“Sea Change” at Brower Center Contemplates Polluted Oceans

| Publication: Oakland Magazine | Author: DeWitt Cheng

Five artists — Barbara Boissevain, Sukey Bryan, Lauren Elder, Ethan Estess, and Sarah Newton — present works demonstrating a sea change is needed to magically transform that nest-fouling species, Homo sapiens.


In 1980, Jacques Cousteau estimated that marine life had declined, during his long career, by half. Almost 40 neglectful years later, we are finding dead fish, birds, and mammals with their stomachs full of plastic. Sea Change, at the David Brower Center, curated by Ginny Robinson of Chandra Cerrito Contemporary, brings together five artists — Barbara Boissevain, Sukey Bryan, Lauren Elder, Ethan Estess, and Sarah Newton — who focus on the parlous, perilous state of our oceans, hoping that a sea change can magically transform that nest-fouling species, Homo sapiens.

Boissevain’s South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project comprises large photographs of the vividly colorful fields that most of us know from glimpses during overflights. Aerial landscapes tend toward abstraction, and Boissevain’s eye for of color, shape, and texture prove that art that’s good for you — whether as single images or in triptych groupings or grids of four — can also be good to look at. Salt Pond Living Biome Installation features one of her photographs inset with a small biodome of brine shrimp, algae, and salt. Bryan in her Break Around digital mural surrounds the building exterior just above sidewalk level with photographs of the surf breaking at Neah Bay, in Washington, which gives Berkeley pedestrians (elevation 187 feet) a foretaste of rising seas. Elder’s large drawings of tortugueros, the sea-turtle-conservators of El Salvador, were made for a community mural, but they show that good works can have economic and social benefits, too, as does a related video by marine scientist Emily Parker. Estess, a marine scientist and artist, combines his interest in Japanese art and in seaside litter cleanup in artworks fashioned from fishermen’s rope that depict, with linear clarity of whalers’ scrimshaw carvings, the ebb and flow of waves and tides. And finally, Newton studies the “shifting … marginal zone” between the bay and adjacent developed land. Her meticulously detailed ink drawings and gouache/chalk/ink paintings reveal and revel in the beauty of the peripheral and overlooked.