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36.5 / A Durational Performance with the Sea

My name is Sarah Cameron Sunde, a New York-based artist. Between 2013-2022, I created 36.5 / A Durational Performance with the Sea, a series of nine site-specific performances and video art works that took place in nine bodies of water around the world. I stood in a tidal area for a full cycle, usually 12-13 hours, as water engulfed my body and then revealed it again. The public was invited to participate by joining me in the water and by marking the passing hours from the shore. The local community in each location was involved in all aspects of creating the work. The project began in Maine 2013 in response to Hurricane Sandy’s impact on New York City and the parallel that I saw in the the struggle for artists to survive on a daily basis in the city and the struggle of humanity to survive in the face of sea-level rise.

Each work in the 36.5 series consists of a live performance, event, a time-lapse documentation, varied ephemera from that specific coastal location, and a long-form cinematic video artwork that is the same length as the performance (12-13 hours). The performances were filmed from multiple perspectives, live-streamed around the world and then edited quickly into its durational form which is then translated into site-specific multi-channel video installations that can be shown in galleries, museums, and projected onto architecture in outdoor spaces.

I chose Aotearoa as the location for the eighth work in the 36.5 series due to its stark difference from previous locations, severity of the crisis of sea level rise facing the nation, and starkly different perception of the natural world than that which is held by the Western world.

When doing early research for the project in Aotearoa, I was struck by the significance of the sunken continent of Zealandia and the rapidity at which pacific islands are facing the effects of global rising water levels. Soon thereafter, I learned about Polynesian navigation and the ingenuity of the first people to arrive in Aotearoa. The strength and resilience of the Māori people was awe-inspiring. From an international perspective, Aotearoa is leading the way in conversations around conservation, respect for waters, and the more-than-human world. My partners at AUT and Te Uru Gallery suggested the Manukau Harbour as the site to build the 36.5 performance on, as it has been historically neglected within the Tāmaki Makaurau area.

This iteration of 36.5 involved deeply meaningful collaboration with Māori artist-leaders-educators-activists, Amiria Puia-Taylor (Ngaati Te Ata Waiohua, Ngaati Tiipa, Hamoa, Kuki Airani, Tahiti), Nettie Norman (Ngāti Kuri, Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Whakahotu) and Kingi Peterson (Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa, Ngāpuhi, Ngati Maniapoto). Puia-Taylor and Peterson stood with Sunde for the entire tidal cycle, while Norman and her kapa haka group, HIWA, performed to mark the passing of each hour. Importantly, youth from the Kura Taiao o Matatoa, an environmental school, were part of the entire performance event day, standing in solidarity with us. Their presence was also vital to the work.

Development of this work began in 2020, and after a two year pause due to the pandemic, the performance took place on May 16, 2022. These collaborations have influenced me and my work deeply, shifting paradigms and understandings about gratitude, reciprocity, the climate crisis, and our human place in our environment.

Story Information:

Country: New Zealand

Topic: Sea Level Rise

Photo or video credit: Sarah Cameron Sunde

Text Credit: Sarah Cameron Sunde (with videos)

Date : 17 September 2023

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