Sea Change at Pérez Art Museum, Miami

By May 01, 2024
Rick Silva and Nicolas Sassoon, Still from Signals 4, 2023, single-channel HD video with sound, 5 minutes, 57 seconds. Image courtesy of Rick Silva and Nicolas Sassoon and the Pérez Art Museum, Miami.

The Biscayne Bay breeze wafts effortlessly across Perez Art Museum Miami’s expansive patio—the museum, which sits beside the water, is one misstep away from taking a swim. For unassuming guests, it is a benefit of residing in a tropical paradise, one of the many reasons tourists and transplants alike have flocked to Miami’s shores en masse in the last three years, but, science dictates another truth. The sea is rising, and the City’s future is being determined in real time. Experts have long been brainstorming solutions ranging from a 20-foot sea wall, Band-Aid blockade made of concrete, to a “living shoreline” made of ecologically symbiotic mangroves. While the answers have yet to be decided, they fluctuate between the artificial and the natural. A few feet away from the Bay’s steady current, international video artists are contemplating the same interconnectedness of nature and technology in PAMM’s latest immersive digital exhibition, Sea Change—a collection of ten works of video art in a three-paneled viewing room running on loop for forty-five minutes at a time.

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Sea Change serves as both a testament and a call to action in the face of the looming climate crisis, a specter that casts an ominous shadow over the City’s sun-kissed shores. As the world grapples with the consequences of human activity, Miami stands as a frontline witness, bearing the brunt of rising sea levels and environmental upheaval. Organized by Jay Mollica, PAMM’s Senior Director of Digital Engagement, the exhibition boasts a diverse array of time-based media artists. “I think Miami being ground zero for climate change, to be thinking about these ecological futures, and ways to harness the digital media, to tell that story and to raise awareness about it, that’s critical,” said Mollica.

The exhibition dares to confront the pressing question: To what extent can virtual art confront the climate crisis, even as its materiality contributes to the very problem it seeks to address?

Harvey Moon, Still from SlowScan, 2018, single-channel algorithmic HD video with sound, 2 minutes, 45 seconds. Image courtesy of Harvey Moon and the Pérez Art Museum, Miami.

In the first six minutes of Sea Change, viewers are invited underwater through the undulating technicolor rainbows of Signals 4. Created in 2023 by video artists Rick Silva and Nicolas Sassoon, viewers are taken to the depths of a 3D ocean floor model. Drawing on imagery of oceanographic surveys meant for extraction and petroleum engineering, the artists have created a speculative environment where viewers are allowed to see the natural environment through the eyes of artificial intelligence. For a moment, the colorful patterns seem reflective of oil glimmering on a water’s surface, or the benign tannins secreted by a cypress tree in the Everglades’ shimmering waters. However, Silva and Sassoon’s work is purely speculative, blurring the lines between reality and digital abstraction.  

Halfway through the series, Harvey Moon’s SlowScan (2018), perches viewers atop a boat deck, faced down on its’ idyllic, green turf, en route to Easter Island, Chile. The security camera footage references slit-scan photography that emerged in the 1950s, and is a pixelated rendering of the progression of time captured over a duration of twenty-four hours. The result is a video that registers only static elements, leaving the viewer to contemplate an eerie voyage seemingly absent of human presence. As one image gives way to another, time has collapsed, leaving the viewer to wonder about the inevitability of human extinction and machine autonomy.

Miami-based Fabiola Larios chronicles the history of the internet in Wild Wired World (2023) using an AI-informed video that bridges its nascent, unbridled beginnings with the stark realities of surveillance capitalism and data collection that exists today. At first, Larios introduces viewers to the internet in its dial-up origins, guests who were born before 1997 will recall the Microsoft Windows desktop image of verdant rolling hills as it slowly morphs into an insidious, intrinsic component of a viewers’ own eyes. The technology created by humans has become sentient, and now watches its owner.

