Bleached Out Reef, January 13 – February 10, 2024

Watershed Art & Ecology presents David Nasca

“Coral bleaching happens when corals lose their vibrant colors and turn white. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Coral are bright and colorful because of microscopic algae called zooxanthellae. The zooxanthellae live within the coral in a mutually beneficial relationship, each helping the other survive. But when the ocean environment changes—if it gets too hot, for instance—the coral stresses out and expels the algae. As the algae leaves, the coral fades until it looks like it’s been bleached. If the temperature stays high, the coral won’t let the algae back, and the coral will die.”

Lorin Hancock for The World Wildlife Fund

Bleached Out Reef explores the interplay between natural and cultural processes, drawing parallels between ecological phenomena and human narratives. Centering on the phenomena of coral bleaching, where corals lose their vivid colors under environmental stressors, Bleached Out Reef can function as an environmental parable about the already-present crises caused by human-derived climate change. But the show also presents an extended metaphor about queerness, thriving, interconnectedness, and the contemporary condition.

Coral reefs are communities that allow difference to thrive. Coral reefs are interconnected superorganisms, full of complex webs relationships that defy attempts to classify. Like corals, queers build reefs. In these queer reefs, as coral reefs, divisions that typically stratify society such as age, race, and class are more porous. Unrelated individuals live in close proximity and support each other through highly specific and evolved relationships. The reproduction and promulgation of coral reefs and queer communities is both sexual and asexual, multigenerational, and non-hierarchical.

The architecture of a coral reef is an architecture of erotics. In a reef every individual is beautiful, different, naked, and close. Corals build their colonies until they press up against someone(thing?) they don’t like, sweeper tentacles deploy and growth is reoriented (through thousands of cloned selves) in new directions. Corals bud, this way, or that. Sometimes everyone spawns on a lunar calendar, just for collective release. Generations start, continue, learn, and grow at the same time. They build happy skeletons and die on each other until islands form and new terrestrial beings try to do what they have done.

In Bleached Out Reef, bleaching is polyvalent. At the first level, bleaching is the physical transformation of coral from colorful to ghostly due to the maladaptive expulsion of symbiotic zooxanthellae. Beyond that, bleaching is assimilation, gentrification, and the USA of both Biden and Trump. Bleaching is the obsession with cleanliness and separation in a post-COVID world. Bleaching is the loss of affect and depression when we find ourselves not thriving. Bleaching is drugs, both prescription and “recreational,” that we use to cope with a world that is in crisis and hostile.

David Nasca

David Nasca (born 1990 Buffalo, NY) is a Chicago-based visual artist working primarily in sculpture. He studied at Deep Springs College and received a BA from the University of Chicago (2012) and an MFA from Cornell University (2022). He has exhibited in the US and abroad at the Centro Cultural del México Contemporáneo (Mexico City), Roots and Culture (Chicago), Fuller Craft Museum (MA) and Gallatin Galleries at New York University (NY). Recent residencies include: the Corning Museum of Glass (NY), ACRE (WI), SOMA Mexico (CDMX), and The Banff Centre for The Arts and Culture (AB, Canada).

An educator, David is Assistant Professor of Ceramics at College of DuPage and previously taught sculpture at the Chicago High School for the Arts. Bringing contemporary art outside the white walls of the traditional gallery drives his curatorial practice. While in Chicago, he co-ran two DIY spaces: 1618 West 17th (focusing on queer performance art) and Showboat (focusing on projected film and video work and performance). At Cornell, he started a program bringing contemporary art to the near-abandoned Ithaca Mall.