It’s hard to get passionate or take action on things you can’t see. This is why projects like this or the Crocheted Coral Reef are so crucial to bring awareness to the devastation of our oceans and broader environment.
With the Great Barrier Reef suffering the worst mass bleaching event in history, climate change could kill off the world’s coral reefs for good by the end of the century. When that happens, Courtney Mattison’s coral reef art might be the closest thing to the reefs we have left.
Called Our Changing Seas, Mattison’s series of massive, intricately detailed ceramic sculptures were created by hand to represent coral reefs in the midst of being bleached. Bleaching is what happens to reefs when their sensitive zooxanthellae—a symbiotic algae that gives coral its pigmentation—die, usually due to environmental factors like pollution or temperature. And when the zooxanthellae die, so do the reefs.
To recreate these reefs in ceramic, Mattison pokes thousands of holes into the clay with her fingers to mimic the sponge-like cavities of a coral colony, while sculpting coral’s more tubular polyps with the aid of simple tools like paintbrushes and chopsticks. Each of her sculptures takes between seven and ten months to create in her Denver studio. There, they are sculpted and fired in as many as 100 separate pieces, which combined will make up the finished reefs, weighing 900 to 1,500 pounds each.