Outer Edge Project: 'Dispersant' by Meliors Simms

Dispersant (detail), 2012, 400 hand-crocheted spheres, fishing line

Outer Edge Project: 'Dispersant'

Meliors Simms

12 April to 07 June 2012

“My installation will be a reminder that although the surface may appear resolved, oil is still present in the water. I want my work to remind viewers that the toxic environmental hazards from oil spills last longer than what [are] visible and deemed newsworthy. I want people to remember this truth […]”

Meliors Simms, 2011

The sensory and haptic threads of art, craft, and science are made manifest by Meliors Simms through her installation entitled, Dispersant. Four hundred meticulously crafted, three dimensional sculptural objects combine together to make visible the mostly invisible (yet tangible) long-term consequences of oil spill recovery strategies often deployed upon delicate ecosystems.

This installation draws attention to the micro-level of unseen marine environments. By using her art to question the affects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster that devastated shorelines, marine life, and tourism in the Gulf of Mexico, Simms’ installation resonates on a regional and global scale in the aftermath of other disasters such as:  the MV Rena spill in 2011 in the Bay of Plenty, the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989 off the coast of Alaska, and numerous other inland and coastal oil spill disasters.

Simms’ meticulous aesthetic translation of fused dispersant and oil within the gallery window space creates an alternative experience of the unseen. According to Simms, the main function of a chemical dispersant in a marine environment is to disperse the oil into infinitesimally small, or as Simms calls them, “plankton-sized” globules.[1] To the naked eye, the chemical reaction and function of dispersant is mostly invisible, and so rarely does one get to gaze through the lens of a microscope to bear witness to these globule like structures. By strategically using the window of the gallery as a microscopic lens or magnifying glass, Simms dramatically magnifies these imagined structures into delicate hand-crafted objects, that, for some observers, the technique of making is as complex as the chemical makeup of dispersants.

Simms captures the complexity of the chemically treated underwater environments that she translates with an aesthetic appeal towards beauty. Craft Historian Glenn Adamson once wrote that “crocheting [is] a serial craft procedure par excellence […].”[2] Through the methodical and exhaustive artistic process of Meliors Simms, the delicacy and craft of crochet makes visible a form that inhabits marine ecosystems in the wake of many oil spills. By looking strictly at an alternative materiality for the micro-level, Simms uses the tactility and fragility of finely crocheted threads to make visible the macro-level of social, economic, and environmental connections to our current historical moment.

Dispersantis a reflective example from Meliors Simms’ larger body of work, Living in the Anthropecene, where her art epitomizes a “thoughtful materialization” of our current geological age (or epoch) through social issues concerning the environment.[3] Experiencing Dispersant through the gallery window as though through the optic lens of a microscope highlights the need for focused—rather than dispersed—accountability and an understanding the interconnectioness with unseen environments. This installation offers a new visualization and experience from which to negotiate alternative cosmologies in the aftermath of manmade environmental disasters.

Essay by Fiona P. McDonald

[1]Meilors Simms, Artist Statement for Dispersant, Sanderson Gallery (2012).

[1]Glenn Adamson, “Analogue Practice” in The Studio Reader, ed. Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2010), 254.

[1]Lacy Jane Roberts, “Put Your Thing Down, Flip It, and Reverse It” in Extra/Ordinary: Craft and Contemporary Art, ed. Maria Elena Buszek (Duke University Press, 2011), 254.

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