Video series addresses climate change, global connection

Sarah Cameron Sunde,”36.5 / North Sea,” Katwijk aan Zee, The Netherlands, 2015. Courtesy of Florian Braakman

Credit: Florian Braakman

Credit: Florian Braakman

At the Georgia Museum of Art, New York City artist Sarah Cameron Sunde showcases her work that transforms the sea into art.

In the ’60s and ’70s, land artists like Robert Smithson created memorable artworks using earth as their material and the landscape as exhibition space. In Smithson’s — quite literally — groundbreaking 1970 “Spiral Jetty” the artist turned rock and earth into a unique, massive artwork projecting from the Great Salt Lake.

Sarah Cameron Sunde, “36.5 / Bay of All Saints,” Salvador, Brazil, 2019. Courtesy of Juh Almeida

Credit: Juh_Almeida

Credit: Juh_Almeida

Now, in 2020, in an age of climate change and global interconnection, artists have begun to contemplate a new environmental art — water art — which sees a metaphor for our shared global circumstance in the oceans and seas that connect us.

One of the pioneers in that field of water art is Sarah Cameron Sunde, a New York City-based artist who will have four videos from her eventual nine-part water-based series “36.5 / A Durational Performance with the Sea” on view consecutively now through January at the Georgia Museum of Art.

Multidisciplinary artist Sarah Cameron Sunde has made the world's oceans the centerpiece of her video work "36.5 / A Durational Performance with the Sea,” which appears in four iterations through January at the Georgia Museum of Art. Courtesy of Guilherme Burgos

Credit: Guilherme Burgos

Credit: Guilherme Burgos

The crux of the “36.5 / A Durational Performance with the Sea” project is simple. For anywhere from 12 to 13 hours, Sunde stands in the ocean for a full tidal cycle, as the water rises up to her chin and then retreats to her feet.

These site-specific works are created around the globe (and will culminate with the final performance in New York City) and captured on video. At the Georgia Museum of Art, a three-channel video projection will feature Sunde’s “36.5” projects in the Netherlands, Bangladesh, Brazil and Kenya from a different moment in time as each unfolds.

An installation view of Sarah Cameron Sunde's three-channel video work "36.5 / North Sea," Katwijk aan Zee, The Netherlands, 2015, screening through October 18 at the Georgia Museum of Art. Courtesy of Georgia Museum of Art

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

The work is about contemplation of the sea, and its physical presence, and also about how it connects diverse people around the globe. “This amazing planet we live on breathes with the tides,” says Sunde, who describes her performances as “hard, it’s really hard.” Standing that long under the sun, feeling and resisting the pull of the ocean requires stamina, as well as someone to bring Sunde the occasional drink of water and spritz of sunscreen. It is an endurance test as much as a kind of meditation and connection. “It always blows me away that I can do it,” admits Sunde.

But there’s more to “36.5” than just a metaphysical, meditative connection with the ocean. The piece has fairly disturbing origins and is ultimately rooted in the pressing issue of climate change. The oceans we often think of as benevolent resources for human business, travel and recreation, also have a mighty, destructive potential when combined with human-made global warming.

In fact, the idea for the piece came out of Sunde’s experience living in New York City when Hurricane Sandy struck, devastating Manhattan and surrounding communities and reminding a wide swath of Americans of the damaging potential of the oceans that surround us. “For me, that was a visceral event, that our cities are just as vulnerable as our individual bodies.”

Relatively new to the realm of performative, durational art-making, Sunde actually began her creative life in the theater, where she is known for her translation and direction of plays by the celebrated Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse.

Sarah Cameron Sunde, “36.5 / Bodo Inlet,” Kwale, Kenya, 2019 Courtesy of Swabir Bazaar

Credit: Swabir Bazaar

Credit: Swabir Bazaar

Though the shift from the theater to performance-based art may seem surprising, Sunde’s roots in the theater are clear in the work. In creating “36.5,” she was deeply invested in the theatrical awareness of how to engage her audience and make them a vital part of the work. She also realized, when she was conceptualizing “36.5” that she couldn’t simply “direct” and ask a performer to contend with these 12-hour endurance tests. She had to do the performance herself.

During the making of her “36.5” series, Sunde invites anyone to stand with her in the water to experience the piece during formation. Sunde has been joined in her site-specific performances around the world by many, from Bengali fishermen to Dutch government officials and a Brazilian teenager who told Sunde the experience of standing in the water in silent contemplation with her made him feel “like a tree rooting down to connect; rooting down in the planet.”

“They tell me they see the water with new eyes after standing with me,” Sunde says.

Sunde also works with local filmmakers who become collaborators in her videos. She sees that community involvement as critical because climate change is a communal problem. “Philosophically, ethically, it has to involve the people who are the stewards of that water,” says Sunde.

EXHIBIT PREVIEW

Sarah Cameron Sunde, “36.5 / A Durational Performance with the Sea”

Through January 17, 2021. Free, with a timed ticket. Open 10 am-9 pm, Thursdays; 10 am-5 pm Fridays and Saturdays; 1-5 p.m. Sundays, Georgia Museum of Art, 90 Carlton St., Athens. 706-542-4662, georgiamuseum.org

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