Obsidian Coast presents its inaugural exhibition, For the Love of Corals by artist Sonia Levy, examining coral reproductive research at the Horniman Museum and Gardens in London.
In the basement of the museum, a team of marine biologists and aquarists led by Jamie Craggs have initiated Project Coral, a pioneering endeavour to breed corals in captivity. By mirroring the environmental circumstances – seasonal temperature changes, solar irradiance and lunar cycles – of the Great Barrier Reef within specially designed tanks, the team has become the first in the world to successfully spawn corals in a laboratory.
Levy has followed Project Coral since late 2017 as a case study of new paradigms for multispecies living, environmental conservation and natural history that are emerging in the wake of the Anthropocene. As a model of a sensitive ecological unit that comprises a multispecies assemblage, coral demonstrates how individual beings are not separate from their environment but, on the contrary, by their sheer existence constitute environments for other beings and contribute to all surrounding ecosystems with complex and far-reaching effects. The physical form of coral also subverts the canonised animal, vegetal and mineral categories of natural history, which are embedded to the public displays of the Horniman itself. Levy examines how this architectural context of a museum with a living collection — which still echoes the Enlightenment values of human mastery over nature — can become a base for a project that might exemplify a collaborative multispecies survival endeavour.
For the Love of Corals is a cinematic inquiry that focuses on the daily labour of caring for endangered beings to resuscitate them from their imminent human-induced extinction. The technology of the ad hoc laboratory; scientific knowledge; the complexity of marine ecologies; and the intimacy of providing care converge in the precision of sustaining coral IVF. Whilst keeping the coral in captivity is, dishearteningly, the fundamental condition of Craggs’ research, the scientists and the coral also become entangled in sharing a space for living, working and world-making, expanding the range possible worlds in common.
Craggs’ project and its setting within a museum provide an illuminating lens through which to examine the colonial Western notions of human exceptionalism that have justified the irresponsible exhaustion of the Earth and its life forms. Linking Craggs’ ongoing endeavour with historically significant artefacts in the Horniman archive and collections, For the Love of Corals weaves together a range of narratives, perspectives and temporalities to address the registers and frameworks in which we have sought to understand life on Earth, and to think towards a new paradigm for multispecies living.
Sonia Levy is a French artist whose research-led practice considers new forms of engagements with nonhuman life forms. Her installation, sculpture, drawing and video works operate at the intersection of art and science, interested in redefining our relationship with the Earth.
Recent exhibitions and screenings include: The Húsavík Whale Museum, Iceland; Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Paris; The Showroom, London; The Historic Dockyard, Chatham; Pump House Gallery, London; and Sector 2337, Chicago. Her work has been published in Verdure Engraved, The Learned Pig and Billebaude, and she recently presented her research at the Iceland Academy of the Arts and Centre for Environmental Humanities, Aarhus.