I’ve often wondered what it would be like to dive in a kelp forest – one of those with really long fronds in Tasmania or Monterey Bay, USA, for instance. I imagine they are pretty strong and entangling, as I’ve seen photos of otters wrapped in them to sleep. Seems the otters do this deliberately to stop themselves drifting away while snoozing. You can see a YouTube video of diving in the Tasmanian kelp forests here.
I got some sort of feeling to match my imagination in an art installation by Philip Beesley in a big old warehouse at the 2012 Biennale in Sydney.
Through that massive dose of art all at once, I’ve discovered I’m not big on the stuff just hanging on walls, but I really like installations, particularly interactive ones. So it was with particular delight that I saw, or rather participated in, Beesley’s ‘Hydrozoic Series’ on Cockatoo Island – especially as it had a definite ‘living’ flavour.
Only a few visitors were allowed in at a time. We were encouraged to gently touch the strings that hung down, and when we did, they shivered, making the things they were attached to move up and down gracefully. Or the movements happened as you were walking underneath.
The bulbs (somewhat like the air bladders on seaweed) contained liquids that gave off scents. Sounds rippled as people moved beneath certain points, and the background was like surf breaking overhead (and that I have heard while diving).
I was reminded of large things moving underwater – pyrosomes. These colonial tunicates, some of which are several metres in length, can form jelly-like tubes that float around filter-feeding. Jelly New South America has a photo of one and information about them here.
I really enjoyed the experience. An artist is usually asked to write something so we can understand his or her work. Often such statements don’t relate at all to my experience of an artwork, but Beesley’s makes sense to me.