Artwork is 8 ft long and 3 ft wide, drawn w/ black sharpies and pens
25 for 25
1. We the Coral are: Acropora cervicornis, Mycetophyllia ferox, Dendrogyra cylindrus, Orbicella faveolata, Orbicella annularis, Acropora palmata, Orbicella franksi, Tubastraea floreana, Siderastrea glynni, Seriatopora aculeata, Porites napopora, Pavona diffluens, Montipora australiensis, Isopora crateriformis, Euphyllia paradivisa, Cantharellus noumeae, Acropora spinosa, Acropora tenella, Acropora speciosa, Acropora rudis, Acropora retusa, Acropora pharaonis, Acropora lokani, Acropora jacquelineae, and Acropora globiceps.
2. We the Coral will let you laugh at our phrase, “We the Coral.”
3. We the Coral are of 25 species considered “endangered” or “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by the U.S. agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Most of us have no common name like Elkhorn or Staghorn. Most of us have no recovery plans.
4. We the Coral are part of a larger ecosystem – we do not live in isolation. We are a refuge for fish and other marine life. But today we are alone. We are not shelved behind “charismatic megafauna” such as the polar bear and humpback whale. We are not featured in square postcard photos in biology textbooks. We are, instead, giants. We expand into science fiction. And the brown paper is ours to multiply on and extend.
5. We the Coral need space to settle on. It is one of the many things essential to our survival. We need hard substrates to settle on; we are extremely jealous for them. Our diverse reproductive systems account for this need. We asexually replicate ourselves if we need to colonize quickly. We sexually reproduce somewhere else if we find ourselves without room.
6. We the Coral understand that our paper space is mediated by human hands – an artist’s pair – and as such is a realm of fantasy. Although we are drawn using reference points and pictures of what we look like out there, in the oceans, we are not true to scale or in size or position. The Cantharellus Noumeae is not so large. And it is certainly not right next to a Staghorn.
7. We the Coral, however, also get that equal representation is not often the norm in the human world. We understand that in human eyes some are, say, prettier or more “common” than others. And we understand that because of this some may be favored over others. After all, why would the Acropora palmata with the common name Elkhorn be one of a handful of corals with a recovery plan? We are not implying that Elkhorn corals are neither special nor essential. They are in fact crucial protectors of the reef. We simply think that their being given a common name by Adam means something.
8. We the Coral understand the artist’s limitations and motivations. We know that the artist changed our sizes or placed us differently so we would look beautiful and that our beauty would be translated to humans. And we understand that the artist thinks that might make people more receptive to loving us – to caring about us. Lang and Selby say beauty can be disarming.
9. We the Coral sympathize with the artist’s struggle to find that balance between “utility and beauty." We sympathize with the artist’s struggle to be “artistic” yet not anthropocentric, as if they are in mutual opposition. We are a mixture of bio-textbook-pictures and fancy print-like contours.
10. We the Coral are not alone in our paper space. We can’t be. The things that hurt us out there hurt us in here, too. We the Coral do not exist in “pure nature.” We, too, dwell in what McKibben calls a “postnatural world.”
11. We the Coral have a little artificial reef created by discarded tires. It is of the “postnatural world." The tires are hard to see – they blend in – as if they are a part of the reef. Perhaps these are traces of man we can handle, elements we have adapted to, materials we now prefer. They are not visible and over time have become like the rest of us. Maybe you, the viewer, can pick them out easily. If so, we are not sure what to say. We are not sure whether these tires were purposefully placed there for us, or are they just litter…? We are not sure that intent even matters.
12. We the Coral are deprived of our own paper space. Our viewers are distracted by the man-made objects that destroy us. A fisherman’s trawling net spreads out, in front of us. It catches the viewer’s eye with its sinews, its wavy movement. A boat chain also crushes us, despite its deceptively benign appearance. It doesn’t look like it’s crushing us. It looks like it is just resting on top of us harmlessly like some jpeg over another jpeg. We are even covered by human words – human words by human poets – even if they are the ones who care about us… You probably notice the net and chain and words right away. We think the artist meant to do this. Then again, we’re not convinced that even matters.
13. We the Coral also have an instrument of man – a pointing hand – trying to touch us. But the hand is superfluous. Really, we have been touched already, smothered in fact, by the oily palms of our artist; the palms that bought and sold the markers that drew us; the handler of the paper; even the hand-bearing creators of the laptops and pictures and textbooks the artist used to see and fashion us. It is as Bennett said. There are many hands – many agents – different powers.
14. We the Coral have been extracted and molded by the artist into thickly lined and divided things, into pretty products and representations. Are we art? Are we beautiful, natural, fresh-smelling house decorations? The artist does not know, nor do we.
15. We the Coral bear the mark of climate change. We have no color because we have been bleached. Our color-giving bacteria have been expelled by none other than ourselves, although that is not our fault. We cannot understand why it is so warm in the ocean today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow.
16. We the Coral are not likening our situation to that apocalyptic B movie, The Day After Tomorrow. Perhaps we should be. Maybe that kind of scare or misery will help people care about us more. But maybe we don’t care if people care. It could be we just want them to know – to be interested in what’s happening to others in the world – to corals.
17. We the Coral also bear the scars of man-made pollution. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April, 2010, released highly active chemicals into the water such as dispersant Corexit® 9500. Such agents have contaminated coral reefs in years past and will continue to harm coral reefs in the coming decades. Such ejecting chemicals ruin coral reproductive systems, even though you can’t see the dispersants or that we have absorbed them. And if we can’t reproduce, we can’t occupy space; if we can’t occupy space, we can’t survive.
18. We the Coral are drawn using a black-colored Sharpie – a smelly, “permanent” marker, pungent like oil.
19. We the Coral do not – and should not – dwell just on the surface of a paper. But here we are: aliens in what should be our own space. We are trees turned into tables turned into pretty monsters.
20. We the Coral do not want you to laugh at “We the Coral” anymore.
21. We the Coral do not know why we were created by the artist. We sympathize with the artist, as she says she does not know, either. She knows we are abundant, essential to other life… And she thinks that we are beautiful – and that we are dying. Yet she was not sure if this was the best way to express all this – to reckon with our loss.
22. We the Coral do not think there is a best way to show us. It is enough that we, the coral, can exist in spaces inside and outside of the ocean.
23. We the Coral, it should be understood, are not a “we.” To label all these varied species as “we” is to de-particularize and undervalue the richness of diversity. It is like the umbrella-term “animal” in “animal vs. man.” Bee against man is not the same as tiger against man.
24. We the Coral are not a “we.” We the Coral are an “I.”
25. I am a human artist trying to understand a constructed other in the Anthropocene, to reckon with our loss. But there is no closure for me – for the coral – for you. The right corner is left unfinished. Now. And I am both leopard and crane – all’s fled.
Sappho Sappho Sappho not by chanting.
Special thanks to English Professor Nathan Hensley & Marine Biology Professor Ewa Krzyszcyk. The endangered and threatened species lists were found on the websites of the NOAA, the ESA, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.