Karen McCoy: Oblivion Field

Sept 20‒Dec 17, 2017

Kansas City-based artist Karen McCoy explores the relationship between nature and culture through her site-specific, large-scale environmental sculpture. Oblivion Field is related to Seemingly Unconnected Events, McCoy’s ongoing homage to Hydroides dianthus, a tiny tube-building worm found in saltwater on submerged rocks, shells, and boats in coastal areas around the world. These worms create their habitat by secreting tubes of calcium carbonate, appearing as spaghetti-like encrustations on rocks, shells, and other surfaces, a visual form to which McCoy has long been drawn. As she writes:

While walking on the north Atlantic seashore I have often picked up shells colonized by tiny serpentine tubes. To me these twisting lines are utterly beautiful and intriguing in detail. They are the hard limey tubes of sea worms, Hydroides dianthus. In November 2006 The New Yorker magazine published an article by Elizabeth Kolbert in the Annals of Science series. "The Darkening Sea: What Carbon Emissions are doing to our Oceans" described a change in ocean acidity due to an imbalance in the reciprocal relationship between the oceans and the atmosphere. This imbalance, related to climate change, is causing the oceans to become less basic, and hence, some creatures living in calcium-based structures, like coral and sea worms, are endangered. Kolbert's article discusses tiny pteropods in detail. Since I was, at the time of reading the article, intrigued by another calcium based creature, the sea worm and its habitat tubes, I began to envision a project made from hundreds of larger than life homages to this tiny life form.

The latest iteration of McCoy’s project, Seemingly Unconnected Events: The Writing is on the Wall, was installed on the grounds of Salina’s The Land Institute, where she was the 2017 Prairie Festival Artist (September 22‒24). The Land installation included cylindrical and segmented serpentine plaster forms cast from newspaper molds, large-scale effigies of the vulnerable worm. The installation also contained plaster forms cast from non-recyclable plastic consumer packaging, much of which is included in Oblivion Field and through which the video of the Aegean Sea shore is projected. This packaging, as the artist notes, “acts as a record of my consumerism by casting plaster into the non-recyclable plastic packaging from goods I have purchased since 2007.”