Art Carries Water To Our Horizon
A Contributor from our Next-Gen Inspiration Team
Living close to the shores of Ocean Beach in San Francisco, Mexican artist and activist Ana Teresa Fernández is no stranger to the effects of climate change. After learning about a projected six feet of sea level rise by 2100, Fernández sought to illustrate this daunting threat to her beloved coast through sculpture.
Standing at over six feet tall, the average height of a young tree, each of the 16 acrylic cylinders that make up On the Horizon are filled with seawater, representing how far we will be underwater if we continue a ‘business-as-usual’ mentality about climate change and resulting sea level rise.
“It was an interesting metaphor of how things will go. In the end, the ocean is going to have its way. Sometimes beautiful and extraordinary things can also be devastating.”
The idea of On the Horizon first blossomed in 2017 when Fernández attended an Art + Environment Conference at the Nevada Museum of Art. Over the next two years, Fernández was driven to figure out a way to suspend six feet of water and visualize the magnitude of the sea level rise.
The artist eventually found a way to create the sculpture through a collaboration with Doniece Sandoval, Founder of Lava Maex, a nonprofit organization that provides mobile handwashing and pop up care villages in San Francisco and across the country, and Terri Cohn, a curator, writer, and art historian based in San Francisco.
Through a series of mutual interests and shared experiences, the three women began collaborating in fall 2019 and met every week throughout spring 2020 during shelter in place.
“It felt very important to work with a group of women who want to make a difference during this time,” says Cohn.
In the early stages of the project, Sandoval connected with a filmmaker named Lisa Rose, founder of Colectivo, a global communications studio, and the two discussed the possibility of developing a film. Still in production today, Rose filmed almost every aspect of the project from start to finish as Fernández worked to fabricate the columns.
After years of weekly planning, the sculpture ultimately came together. The ocean had something else in mind, however, temporarily seizing a few of the plexiglass tubes during the four-hour installation on Ocean Beach in June 2021.
“It was an interesting metaphor of how things will go,” says Cohn. “In the end, the ocean is going to have its way. Sometimes beautiful and extraordinary things can also be devastating.”
Walking across the shores of Ocean Beach on a cold, foggy day this past September 2021, I happened to stumble across the second installation. As I admired the sea water filling the tall cylinders, dancers from the Alonzo King LINES Ballet performed in the sand, followed by a reading from writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit.
As the dancers, Adji Cissoko and Michael Montgomery, gracefully moved between the columns, the duality between them highlighted the pull and push of the ocean and the interactions between human movement and nature. Further expanding on these complexities, Solnit emphasized the reflection of “I” in the glass cylinder and the importance of listening throughout this process.
As Solnit stated, “To hear is to let the sound wander all the way through the labyrinth of your ear. To listen is to travel…the real borders are between land and sea, and they are migrating due to our actions.”
Like Solnit, Cohn sees the connections between the climate crisis and threats like the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So many people are suffering, not only from the pandemic, but [also] from the chronic stress that arises from environmental issues like climate change,” says Cohn. “ This year, there has been a deeper understanding of what this all means.”
In a sense, the pandemic represents the climate crisis in warp speed.
“This is happening now!,” exclaimed Cohn. “I think this is why younger generations are taking action.”
Indeed, a group of about 25 children from the Sunset Cooperative Preschool near Ocean Beach joined the first installation.
Recently returning from Tijuana, Mexico, On the Horizon will continue making its way around the globe, responding to invitations from Sweden and a few other countries.
As I returned from the beach that cold and foggy day in September, my mind filled with the imagery of the ocean waves, the crystalline cylinders of sea water, my reflection, and the reflections of community members standing across the beach.
We must all carry the water.