In Santa Caterina, a town along the inward coast of Puglia (Italy’s “heel”), eco-artist and environmental activist Vanessa Albury was hard at work this summer developing eco-friendly ceramic sculptures to help revive filter-feeder populations in the Ionian Sea. Albury, the executive director and founder of nonprofit art venture Coral Projects, is seeking donations to help complete the first siting and underwater documentary for her initiative, titled “Rewilding a Painted Ocean.”
Albury’s sculptures, produced entirely from natural ceramic clay, are meant to serve as safe places for bivalves and other such filter-feeding species to attach themselves to, promoting a higher population in an area that was subjected to hazardous fishing practices and plastic pollution. According to the artist, marine researchers have long believed that ceramic clay is a practical substrate for bivalves and corals to adhere to for sustainability efforts. It’s also much more environmentally friendly than frequently used concrete in terms of sourcing, processing, and related emissions.
The sculptures are organic and almost bone-like in appearance, but there is an underlying inspiration informed by cinema — an industry that ties her home city, New York, and Italy together. Albury told Hyperallergic that the small holes that dot the ceramic “cradles” were derived from the “sprockets” that run along the edges of 16-millimeter filmstrips, and the larger holes reference the expanding gapes of film burning in a projector.
“It’s like an object that represents the break that we need in culture to change our ways,” Albury elaborated, riffing off of the “breaking” of filmstrips as they burn.
The Foundation for Contemporary Arts had issued Albury a grant for this project, which culminated in a temporary, site-specific exhibition in a rocky alcove along Santa Caterina’s coast. She now aims to create a permanent site placement for her ceramics in collaboration with Italian marine-life researcher Stefano Piraino of the Università del Salento. Piraino will be conducting research on mussels in a government-protected area of the ocean and will utilize Albury’s sculptures as substrates for the mussels to adhere to.
“I want to make a short documentary of the permanent site placement to explain what it means to make underwater, eco-friendly art to people who don’t really have a relationship with water,” Albury told Hyperallergic in an interview.
Albury stated that she needs additional funding for scuba-diving certification, videography and editing, and a translator for interviews. Her funding goal for the documentary and work-siting alone is about $10,000. Tax-deductible donations can be made through Albury’s fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas.
Albury has partnered with marine scientists across the world to facilitate eco-art through Coral Projects to promote international ocean stewardship through artist opportunities. Coral Projects is working to improve coral, bivalve, and fish populations in vulnerable areas, and to stimulate more scuba-diving tourism.
“People see it as a separation, right? Life above water, life below water. But it’s all life on earth,” she said. “So the more we can start thinking that way, the more healing we can bring to ourselves, our relationship to the water and to the planet. The documentary is really about taking the project from an idea to an execution, acting as a prototype for the larger projects to come.”