Our Future Island

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By Sallie Lau

If someone asked you to draw the ocean, what would you draw?

“Probably a horizontal line,” says Valerie Portefaix, an artist who looks at physical and imaginary territories and how humans subvert and appropriate them. “I don’t think people see the ocean as a 3D space. They just see it as a 2D blue surface that creates distance.”

In our conversation, Portefaix mentions distance to explain how people think of the ocean as a spatial barrier between a point A and some point B. But I think her perspective reveals another exemplification of distance: our self-inflicted removal from the ocean. After all, the only time the ocean resembles a line is when the horizon is looked at from very far away. Now that the majority of people live in cities, being very far away means viewing the world from a window on the 89th floor of a skyscraper or meandering along hardened shorelines built on top of reclaimed land. This urban armor protects us from seeing the intendedprotection the ocean offered us—food sources from the shoreline like oysters and seaweed protect us from going hungry, marine ecosystems like coral reefs protect us from floods.

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Image:  What would you draw if I asked you to draw an island? Credit: MAP Office. Used with permission from the artists.