Colleen Flanigan - Bridging Science and Art
By : Emma Lane
Where do the lines between science, technology and art meet? To look at Colleen Flanigan's body of work you could be mistaken for thinking these boundaries never existed. Since 2004 she has been promoting the idea of art as awareness though her collaborations on ecology projects, exhibits and various alter egos that spark dialogue in the community.

Coming from a background in design, Colleen was inspired by a meeting with architect Wolf Hilbertz at the Ecowave Sustainable Architecture Conference in Oakland in 2003. He had developed a way to encourage growth in coral reefs known as Biorock. This mineral accretion technique involved running low-voltage currents through sea water to attract the minerals needed to facilitate coral skeletons reproduction. The approach had been backed by the Global Coral Reef Alliance and proved successful in increasing coral reef growth. Biorock saw results that were up to six times faster than natural alternatives.

Colleen was drawn to the project immediately. The idea of creating something that would empower and regenerate coral reefs resonated with her background in art and creation. She recognized her own skills could be valuable to the project and took a trip to Bali to learn how to scuba dive, calling it her 'visceral 'a-ha!' moment'

Colleen's creative passion soon became a defining characteristic of her involvement in the program. She identified a chance for the mineral accretion reefs to transcend the boundaries of science and technology by becoming works of art. Drawing on her conceptual strengths she created sculptures that were undoubtedly beautiful additions to their surroundings, rather than mere functional placements. The awe that the pieces inspire are a testament to her successful visualization of the positive power of the technology.

The structures represent a growing movement to combat what has been dubbed 'the coral crisis'. Experts report that coral endangerment will result in their almost extinction by 2050. These organisms, which provide life to over a quarter of marine life, could soon be wiped out thanks to global warming, pollution and irresponsible tourism practices, among other things. Most notable is the increased risks of these reef organisms 'bleaching', where rising temperatures cause them to reject their algae partners and eventually die.

Undoubtedly, Colleen's Living Sea Sculpture project sparks dialogue in the community as the installation brings awareness to the challenges presented by the coral crisis. People in the surrounding area become aware of issues they may previously never have known about. The regrowth that the accretion reefs provide also benefits local fishing and tourism industries as life begins to thrive once more underwater. She places a huge emphasis on these interactions, as the project develops new relationships and encourages interest in coral regeneration. It is here that the magic of the sculptures can really be seen as people form collective movements to protect them and maintain the marine life that benefit from their presence.

The work is not merely art reflecting environmental action, but rather art as ecology. Colleen is passionate about this and makes sure to express it in all aspects of her work. Combining the two practices means a wider range of people can contribute to and appreciate the work being done. Creating pieces that will inspire and amaze is matched with the strength of the science behind it.

To further promote this unique relationship Colleen realized she had to begin building life-size replicas of the mineral accretion reefs. She understood that larger audiences could come to learn about the ways Biorock is saving coral reefs with its multi-disciplinary approach and the increased exposure to the project would give it the support it needed to flourish. This led to a series of exhibits of these sculptures around the world.

This allows a larger audience come to learn about Biorock and understand the reasons it has come about. The sculptures serve the purpose of educating and pleasing the eye in a way that has rarely been seen before. Bringing the living sea sculptures to these new places increases awareness and education about the need for coral reef restoration. It also encourages the community to get involved, an important step to generate interest and educate.
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