Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

As Miami Battles Sea-Level Rise, This Artist Makes Waves With His 'Underwater Homeowners Association'

Climate
An underwater marker in front of Cortada's studio helps predict how many feet of water needs to rise before the area becomes submerged. Xavier Cortada

By Patrick Rogers

Miami artist Xavier Cortada lives in a house that stands at six feet above sea level. The Episcopal church down the road is 11 feet above the waterline, and the home of his neighbor, a dentist, has an elevation of 13 feet. If what climate scientists predict about rising sea levels comes true, the Atlantic Ocean could rise two to three feet by the time Cortada pays off his 30-year mortgage. As the polar ice caps melt, the sea is inching ever closer to the land he hopes one day to pass on to the next generation, in the city he has called home since the age of three.


"It is with incredible pain that I say I know my city is doomed by climate change," said Cortada, who is the artist in residence at Pinecrest Gardens, a recreation center a few blocks from his home in South Miami. "But as a Miamian, my job is to do everything I can to help us through this chaos."

Xavier Cortada

That explains the big sign in Cortada's front yard. In watery blues and greens, it displays the property's elevation with a bold number 6. It's also why the artist has invited other residents of this upscale district to join his wryly named Underwater Homeowners Association project. Across the community, elevation markers designed by Cortada are now standing in front of his neighbors' homes and businesses—a colorful, albeit painful, reminder of what's at stake.

"The underwater markers are basically me trying to let people know that Antarctica is coming to town," said Cortada, who has traveled to both the southernmost continent and the North Pole to witness the rapidly melting glaciers that are contributing to the rise of ocean levels around the globe. In a converted laboratory in Antarctica and on the pitching deck of a Russian icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean, he created more than 100 paintings out of glacial meltwater mixed with paint and sediment from Antarctic mountain ranges.

Cortada wants to use the elevation markers to get neighbors talking about the changing climate and its effects on their lives and homes by mapping the destruction and chaos in advance. "The residents of Florida are at ground zero when it comes to sea-level rise," he said. "Unfortunately, our politics and mind-set don't reflect that we need to do some serious problem solving. I wanted to create a way of helping us understand that, by making the invisible visible and just a little bit strange."

The Underwater HOA project launches this month during Art Basel Miami Beach, an annual festival that draws art lovers from all over the world. Miami is already feeling the consequences of sea-level rise in the form of widespread flooding during storm surges and seasonal king tides.

"The reason I know we can do something about this is that we've done it before," he said. "Everybody from Miami could tell you their hurricane stories, when neighbors come together like they never have before. That sense of community and purpose when there's a problem in front of us—it's something we know how to do. With sea-level rise, it's an existential problem."

As part of the artist's multifaceted project, high school students have painted huge versions of Cortada's elevation markers on the pavement of intersections along Pinecrest's main thoroughfare. At Pinecrest Gardens, the artist will also be exhibiting a selection of 60 his "Antarctic Ice Paintings" that have never been seen before. He made these haunting abstract compositions with ice samples from the Ross Sea and fragments of earth gathered by climate scientists nearby in the McMurdo Dry Valleys.

"A-01: Antarctica" from Cortada's "Antarctic Ice Painting Global Coastline" series.Xavier Cortada

The combination of community activism and striking artistry is typical of Cortada, said Barbara Matilsky, curator of art at the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Washington, who has included his work in two exhibitions. "The 'Antarctic Ice Paintings' are a beautiful idea—they physically embody the continent, so that we have a remnant of Antarctica in the museum—but they are also very beautiful visualizations" to look at, she said.

Matilsky also admires how Cortada's projects have raised awareness and galvanized action on climate issues. For his Reclamation Project, launched in 2008, he persuaded merchants in Miami Beach's trendy Lincoln Road district to care for mangrove seedlings grown in planters outside their shops. After being on public display for a month and a half, the mangroves were transplanted by volunteers along the shore of Biscayne Bay, where they act as natural barriers against storm surge. The project was such a success that it was adopted as an ongoing program by Miami's Frost Museum of Science. So far, eight acres of mangrove swamp have been created.

The artist hopes he'll reach even more people with Underwater HOA but says he isn't concerned with the actual numbers. "At the end of the day," he said, "I'm just trying to get this conversation beyond a whisper."

"A-07" from Cortada's "Antarctic Ice Painting Global Coastline" series.Xavier Cortada

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Women walk from Santa Monica beach after a social media workout on the sand on May 12, 2020 in Santa Monica, California. Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Independence Day weekend is a busy time for coastal communities as people flock to the beaches to soak up the sun during the summer holiday. This year is different. Some of the country's most popular beach destinations in Florida and California have decided to close their beaches to stop the surge in coronavirus cases.

Read More Show Less
Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans and others who suffer from PTSD. Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Arash Javanbakht

For some combat veterans, the Fourth of July is not a time to celebrate the independence of the country they love. Instead, the holiday is a terrifying ordeal. That's because the noise of fireworks – loud, sudden, and reminiscent of war – rocks their nervous system. Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans.

Read More Show Less
Koala populations across parts of Australia are on track to become extinct before 2050 unless "urgent government intervention" occurs. Mathias Appel / Flickr

Koala populations across parts of Australia are on track to become extinct before 2050 unless "urgent government intervention" occurs, warns a year-long inquiry into Australia's "most loved animal." The report published by the Parliament of New South Wales (NSW) paints a "stark and depressing snapshot" of koalas in Australia's southeastern state.

Read More Show Less
NASA is advancing tools like this supercomputer model that created this simulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to better understand what will happen to Earth's climate if the land and ocean can no longer absorb nearly half of all climate-warming CO2 emissions. NASA/GSFC

By Jeff Berardelli

For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world's top climate modeling groups have been "running hot" – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.

Read More Show Less
A child stands in what is left of his house in Utuado, Puerto Rico, which was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Maria, on Oct. 12, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Jon-Paul Rios. Flickr, CC by 2.0
By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

To hear many journalists tell it, the spring of 2020 has brought a series of extraordinary revelations. Look at what the nation has learned: That our health-care system was not remotely up to the challenge of a deadly pandemic. That our economic safety net was largely nonexistent. That our vulnerability to disease and death was directly tied to our race and where we live. That our political leadership sowed misinformation that left people dead. That systemic racism and the killing of Black people by police is undiminished, despite decades of protest and so many Black lives lost.
Read More Show Less
President Trump's claim last September that Hurricane Dorian was headed for Alabama's gulf coast was quickly refuted by employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). An independent investigation found that NOAA's chief violated the agency's ethics when he backed Trump's warning and doctored map that used a Sharpie to alter the storm's path, as EcoWatch reported.
Read More Show Less

Trending

African bush elephants in the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve in Botswana on Nov. 22, 2016. Michael Jansen / Flickr

More than 350 elephants have died in Botswana since May, and no one knows why.

Read More Show Less