The Common Experience Project on Sustainability Films for Spring 2016 closed Wednesday night with a free showing at the Athena Cinema of the documentary film “Angel Azul” followed by a panel discussion.
Panelists Erin Schlumpf, Molly Gurien and Corinne Teed discussed filmmaker Marcy Cravat’s exploration of coastal art installations that seek to combine environmentalism with aestheticism.
Teed, a visiting assistant professor teaching ecology and art, found the film’s artistic qualities to be enriching.
“Between him, the artists he works with, the community members and the animals in the reefs, it’s so interesting,” Teed said. “We exist in a world taken over by human domination, but this is non-human communication. It’s astounding.”
Jason deCaires Taylor, the artist featured in the film, casts sculptures from live, local models in coastal cities like Cancun, Mexico. The humanoid figures, which can depict anything from politicians sticking their heads into the sand to an angelic woman with wings made from discarded fan coral, have a dual purpose.
While the submerged statues are beautiful and haunting, they also allow for natural algae and coral growth, which provide beneficial impacts to the ocean environments they reside in.
Molly Gurien, a professor of biological sciences, found juxtaposition to be a metaphor that extended far beyond its semi-political messages.
“Any media, whether film or sculpture, that brings attention to the plight of the environment and coral reefs is wonderful,” Gurien said. “I think awareness is probably the most important thing. This has the draw of bringing in a specific audience to see art.”
Together, the pieces form the Museo Subacuatico de Arte. MUSA is a tourist attraction, and while it leads cruising visitors away from the fragile coral ecosystems they tend to destroy, MUSA exists as a stark reminder of actual environmental degradation.
Fifty percent of the world’s coral has already disappeared, and scientists are alarmed by the rapid acceleration of habitat destruction. Schlumpf, a visiting professor of film studies, feels a global audience can be reached through film.
“We have the narrator who has an American accent,” Schlumpf said. “It’s made with a particular audience in mind, which is us here. It follows a hero narrative, Jason, which is paralleled by the angels opposed to the bombs or politicians.”
Teed believes that coordination between scientists and artists is necessary for lasting change.
“The artist doesn’t need to know, they need to seek, they need to explore,” Teed said. “There’s no rigorous process of proving coral will grow. The ideal of artists and scientists collaborating is fantastic because it makes art stronger and more effective.”
The Sustainability Film Series is set to continue in the fall semester of 2016.