GradBlog – Coastal Futures Conservatory Open Lab

Coastal Futures Conservatory Open Lab: Bridging Science, Art, and Community

By Nicole Bonino


The lab session organized by the Coastal Futures Conservatory as part of the Coastal Future Festival, managed to bridge arts, humanities, and sciences through an event that featured talks from Conservatory fellows and musical accompaniment by the Grammy-award winning artist Matthew Duvall. His performance combined poetry and music reproducing the many voices that characterize the natural world. The multiplicity of sounds echoing in the event room at the rhythm of the curious percussion instrument played by Duvall created an orchestra of voices, memories, and suggestions alternated with the words and images shared by the guest speakers. This concert of emotions was perfectly in line with the mission of the Coastal Futures Conservatory aimed at building community around sound. There were several ways in which speakers and performers decided to incapsulate sound in their works.

For instance, in his presentation The Oyster Reef Soundscape, Matt Reidenbach summarized an informative scientific collaborative project—created with Martin Volaric and Eli Stine—aimed at preserving coastal ecosystem health. After warning the audience of the danger that extensive overharvesting, low water quality, and disease represent for the eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica, Reidenbach entertained the audience by reproducing the quite noisy soundscape of an oyster reef. I would still be unprepared to answer the question “What does an oyster say?”, but I learned something curious, which is that sound can be used to track reef activity changes and to monitor the behavior of oysters and other shellfish.


“Eco-acoustic” was the keyword of another stimulating presentation. In an effort to answer the question “What is the role of art after a hurricane?”, Charlotte Rogers addressed such a sensitive issue as disaster capitalismand the response of Caribbean people to this dynamic. As an example of artistic resilience, Rogers introduced the work of the Puerto Rican, multidisciplinary artist Sarabel Santos-Negrón who in 2017 registered the power of Hurricane Maria creating the sound piece Bajo presión / Under Pressure. In dialogue with the “digital turn” involving humanities and the Caribbean, Rogers is now planning on bridging ecological awareness, community, and art through a digital artistic projectaimed atoffering creative ways of addressing environmental disasters. This goes beyond the event Coasts in Crisis: Art and Conversation After Recent Hurricanes that she organized with the collaboration of Caroline Whitcomb as it includes essays and interviews on the archipelagic impact.

Related to coastal future—the other face of the Conservatory Open Lab event—was Andrew Kahrl’s talk which denounced the mechanism of coastal capitalism, based on short-term investments, which usually result being lucrative for few businessmen, but detrimental for the environment. Finally, asking the audience to protect the future of our planet by promoting agricultural revival was Bett Roach, member of the Alliance of Native Seedkeepers. After telling the audience the Native American legend of Sky Woman, Roach concluded her talk with a vibrant suggestion: keep a seed in your hand, hold it perceiving its spirit, give it water, grow it, and you will be able to see a different future.

At the core of this event were coasts and their future. Coasts are the end or the beginning of land, depending on the view. They represent the boundary between different elements, water and earth. Coasts are borders, but “What is a border?” asked Erik DeLuca while showing some videoclips from his shocking video essay The Poet Singers. This apparently easy question froze the audience probably focused on calling to mind the innumerable images that the word “border” generates in this historical moment.


Being interested in issues concerning global migrations, I often engage myself in biographical readings that witness the challenges faced by diasporic movements’ actors. One of these real-life tales particularly touched me, the story of Anila, the protagonist of The Stars of Lampedusa. The Story of Anila and Other Children Looking for Their Future among Us(2018) by Pietro Bartoli. She is a little girl who lands in southern Italy after a miserable odyssey started in Nigeria. After being physically and physiologically abused, she receives the cures of the thoughtful doctor Bartoli who, concerned, starts questioning her past. It turns out that she is travelling alone, looking for her mom. She assures the doctor by saying that she knows how to find her, since she has a telephone number and a geographical reference, Europe! When Luisa, a social worker, shows her a globe in order to narrow down the investigation area, Anila stares at all those lines and colors. To reach Libya, the girl has crossed several states, a desert, and a sea, but she has never seen lines. Needless to say, Luisa’s attempts to explain that borders are socio-political constructions and that, for this reason, they don’t really exist, does not persuade Anila. For her, borders doexist now that she knows that she won’t be able to be reunited with her mom because of border limitations.

Borders are physical barriers, but also intangible, liminal spaces that affect us socially, politically, and culturally. In this regard, often science and the humanities are considered as separated, incompatible spheres of knowledge. The mission of such organizations as the Environmental Resilience Institute and EH@UVA is precisely to tear down walls in order to facilitate collaborative, multi-disciplinary approaches to environmental research. Paraphrasing the words of Paoli Nespoli—an Italian astronaut of the European Space Agency (ESA)—we are all citizens of the world, sailors at the helm of Spaceship Earth, traveling in space towards the future. Therefore, as part of the same human crew, collaboration is fundamental!

Thanks to Convergences for putting in conversation Sciences, Arts, and Humanities and for suggesting us to use sight, earing, smell, and touch in order to create long-lasting, interdisciplinary collaborations aimed to celebrate and protect the environment.

Stay TUNED for upcoming events and projects organized by the Coastal Futures Conservatory and its fellows!

Nicole Bonino is a doctoral candidate in the department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, and serves as Latinx Student Alliance Liaison.


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