An interdisciplinary course at Baruch Weissman called “Who Speaks for the Oceans? Art, Science, and Inter-Species Discourse” draws on research for a Mishkin Gallery exhibition on the topic planned for Fall 2022.

The seminar, which is being offered this spring for the first time, is a collaboration between Mishkin Gallery Director/Curator Alaina Claire Feldman and David Gruber, Presidential Professor of Environmental Science & Professor of Biology. Feldman and Gruber are also co-curators for the upcoming exhibition.

The syllabus describes the course as an opportunity to “reimagine and rethink humanity’s desire to experience the non-terrestrial, specifically focusing on an epistemological, historical and scientific analysis of what we think we know about life in the ocean. Many of these ideas have been informed by colonial, racialized, gendered, and terra-centric conventions alongside the production of nature, which will be exposed and critiqued.”

Woman in dark on rocks with monitoring equipment
Ursula Biemann, Acoustic Ocean, video still, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

Students are using art, materials and concepts from the exhibition for a research paper or environmental campaign.

Portrait of Alaina Claire Feldman; photo of David Gruber in scuba gear with water in background
Alaina Claire Feldman and David Gruber

Bodies of water figure prominently in both Feldman’s and Gruber’s individual research pursuits.

Gruber’s groundbreaking research on bioluminescent sea animals and his development of robotics to study jellyfish and other delicate creatures has been covered by The New York Times and other news outlets

His latest work, Project CETI, involves using AI (artificial intelligence) to decipher the communication of sperm whales, using advanced machine learning and gentle robotics. “Sperm whales are incredibly intelligent and highly socially aware creatures,” Gruber told Discover magazine. “We believe that by bringing humans closer to an animal species whose behavior is more similar to our culture and intellect than any other living being, we can help them care more for every form of life on earth.”

Feldman’s recent essay “Flooding the Exhibition: Oceanic Encounters in the Age of Aquarium,” published in the journal Parse, looked at natural history exhibitions from the past and how they contribute to “capitalist consumptions” of nature that continue today.

Feldman is also co-curating an exhibition called Sea and River Edges: Visual Representations and Submerged Perspectives on Water in the Américas. The show will consider the work of Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church alongside work by contemporary feminist, Indigenous, and Afro-diasporic artists. Planned for late 2023 or early 2024, Sea and River Edges will offer a “counter-narrative to the legacy of the Hudson River School’s often sublime and colonial views of water systems and geographical divides throughout New York, Ecuador, Colombia and Jamaica,” Feldman and her co-curator Macarena Gómez-Barris said in their proposal.

The Andy Warhol Foundation is supporting Sea and River Edges with a $50,000 grant for research. The Who Speaks for the Oceans? show received a $10,000 grant from the Etant Donnés program of the FACE Foundation (French-American Cultural Exchange in Education and the Arts) in partnership with Cultural Services of the French Embassy.

You can read more about upcoming Mishkin exhibitions here.