Nereocystis – finding my way

Background

In September of 2016 I undertook a project while travelling along the West coast of the USA from Los Angeles to Seattle. My primary reason for travelling was to visit my 96 year old grandfather who is living near Santa Barbara. I also visited other family and friends in the LA region before driving North on solo adventure. In Seattle I would be staying with John Freeman, a colleague from Occupy Space and the founder of Occupy Space – Seattle. We would hold an exhibition of work and I would help to advise on possible ways of developing the organisation further. There was also the opportunity of producing some collaborative work for the We Occupy Space exhibition which would take place in MART in November.

When I set out I did not know exactly what I would base my project on. While visiting with family my mind was racing through various possibilities. Conversations with my uncle ended up being the catalyst which led to Nereocystis, the seaweed I based the project on. My grandfather and uncle Fritz are geologists. They are fascinated with the earth, its environment, life and science. They understand the processes of its development and formation. Many conversations with Fritz and other people I stayed with related to climate change and its very tangible impacts in Southern California. Wild fires raging in the mountains, the change in the light from the smoke and haze, forests drying out, the effects are much more immediate in California than Ireland.

I began photographing signs I encountered such as scenes of recent devastation in the Angeles mountains. However I knew that as I travelled further north these signifiers would change. Without people who knew how to read the changing landscape I would not know what I was looking at.

Beginnings

I stopped again at Fritz’s place before driving north. We were walking by a beach at Goleta. The sand was yellow-white, there was little washed up. From the boardwalk we could see a couple of tiny patches of seaweed. Fritz described how once the bay had had a huge band of kelp growing. This had hosted a huge variety of life but through various factors from over-harvesting to temperature change to over consumption by sea urchins it has been depleted. The barren beach was not a natural occurrence, it is the result of habitat destruction. This same barren-ness is happening up and down the coast. The seaweed also helps to protect the beach from the effects of coastal erosion, especially during winter storms. In its absence the damage is more severe. Fritz spoke of how years ago you would find all kinds of different shells and evidence of life washed up further out at the point but that now it was virtually empty. I was deeply disturbed by this. The sterility was shocking.

As I drove my mind began to settle. I would look for signs of bull kelp, Nereocystis, washed up on the beaches as I travelled. I would document anywhere I found it even if the presence was only subtle. This would be done using primarily drawing and photography.