As part of the Hugh Lane Gallery’s 2017 programme surrounding migration, The Ocean After Nature is an exhibition which explores the relationship between humans and the sea through the works of twenty different artists and collectives. Given that approximately 71% of our planet’s surface is covered by water, it seems natural that the endless oceans have left humankind awestruck throughout the centuries. In modern times, the ocean has become less of an unknown expanse, and more a place of migration, economy, and politics. The artists featured in The Ocean After Nature consider new ways of representing the ocean to reflect how humans use (and abuse) this natural resource in the present day. Themes range from personal and communal experiences of emigration and daily labour, to the universal investigation of trade and the effects of a globalised world on the environment.
There is great variety in the media featured in the collection, which creates an immersive atmosphere. This diversity feels fresher by comparison to traditional single-media exhibitions. However, certain entries prove less engaging than others, such as the installation ‘Does This Soup Taste Ambivalent?’ (2014-16) by the United Brothers (Ei and Tomoo Arakawa). Though it features the interesting premise of the relationship between radish soup and radiation caused by the Fukushima power plant disaster, it feels alienating in its hyper-academic presentation.
The true strength of the exhibition lies in the ability it has to remind viewers of the eternal power which the ocean holds, even today, and how it shapes humanity as much as we shape it. Hyung S. Kim’s intimate portraits of three female South Korean divers (haenyeo) in their working clothes explore how their identities and social status are tied to the sea. The three-channel video A Dashed State (2015) by Manny Montelibano captures the changing relationship between the daily lives of islanders in the Philippines with the sea, reflecting the constantly shifting politics in the West Philippine Sea. The fluctuating sounds and images projected onto the walls are truly hypnotic, proving difficult to leave.
The Ocean After Nature is an exhibition which poses questions to viewers about their place in the world, as well as their effect on it. While oceans once separated us, we are now more connected by them than ever. In this way, the works do not only reflect the power of the ocean, but become mediums of its power in their own right.
The Ocean After Nature is currently on show at the Hugh Lane Gallery until 7 January 2018.