had found on the beach in Spain near San Sebastian. I had carried it with me for 2 weeks at this point, and throughout that time I had almost become accustomed to its fragrant ocean smell. I’m sure my Spanish rental car will never smell the same. But I had managed to bring it here to Nautilus Lanzarote, where I finally had the time, space, and resources to do something with it. Stretching out the bundles of line, I was pleased to see just how much I had- about 100m worth. Lots of potential there.
Leda from Nautilus was kind enough to coordinate a kayak excursion for me with her friend Ismael, a Barcelonian who had lived on the island for 12 years. He used to be a forensic scientist but grew tired of the city and a desk job. “Fortunately,” he said, “My wife is cool and not too into shopping, so we moved our lives out onto this desert island in the Atlantic to be around nature.” He was a cool cat and he knew a lot about the island’s geological formations, which essentially were the result of a series of large volcanic eruptions around 2 million years ago. My Spanish is a bit slow, but I learned a ton.
After an hour or so of paddling along the lava cliffs, darting in and out of craggled sea caves, we jumped into the turquoise water over an ancient lava flow. It was a surreal seascape; you could imagine the lava slowly roiling forward as it gushed out of the Earth. This moon-like formation was interrupted here and there by 1-foot diameter jet black sea urchins with delicate, needle-like spines.
Back on the kayaks Ismael told me how Diadema antillarum, or the long-spined sea urchin, had invaded Lanzarote in recent years- eating too much algae and damaging the balance of the reef ecosystem. There were efforts to extirpate the invasive urchins, but Ismael’s gesture of hopelessness made it clear that they had been unsuccessful so far. My mind jumped to an old sculpture I made in San Francisco titled Urban Urchin, made from welding rods and plastic I found in the trash, and decided that I would keep my eyes peeled for materials to tell the Diadema story here.
Nothing is more inspiring to me than exploring a new place with a cool local expert who can share stories and insights about the ecosystem. Such conversations have inspired some of my favorite artworks in the past, and I look forward to drawing inspiration from the island, the people, and the materials I find over the coming month. So much gratitude to the Nautilus Lanzarote staff for the warm welcome and incredible opportunity they have provided me.
Video Courtesy of Chris Hanson
Last October I was lucky enough to participate in a fantastic event called the Blue Trail Design Jam. Blue Trail is a series of interactive ocean art displays that will be installed along the SF waterfront during the America's Cup sailing event this September. Millions of people will be checking these works out, and needless to say I was extremely excited to participate in the design jam leading up to the event. I asked my good friend and film maker Chris Hanson to come up north from LA county and film the experience.
The design jam itself involved a series of short talks from various ocean sustainability experts, breaking out into speed dating over lunch and brainstorming and ideation throughout the day. We were encouraged to find teammates from alternative disciplines, either Techies, Designers, Artists, Scientists, or What-Have-You's. At the end of the day each team pitched their ideas to the entire group, and we collectively voted for our favorites. The People's Choice went on to have their artwork commissioned for the final event, while the remaining proposals were scrutinized by a committee.
I was lucky enough to meet and form a team with
artist Sven Atema http://svenatema.com
and artist/PhD student Sudhu Tewari. http://www.sudhutewari.com
It was very cool as there were 10 year age gaps between the three of us, and different aesthetic styles, focuses, skills, and experiences to draw upon. We starting kicking ideas around and were all really drawn to Sven's idea of casting a bronze deep sea fish. We decided we could make it more interactive by drawing on Sudhu's epic electronics skills and making it touch-reactive with LED "chromatophores". Last, we threw in some environmental messaging by projecting footage of plastic pollution in the fish's mouth, a nod to the recent study that found deep sea fishes with plastic particulates in their stomaches. And BAM-O that was our proposed piece!
In the end, our proposal was voted to be a runner-up by the committee, and we never received a commission for the work (I suspect the price tag on the cast bronze didn't help!). However, the real reward was to meet so many interesting people from diverse backgrounds and to have really rad, perspective changing conversations about ocean sustainability, public art, and communication. I'm lucky to have a good friends in Chris Hanson, Wesley Walker, and Shara Esbenshade who took the time to film the event and document this unique experience. I hope you enjoy this short video describing the Jam, and be sure to check out the final Blue Trail this September! I know I will!
Learn more about Blue Trail here
Big thanks to my amigo Ian Montgomery for putting this clip together. Ian and I had fun filming scavenging in the Public Disposal and Recycling area of Recology San Francisco and we scored some footage of great waves at my favorite secret spot in my hometown of Santa Cruz. All in all a super fun clip to film and fortunately Ian had the skill to craft it into a nice narrative. We hope you enjoy!
you can see more of Ian's fine work here: http://www.montyfolio.com/all
I was at Kinko's the other day printing some photos and I was bored waiting around for the prints to be done. I started poking around in the trashcan to see if there was anything good in there and sure enough I found a scroll of colorful plastic film. The roll of film was about 6 inches wide and oh maybe a mile long, with little 4 inch sections of cyan, magenta, yellow, and clear running the length.
It turns out that this was the way my photos were being printed. These rolls of film are loaded into the behemoth photo printing machine and a series of electro-mechanical shenanigans take place to deposit the C+M+Y colors in different amounts to make pretty photographs. I took it home and held it up to a lightbulb and sure enough the color shining through the film was really intense. I popped some scrap plywood and acrylic into a rectangular prism with a mechanism to advance the plastic film in front of a bulb and voila I had a fun new lamp that makes a wide range of colors- thanks Kinko's garbage can!