In celebration of the exotic beauty of coral reefs and emphasizing the threats they face, artist Courtney Mattison sculpts large-scale ceramic installations that look to environmental science and biology for creative inspiration. The third in the series of oversized reef sculptures is ‘our changing seas III’ — a monumental wall piece made using simple tools, like chopsticks and paint brushes, where each individual element is carefully shaped and textured by hand. Mattison mimics the repetitive growth of coral colonies by poking thousands of holes into some of the pieces, whereas others are made to resemble delicate, branch-like structures.

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‘Our changing seas III’, presented from june 18 – august 28, 2016 at the Palo alto art center, explores the rapid deterioration of corals from colorful and diverse, to sickened and bleached as a result of human-caused climate change. While the piece celebrates the aspects of a healthy reef, Mattison depicts white skeletons of bleached corals surrounding the vibrant pieces in a monumental swirl. ‘There is still time for corals to recover even from the point of bleaching if we act quickly to decrease the threats we impose,’ she says. ‘Perhaps if my work can influence viewers to appreciate the fragile beauty of our endangered coral reef ecosystems, we will act more wholeheartedly to help them recover and even thrive.’

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‘I love coral reefs for being exotic, amazingly diverse and often venomous,’ mattison says. ‘Maybe it’s because I’m small and I respect small creatures that can build big beautiful things, but I feel like I relate to corals — arguably one of the least relatable animals — on a very deep level. that’s partly why I care so much about their demise. Corals are so sensitive that the slightest change to the temperature or chemistry of the seawater that surrounds them can cause total devastation through coral bleaching, death and reef erosion. Without our help to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and over-fishing, scientists agree that reefs may cease to function as ecological cradles for marine life by the end of this century. Are coral reefs doomed to fade into oblivion or will we allow them to recover and regain their vibrancy?’

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The monumental wall piece is made using simple tools, like chopsticks and paint brushes
photo by Arthur Evans for the tang museum.

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White skeletons of bleached corals surround the vibrant pieces in a monumental swirl
Photo by Arthur Evans for the tang museum