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By Sydney Cologie & Brynne McGregor
Dec 26, 2018
Join us as we look back at some of our favorite moments from the past year.
There's always art under construction inside the Wexner Center's Film/Video Studio. As part of our year-in-review coverage, enjoy a peek inside our full-time post-production facility with an artist who has some history with it. Richmond, Virginia-based Hope Ginsburg finished her 2016 video work Land Dive Team: Bay of Fundy with help from the Wex Film/Video Studio and its staff before showing the work in the Wex's video presentation space, The Box, in October of that year. This fall, she was back in the Studio with her latest Wex-supported project, Swirling, a four-channel video installation that captures the processes of underwater coral farming and reef restoration. In the Q&A below, Ginsburg shares a first look at what inspired Swirling and how it fits into her body of work.
You've talked about how central mastering new skills is to your practice and each new body of work. What new skills have you already mastered? Are you currently working on mastering another new skill? How are you drawn to each new skill you take on?
There has always been a research component to the making of my work. This happens through formal and informal apprenticeships or, to put it another way, through relationships and “learning by doing”. The notion of learning through experience was a key element of my pedagogical project Sponge (2006–2016) and sea sponges themselves became a model for knowledge exchange in that work. Motivated by a curiosity to see these muse species alive, I learned to scuba dive, which paved the way to projects including my Land Dive Team body of work and the installation Swirling, which I’ve been editing in the Film/Video studio with collaborators Matt Flowers and Joshua Quarles (pictured above). For Land Dive Team: Amphibious James, a public 2018 performance at the James River, I learned to use a full-face scuba mask outfitted with a communication device so that my fellow Amphibious Dive Team divers and I could transmit live sound from the bottom of the river to the sound mix on shore. For an early work, Bearded Lady (1998–2000), I learned the practice of beekeeping with members of the Connecticut Beekeepers Association so that I could eventually build up a tolerance to bee venom and wear a bee beard. So those are a few past examples.
A large part of the learning that takes place in the making of my work happens in exchange with other people. Very often the making of the work involves participants or collaborators. In this way it is literally a social practice. However, in my early videos Project QVC (1996–1997) and Bearded Lady (1998–2000), those relationships took place off screen and I appeared in the videos alone. Starting in about 2006, I spent a decade working collaboratively on Sponge and the early workshops of Land Dive Team. In Land Dive Team, participants receive “Land Diver” certification for learning to meditate with scuba gear and for orienting to the ecology of a given site. The Land Dive project emerged partially from an interest in returning to video and I am joined by participants in the resulting works. For example, in Land Dive Team: Bay of Fundy (2016), which was also edited at the Wexner Film/Video Studio, I am seated with three divers meditating at the shore of the bay as the incoming Fundy tide rises on our bodies until we are gone. These Land Dive pieces are in a sense participatory performance videos. Swirling is the first multi-channel video installation that I’ve worked on and with its large-scale projections, it creates the illusion of an immersive underwater space. The spatial aspect of this project has inspired an idea for new body of work in which participatory events will be situated within video projection environments. This hybrid of social practice and video is a real glimmer in my eye right now.
The relationship between living and working spaces plays a key role in the Sponge HQ work. Does this concept also take shape in Swirling?
Swirling is shot in The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) underwater coral nurseries and outplant sites in St. Croix. I first saw images of the underwater coral nurseries when my collaborator Matt Flowers, who is also the diver and videographer for this work, began as a volunteer science diver with TNC while living for a year with his family on the island. The images of that ghostly underwater environment, with the spindly white plastic coral “trees” and their swaying coral fragments, immediately attracted me to the process. I was also fascinated by the questions coral farming raises about the ultimate efficacy of this work in the context of climate change. Sponge was a school within a school; it grappled with issues of pedagogy in a very real way but in the context of an artwork, which allowed it to be interpreted with its metaphoric or symbolic aspects. Likewise, the coral restoration process is obviously very real, but it is loaded with symbolic surplus. This particular underwater space is especially suited to posing important questions about human ingenuity and folly, as well as our relationship with other species. This work, which finds humans hovering weightless and inverted at the bottom of the ocean hand-gluing coral fragments to all but obliterated coral reefs, is as hopeful as it is tragic.
How does Swirling work in conversation with the Land Dive projects? Do you see one as a response to the other?
Swirling and the Land Dive Team projects are connected through their shared attention to climate change. They’re also intrinsically linked by concerns with water. In Land Dive Team: Bay of Fundy and Solo Land Dive: Dukan Desert, sea level rise in particular is referenced. And the meditation element in that body of work suggests a way for us to sustain our attention to the realities and anxieties of a radically changing planet. Among other environmental factors, the hard corals of Swirling are threatened by ocean acidification and warming water temperatures. As Land Dive Team focuses on the dynamic between humans and their environment, Swirling foregrounds a relationship between species. It is an example of human willingness to labor on behalf of other species. Or, if one accepts an important repositioning of humans in this troubled equation, it's a laboring with other species for shared survival.
Images: Hope Ginsburg working in the studio alone and with collaborator Joshua Quarles; photos: Nathan Davis