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Ocean 'Artivist' Creates Breathtaking Coral Reef Sculptures

By Clara Chaisson

Courtney Mattison's large-scale ceramic coral reef installations are a labor of love. The artist-slash-ocean-advocate (Mattison likes to call herself an ocean “artivist") shapes every branch and ridge of her porcelain colonies by hand, using chopsticks to poke thousands of holes for just the right texture and meditating on how the calcium carbonate found in the glaze is the same building block used by the polyps themselves.

“I enjoy feeling like a coral," Mattison writes in her artist statement, “patiently and methodically constructing large, delicate, stony structures that can change an ecosystem."

Courtney Mattison stands in front of "Our Changing Seas III." Photo credit: Arthur Evans

Delicate is the adjective that Mattison most hopes viewers of her art will take with them. Her works, which have been exhibited at the headquarters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, are “inspired by the fragile beauty of coral reefs and the human-caused threats they face."

These pictures come from Sea Change, her new solo show currently on display at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art until April 17. The sprawling Our Changing Seas III, above, has a vibrantly colored center, but the outer fringes are the ghostly white of a bleached reef. Mattison understands all too well that the decisions we make about how to treat our Blue Planet could make or break her beloved corals.

Detail of "Our Changing Seas III." Photo credit: Arthur Evans

Detail of "Our Changing Seas III." Photo credit: Arthur Evans

"Hope Spots, Micronesian Islands II." Photo credit: Courtney Mattison

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"Hope Spots, Outer Seychelles II." Photo credit: Courtney Mattison

"Aqueduct." Photo credit: Glen McClure

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If people in three European countries want to fight the climate crisis, they need to chill out more.

That's the conclusion of a new study from think tank Autonomy, which found that Germany, the UK and Sweden all needed to drastically reduce their workweeks to fight climate change.

"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."

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The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.

"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."

Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.

"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."

Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.

"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."

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