Gwen Arkin's Photography Projects
Artists of Hawaiʻi 2020

Gwen Arkin’s work addresses the issue of climate change and global warming by focusing on the depletion of native Hawaiian seaweeds (limu). Historically, Hawaiians have a deep connection to marine plants. In traditional Hawaiian life limu has long been used for food, in ceremony, and in healing. Once an abundant resource in Hawaii, much of the edible limu has disappeared because of runoff, over-harvesting, and growth of the herbivores that feed on them. Additionally, aggressive alien seaweeds dominate marine resources, diminish diversity and smother native limu and corals. These fascinating and often overlooked organisms play a consequential role in the health of the ocean overall.It is estimated that all algae, including the phytoplankton, are jointly responsible for producing 90 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere and up to 80 percent of the organic matter on earth. They are also recognized for their role in combating global warming. When marine algae conduct photosynthesis they take up carbon dioxide (CO2), and utilize sunlight more efficiently than terrestrial plants. CO2 is the main culprit cited in global warming and the cause of ocean acidification.

Gwen is printing native Hawaiian limu using the photographic cyanotype process (a mix of iron compounds that turn blue when exposed to light). The method of the printing is inspired by the work of the British Botanist Anna Atkins, who used the newly discovered photographic process to record her algae specimens in the mid-1800s. The iron compounds used in this printing process also relate to cyanophyta, the blue-green algae which are regarded as photosynthetic bacteria. In conjunction with the prints, she will be creating an installation ofhanging limu-printed cyanotypes on silk to emulate an undersea limu garden. The resulting prints display the otherworldly life-forms of the sea in exquisite detail, revealing their minute cellular make-up. Her response to these disappearing organisms is to create records of their existence and to raise questions about their historical, culture and ecological significance. Her goal is to
inspire fresh perspectives, awareness, and engagement with these humble ocean life forms, while reminding the viewer that beauty beckons from even the most remote and unseen corners of our glorious planet.

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