M.O. Turtlegrass Meadow, 2023

A project by the Meditation Ocean Constellation

Six-channel video installation with ambient score, guided meditations, seating, public programming

67 minutes, looped

For M.O. Turtlegrass Meadow, the premiere iteration of Meditation Ocean, a group of eight divers spent four days in Biscayne National Park in the Florida Keys. Experimenting with notions of buoyancy and what they offer to terrestrial concepts of “grounding” in meditative practice–along with new modes of weightless embodiment—the divers rose from the seabed to float in meditation.

This “underwater meditation retreat” was both a live experience and a video production. The resulting footage, captured with three underwater cameras shooting in the round, was used to create the exhibition Meditation Ocean, curated by Jennifer Lange, on view at the Wexner Center for the Arts from February–July 2023.

A series of programs, workshops, and events developed with Dionne Custer Edwards and the Department of Learning & Public Practice accompanied the exhibition. There was also close work with Art & Resilience at the Wex and its incredible student leaders. Additional engagements involve The Ohio State University's Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center and the Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetlands Research Park.

A gallery guide features texts by Anaïs Duplan, Hope Ginsburg, Melody Jue, and Jennifer Lange. Read about Meditation Ocean in Artforum. An exhibition Climate Impact Report is shared on Artists Commit.

Click here to read more about the project

Project Context

Drafted: December 2020

Updated: August 2022

Meditation Ocean is a porous, emergent platform by design. The project proposes the interdependence of individual and communal healing, the deep connection between human and more-than-human well-being, and the nonduality of the social and the environmental. Urgent social and environmental issues, therefore, necessarily become part of this project and are explored through a diverse collection of commissioned meditation scripts, collaboratively developed programming, and invited writing about the work.

Meditation Ocean produces a new milieu for interspecies awareness practice and is likely the first-ever underwater meditation retreat serving multispecies resilience and survival. The piece draws an implicit connection between the divers’ meditative focus on their breath– emphasized for viewers by the presence of bubbling scuba–and the health of the ocean, its lunglike function producing 50–80% of the planet’s oxygen. The ocean is tied to our ability to breathe on this planet, and threats to the ocean threaten human survival.

There are other deeply troubling assaults on the ability to breathe, which should be named at the outset of this new work. At the risk of diminishing or oversimplifying any of these intersecting crises, it feels critical to speak to their impacts, which are distributed widely and unevenly. In May of 2020, George Floyd's murder at the hands of police once again made the words "I Can't Breathe” a galvanizing call of the Black Lives Matter movement and echoed Eric Garner’s dying words six years earlier. In our current cultural context, consideration of breath and healing evokes this connection with racialized violence and police brutality. Racial injustice also maps to the environment and specifically, in this case, to clean, breathable air and access to safe, usable water. Increased air and water pollution are joined by the widespread understanding of their disproportionate effects on BIPOC communities, giving rise to the language of environmental racism and the “Racial Capitalocene.” (1) This entanglement of the social and environmental is a cruel reality exacerbated by climate change. And there is the global pandemic; COVID-19 has claimed the lives of a million people in the United States alone, with Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people most severely impacted by the virus. (2) We mask to protect people from our breath, and as numbers spike, again and again, we anxiously avoid the breath of others.

Engaging human well-being in the context of the ocean necessitates turning toward its tragedies. As a site for this project, the ocean could not be farther from socially and geopolitically neutral. Its waters carry vast historical and present-day traumas from colonialism, enslavement, forced migration, and environmental catastrophe. A porous enough platform is needed to support processing and programming around these issues as they’re brought forth for participants and viewers. Meditation scripts, guided sits, and responsive events–which can be developed by and for affinity groups–provide spaces to do this work. In addition, each M.O. iteration includes researching and relaying the human histories and current implications of the project’s oceanic production locations.

Though this artwork is in no way proposed as a solution to any of these profound, intersectional social and environmental crises, the intention at the start is to create a vehicle that provides spaces for dialogue, collaboration, imagination, and healing—in whatever form they need to take in a given place and time, within a given group of participants, collaborators, and contributors.

Preparation for Meditation Ocean has included Insight meditation in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, training to lead youth mindfulness, attending weekly practice classes, and offering a free guided meditation session online every week since March 2020. The Vipassana practice that informs this work can be defined as attunement to what is arising in the present moment with acceptance. This is a somatic awareness, including that which may be extremely difficult to "sit with" in the felt sense of the body. A cultivated capacity to stay with this difficulty in one’s own system has a direct bearing on meeting struggle in others and, more broadly, in the world. Our own nervous systems have an impact on the collective nervous system–a settled nervous system is an intervention in and of itself. From sustained attention, an ability to discern skillful modes of engagement emerges. 

