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. A Climate Impact Report with Artists Commit is in progress for the Wexner Center exhibition. Read about Meditation Ocean in Artforum.
Installation photos by Stephen Takacs. All other images are video stills. Trailer credits appear on the Vimeo page.
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.
2. According to mayoclinic.org, these disparities have at times decreased during the pandemic but are still present.
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