With marine life as her muse, artist and advocate Courtney Mattison crafts ceramic sculptures that “promote awareness for the protection of our blue planet.” Mattison explores this environmental interest in Our Changing Seas, an ongoing series focused on the fragility of the coral reef. Reflecting the diversity of their subjects, these site-specific installations can be found in an array of locations around the world, including art museums, science centers, and even a diplomatic facility.
As a part of the Art in Embassies program, Mattison was commissioned to create Confluence (Our Changing Seas V) for the United States embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. The 28-foot piece pays homage to the Coral Triangle, a Pacific Ocean-based site that spans the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, and Solomon Islands. Almost 600 different species of reef-building corals exist in this 4 million-square-mile space alone, making it one of the most important under-the-sea stretches in the world.
Unfortunately, however, these coral reefs are increasingly threatened by overfishing, pollution, and a changing climate. In order to illustrate both the monumentality and the fragility of this ecosystem, Mattison has reproduced a reef as Confluence (Our Changing Seas V), a coil of colorful corals, billowing anemones, and delicate sea sponges.
While the porcelain and glazed earthenware invertebrates at the spiral’s center appear happy and healthy, disaster looms. “Toward the edges and tail of the swirling constellation,” Mattison explains on her website, “corals sicken and bleach, exposing their sterile white skeletons—a specter of what could be lost from climate change.” Coral bleaching—a phenomenon that starves and eventually kills coral—is a major threat to reefs around the world, making it a focal point for much of Mattison’s work.
By artistically presenting the consequences of climate change, the artist hopes to promote coral reef conservation—and remind people that it’s not too late to fix the problem. “It is possible for coral reefs to recover even from the point of bleaching if we unite and act quickly enough to decrease the threats we impose,” she says. “Perhaps if more people appreciate Indonesia’s spectacular reefs, we will act more wholeheartedly to preserve them for future generations.”