In the Buddhist view of interdependence, the very notion of self and other is nondual–a phenomenon that may be understood in ecological terms as well–we are all porous and interconnected. Thus, through practice, a sense of individualism may erode, and our connection to other living beings and systems–as well as compassion for their suffering–arises. Proposed is that these fruits of practice can equip us to turn toward the collective and unequally distributed crisis of a radically changing climate.

1. Vergès, Racial Capitalocene: Is the Anthropocene Racial?

2. According to mayoclinic.org, these disparities have at times decreased during the pandemic but are still present. 

Selected Project Library

Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World. New York: Vintage, 1997.

brown, adrienne maree. Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. Chico: AK Press, 2017.

Carson, Rachel. The Sea Around Us. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1950.

Cousteau, Jacques-Yves. The Silent World. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Adventure Classics, 2004.

Dalai Lama. Ecology, Ethics, and Interdependence. Somerville: Wisdom Publications, 2018.

Davis, Heather, and Turpin, Etienne, eds. Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies. London: Open Humanities Press, 2015.

Demos, T.J. Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016.

Duplan, Anaïs. Blackspace: On the Poetics of an Afrofuture. Boston: Black Ocean, 2020.

Earle, Sylvia Alice. Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1995.

Earle, Sylvia. The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2009.

Fisher, David James. "Sigmund Freud and Romain Rolland: The Terrestrial Animal and His Great Oceanic Friend". American Imago, Vol. 33, No. 1, Spring 1976.

Ghosh, Amitav. The Nutmeg's Curse: Parables for a Climate in Crisis. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2021.

Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals. Chico: AK Press, 2020.

Haraway, Donna. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.

Hessler, Stefanie, ed. Tidalectics: Imagining an Oceanic Worldview through Art and Science. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2018.

Johnson, Ayana Elizabeth, "What I Know About the Ocean: We Need Ocean Justice," Sierra: The Magazine of the Sierra Club, December 12, 2020

Jue, Melody. Wild Blue Media: Seeing Through Seawater. Durham: Duke University Press, 2020.

Kiehl, Jeffrey T. Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.

Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Milkweed Editions, 2013.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Full Catastrophe Living: How to Cope with Stress, Pain and Illness Using Mindfulness Meditation. New York: Bantam Books, 2013.

Klein, Naomi. On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2019.

Kolbert, Elizabeth. Field Notes from a Catastrophe. New York: Bloomsbury, 2006.

Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. New York: Henry Holt, 2014.

Macy, Joanna, and Brown, Molly. Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to the Work that Reconnects. Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers, 2014.

Maslin, Mark. Climate Change: A Very Short Introduction. (3rd edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Menakem, Resmaa. My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies. Las Vegas: Central Recovery Press, 2017.

Merculieff, Ilarion (Larry), and Roderick, Libby. Stop Talking: Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning and Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education. Anchorage: University of Alaska Anchorage, 2013.

Mladenov, Philip V. Marine Biology: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

Niemanis, Astrida. Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology. London: Bloomsbury, 2017.

Powers, Richard. The Overstory. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Roberts, Tara. Hidden No More, National Geographic, March 2022.

Scranton, Roy. Learning to Die in the Anthropocene. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2015.

Sharpe, Christina. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.

Sheppard, Charles. Coral Reefs: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Siegel, Daniel J. The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007.

Škof, Lenart, and Berndtson, Petri, eds. Atmospheres of Breathing. Albany: SUNY Press, 2018.

Stow, Dorrick. Oceans: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Treleaven, David A. Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.

van der Kolk, Bessel A. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York: Penguin Books, 2015.

Vaughan-Lee, Llewellyn, ed. Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth. Port Reyes: The Golden Sufi Center, 2013.

Vergès, Françoise, “Racial Capitalocene: Is the Anthropocene Racial?” from Futures of Black Radicalism. Brooklyn: Verso, 2017.

Wallace-Wells, David. The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2019.

Williams, angel Kyodo, Sydedullah, Jasmine, and Owens, Rod. Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2016.

Zyman, Daniela. The Ocean’s Many Waters, Strelka Mag, 4/3/2021.

Zyman, Daniela and TBA-21, eds. Ocean’s Rising: A Companion to Territorial Agency: Oceans in Transformation. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2022.