For this series, I am concerned with a growing urgency expressed in the consumer world to undercut ecological uncertainty. For example, one of the sculptures explores how living and symbolic oysters join in the life support of a brand. Recently, on Shell Petroleum’s Facebook wall, Shell espoused the oyster’s ability to filter up to 22 litres of salt water an hour, further proclaiming:
See how Shell works with environmental organizations like TNC (The Nature Conservancy) to use these natural filters and find other ways of helping conserve the natural world.
But it is not just a salt-water filter Shell has observed. Artificial oyster reefs erect alkaline curtains that, to an oblique degree, offset the company’s contribution to the rising acidity of the ocean. Acidity that, since the beginning of the industrial revolution, has increased by 30%, largely due to anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions.
One quarter of global CO2 is absorbed into the oceans in such a way that it can stay sequestered for up to five hundred years. An ocean is like a gigantic pulsing sink of carbonate chains and it is a key to mitigating climate change. CO2 is absorbed into oceans where its ions exchange in a series of mineral and metabolic processes. Under the right conditions alkaline zones can emerge that are beneficial to a wide range of marine organisms with calcite structures such as coral skeletons and shells.
Yet adverse effects are emerging from the growing presence of CO2. Not least of all, lowering the pH level of seawater decreases the saturation zone where calcium-carbonate bonds. The zone narrows and rises closer to the ocean’s surface. Consequently, the delicate balance for calcification (becoming solid) is upset. Dissolution writes over the precipitation process for existing marine organisms. Shells become deformed and in younger specimens are unable to form.
In this example, the question I am asking is how do we then position the oyster’s blind occupation? Do we believe the oyster filters Shell Petroleum’s acidic ambitions? Shell Petroleum observed this flux of nonhuman agency could be co-opted into the composite shell of its corporate identity so that living and symbolic oysters join in the life support of the brand.
Richard Frater, 2016