Fabiola Larios, Still from Wild Wired World, 2023, single-channel HD video with sound, 3 minutes, 9 seconds. Image courtesy of Fabiola Larios and the Pérez Art Museum, Miami.

Towards the end of the exhibit, solutions begin to be considered. Leo Castañeda’s creation, Levels & Bosses: Camoflux Mangrove Biome (2023), showcases a prologue from a video game in which players journey through a self-sensing mangrove forest and must collaborate with nature in order to save their world. Castañeda takes an expressionistic and surrealistic approach to depicting the typically knotted roots of a mangrove forest. Water flows beneath them, and as they charge, they light up, appearing as volcanic energy sources. “The main idea was the concept of an open mythology,” said Castañeda. “So creating a set of world-building possibilities where there were no right or wrong answers…trying to undo the canon narrative model of there being an absolute truth.” Castañeda has spent fifteen years crafting the intricate world of Levels & Bosses, drawing inspiration from his Colombian roots and the ecological landscapes of South Florida. Castañeda has also painted large scale renderings of the world he’s created. Much of the game is about reimagining the energy systems video games employ, and instead listening to the environment.

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“In terms of climate change, the piece relates a lot to this kind of inevitable change that’s happening…Regardless if we figure out a sustainable solution, it’s still something that we’re going to have to deal with,” said Castañeda. “I think when people experience art, especially interactive art, they don’t come at it with their fists…they can feel engaged with a world where these issues are present more explicitly.”

To what extent can virtual art confront the climate crisis, even as its materiality contributes to the very problem it seeks to address?

With the advent of PAMM.tv, a groundbreaking streaming initiative from the Museum, Sea Change transcends the confines of physical galleries, extending its reach to audiences far beyond the shores of Miami. Through the lens of virtual reality, viewers are invited to confront their own complacency in the face of environmental catastrophe, in an effort to prompt a collective reckoning with the urgent realities of our shared future. The last video in the series is Lorna Mills’ Wnrwnrchickndnr (2017), a lo-fi collage of some of the Internet’s most illustrious animal-themed memes and videos. As the camera closes in on a wide-eyed elephant struggling to stay afloat, viewers could take it as a literal foreshadowing of our future, trying to out swim nature’s unforgiving current. But, for the more cynical viewer, it’s a reminder that despite the dangers and destruction the internet and technology causes, the ability to communicate across time and space renders it a permanent fixture in our lives, like it or not.

Amid the exhibition’s profound introspection, there remains a beacon of possibility amidst the encroaching darkness. In Rodell Warner’s Fifteen Terrariums (2023), the artist encases 3D models of Caribbean region plants in translucent vessels, digitally preserving them. One of the preserved plants is the snake plant. Originally native to tropical Africa, the plant has become a prolific invasive across the Caribbean and South Florida, outcompeting native plants, reducing biodiversity and harming the local ecosystem. Warner has captured the plant past it’s almost impossible downfall, digitizing it so its natural cross-banding has become moiré. Sea Change posits that change and enmeshment with technology is inevitable, but power, for now, lies in how society approaches that dynamic. As visitors navigate the exhibition’s ethereal landscapes, they are reminded of humanity’s capacity for destruction and preservation, but that time is finite.

Leo Castañeda, Still from Levels & Bosses: Camoflux Mangrove Biome, 2023, single-channel HD video game playthrough with sound by Victor Gamboa and programming by Jaime Soto Kure. Image courtesy of Leo Castañeda and the Pérez Art Museum, Miami.

[1] Mazzei, Patricia. A 20-Foot Sea Wall? Miami Faces the Hard Choices of Climate Change. The New York Times, June 2, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/02/us/miami-fl-seawall-hurricanes.html.

[2] Harris, Alex. Why Miami Balks at Coastal Mangroves as a Sea Rise Solution. Miami Herald, April 15, 2022. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article260166170.html.


Sea Change is on view at the Pérez Art Museum in Miami through August 18, 2024.

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