Client: Rebeca Méndez Studio
Location: Los Angeles, CA, United States
Completion date: 2022
Artwork budget: $200,000
Artist / Director / Designer / Writer / Producer
Rebeca Méndez Studio
Film Score Composer
Editor / Additional Cinematography
Acjachemen Song - Poetry
Tina Orduno Calderon
Technical Director / Designer
Rebeca Méndez Studio
360° immersive experience consisting of 6-channel HD video and 7.1 surround sound. 34 min. (loop). 1,377 sq. ft., 51 ft. long x 34 ft. wide x 15 ft. high. The Sea Around Us directly references Rachel Carson’s book of the same title and expresses the polyvocality of the adjacent Pacific Ocean and portrays it as a fully animated body as well as a place of deep interconnectedness where multispecies kinship fosters a sense of awe within us. The Sea Around Us contends with past environmental abuse right off the Southern California coast. All filmed underwater, it incorporates footage captured by robots sampling the contents of disintegrating barrels filled with DDT on the ocean floor. We are guided by the abalone, a shelled marine snail that reflects the time immemorial of the sea, in forming the imagery and cosmology of cultures both ancient and present. Poetry inspired by the Tongva worldview frames The Sea Around Us. Flowing through the experience is an Acjachemen song intended to encourage listeners to embrace the natural world through alternative values and worldviews.
The primary goal is to bring awareness to the recently reported ecological disaster right off the Southern California coast. Beginning in 1947 and continuing through at least 1961, employees of Montrose Chemical Corporation dumped barrels of the pesticide DDT and acid sludge waste into the ocean near Santa Catalina Island. (In 1972 the Environmental Protection Agency largely banned the use of DDT in the United States because of its adverse environmental effects and its potential risks to human health.) Investigation by scientists is ongoing, but it appears that the equivalent of around half a million barrels of chemicals, including uncontained DDT, was dumped into the ocean at fourteen sites. These toxic materials have bioaccumulated across the food web, affecting the lives of our human and non-human kin. Ultimately we are asked to be courageous enough to face our exploitative legacy, to take restorative action, and to avoid repeating its folly by being fully engaged as we collectively reckon with and care for our troubled world.
For 1.5 years, I consulted with the investigating scientific teams, the environmental journalists covering the story and with local indigenous Tongva and Acjachemen communities. Tongva people began living on Catalina at least eight thousand years ago, and the Acjachemen have lived along the coast of what is now Orange County for at least ten thousand years. I collaborated with Adelia Sandoval, spiritual leader of the Acjachemen people in Orange County and with Tina Orduno Calderon, cultural bearer of the Tongva and Chumash. Poetry inspired by the Tongva worldview frames The Sea Around Us.
The Sea Around Us is indebted to the work of Los Angeles Times environment reporter Rosanna Xia. Scientific video provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), the Schmidt Ocean Institute, and Dr. David Valentine, University of California, Santa Barbara. The views expressed by the artist are wholly their own. The Sea Around Us was commissioned by the Laguna Art Museum and has been made possible with the generous support of UCLA’s Council on Research Faculty Grant and The Chancellor’s Arts Initiative, Rebeca Méndez Studio, and Pyramid Pro Audio, Inc. For videos and more information go to: https://rebecamendez.com/THE-SEA-AROUND-US-1