Over 600 students from Grades 7 and 8 from across the province of Nova Scotia participated in hands on, inquiry based, career related STEAM (STEM plus A for art) workshops in the Halifax Convention Centre. All workshops were developed in conjunction with Nova Scotia’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and were facilitated by industry leaders, educators and academics in related fields. The organizers were thrilled to announce that one of the workshop series was going to build towards the creation of a collective art installation, as an art legacy project for the province.

Other inspirations came from whale songs, transformed by the US engineer Mark Fisher into visual mandala-like images with the help of mathematical tools and software developed for Navy sonar and the telecommunications industry.

Another source of inspiration was the beauty of marine life, such as jelly fish, plankton, molluscs and starfish, which have inspired scientists and artists alike, as one can see in the incredibly detailed work of Ernst Haeckel, who presented a series of startlingly beautiful images for the report of the HMS Challenger expedition. The ship circumnavigated the earth from 1872 – 1876, systematically sampling the ocean depths, while discovering more than 4000 new species. The plate below features diatoms.

What exactly are diatoms? They carry the scientific name Bacillariophyceae and are a type of algae called phytoplankton, which are found in oceans, waterways and soils all over the world. Fossil records suggest that they originated about 150 to 200 million years ago. Diatoms are typically between 20 and 200 microns in length and diameter and have an outside wall made up of silica. They come in different shapes and colours, which is due to their photonics nanostructure. These single-cell organisms help drive ocean biogeochemical cycles by producing 20% of the earth’s atmospheric oxygen and 40% of the ocean’s dissolved oxygen.

They are not only the main producers in the marine environment, but are also known as ‘jewels of the oceans’. In the Victorian era, diatoms were arranged under the microscope to form magical kaleidoscope images. The art publications titled “Art Forms from the Abyss”, which features some of the work by Ernst Haeckel, gave rise to our project title, which gradually morphed from ‘Radiant Abyss’ into ‘Radiance of the Abyss.’

But the project title also has a haunting overtone, since if you look carefully at the current state of our oceans, what do you see? What state are they in? What legacy are we leaving for our youth? Is the Abyss perhaps already looking back at us…?

The art work also serves as a stark warning about the dangers of plastic pollution of our oceans, which is becoming a greater threat than one expected: By the year 2040, it is estimated that the amount of plastic in our oceans will outweigh that of fish - a bleak vision indeed, which was recently presented by Canada’s Federal Environment Minister. Every year, Canadians currently throw away an estimated 8 billions dollars worth of plastics, wasting resources and creating unnecessary pollution. Plastic Pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them.

The details were created from discarded aluminum, left over plastic file folders used for school supplies, some of the 40,000 bottle caps which were collected, washed and sorted for this project (some were even shipped from Hong Kong), discarded CDs, pop bottles, packaging waste, coffee lids, netting, wires, ropes, polymer clay, a collection plastic Petri dishes filled with bits and pieces of marine life. One shape, which resembles a jelly fish, was created with yin-yang shaped pieces cut from hundreds of # 6 non-recyclable plastic food containers, which were transformed by first painting them with images of the oceans’ and darkness and then hardening the plastics in an oven using a technique called ‘Shrinky dink’ …

The goal of the art work was to combine the mysticism of the ocean with science and hopefully it will inspire the viewer to reconnect with the feeling of awe one experiences on a daily basis when living so close to the edge of the ocean, like we do here in Nova Scotia.

Some of the Collaborators for this Art Project were…

Miro Davis: Lead artist, Social Sculptor

Ardith Haley:
Fine Arts Consultant, DOEECD
Steven Meiklejohn:
Lighting Solutions, installation and lighting
Corey Mullins:
Fabrication and installation
David B. Smith:
Sculptor, NSCAD faculty
Sabine Fels:
Arts Express Coordinator, Halifax Regional Arts
Kathy Gartner-Kepkay:
Science teacher (ret), photographer
Hugh Fraser:
Teacher & administrator (ret), metal & wood worker
Kris Webster:
Manager of Arts Education, AGNS
Dr. Aaron Outhwaite:
Dalhousie University, 3 D printing with plastics
Jason Le Blanc:
Custodian at HRCE, plastic collection
Mary Beth Culliton Osburn:
Bottle cap collection in Hong Kong
Rebecca Natalie Fels:
Mobile fabrication
Paula Danyluk MacDonald & David Zinck:
HRA Administration
Fine Arts Specialists with Halifax Regional Arts

Grade 7-8 students from across Nova Scotia
, including Rockingstone Heights, Cunard Jr. High, Elizabeth Sutherland School and Herring Cove Jr. High, which are part of the J.L.Ilsley Family of schools in Spryfield. Many thanks go to the extra special efforts and beauty created during the last stretch of the project by the students of the Halifax Shambhala Middle and Upper School; the art project would never have been finished without them!

Funding for this project was generously provided by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development of Nova Scotia.