Kelp! was a collaborative exhibition between 836M, Erol Foundation, and the Above/Below project. Featuring six months of programming centered around bull kelp, the foundational species of California’s coastal marine ecology, this exhibition aimed to bring art and science together to inspire wonder, activate visitors’ curiosity about bull kelp, and catalyze action to protect our forests of the sea.
The gallery was transformed into an immersive environment featuring prints on textile by Josie Iselin, cyanotypes by Ann Holsberry, kelp sculptures by Lina Jane Prairie, prints by Laurie Sawyer, a tondo by Tiffany Bozic, a stunning mural by Ellen Litwiller in the adjacent office space, and an immersive video exhibit by the Coldwater Collective. As part of the programming, regular ‘seaweed science consortium’ calls were hosted by the Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank NMS, and other events centered around rebuilding ocean resilience, inspiring climate action, educating about policy, and experiencing kelp-based food.
Kelp forests form the foundation of California’s coastal marine ecology and are crucial climate regulators. Unfortunately, the ocean forests along California’s North Coast have declined since 2014 due to a convergence of natural factors and human impacts on the oceans. Globally, kelp forests are critical for biodiversity and climate mitigation but are disappearing fast.
As an exhibition at 836M and as robust programming of events, Kelp! focused on building public awareness for an underrepresented flora of our near-shore oceans. The artwork served as a guide into the science and policy issues surrounding kelp forest restoration efforts and aims to grow a culture of ocean stewardship among the public.
With this exhibition, one can go beyond the talking points and ask deep questions about the bull kelp forest’s complex workings and realize that we can learn not only about seaweeds but also from them: their resilience, their resourcefulness, their poetry, and magic.
Josie Iselin is a photographer, author, and designer of numerous books exploring our coastal universe. Beach Stones was published in 2006; Beach: A Book of Treasure in 2010; and her visual primer on seaweed, An Ocean Garden: The Secret Life of Seaweed, was published in 2014. Iselin continued her explorations into the world of marine algae in her most recent book, The Curious World of Seaweed (2019), winner of the Tiffany Award from the Phycological Society of America and shortlisted for The Northern California Book Awards and The Alice Award. She holds a BA in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard and an MFA from San Francisco State University. Her writing and art focused on seaweed, kelp, and sea otters put her at the forefront of ocean activism, collaborating with scientists and groups working to preserve the kelp forests of our Pacific Coast. Through art, design, and research, Iselin celebrates the marine flora and brings thoughtfulness and stewardship to this realm of our oceans. You can often find her on various coasts at low tide exploring tide pools and investigating the intertidal realm.
Ann Holsberry is an artist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work celebrates the inherent beauty of the natural order of things from the microscopic to the cosmic. As an artist with a background in law and the healing arts, she explores interconnections in nature using mixed media and the experimental photographic process of cyanotype. She often works outdoors in direct collaboration with the forces of nature, using materials sourced directly from her surroundings. She has had solo exhibitions at the Morris Graves Museum of Art (Eureka, CA) and the de Saisset Museum of Art (Santa Clara, CA), among other venues. Her work has been exhibited and held in collections nationally and internationally, including the UCSF Cancer Medical Center and the Stanly Ranch Auberge Collection in Napa, CA. She has been awarded numerous residencies and grants.
Lina Prairie is an artist whose practice for more than 15 years has centered on twining and weaving bull kelp experiments. Her creations are both sculptural and utilitarian. Based in Point Reyes, she sources her materials – driftwood, rope, kelp, roots – along the Point Reyes National Seashore. She teaches classes, participates in group shows and opens her studio to the public twice a year. Prairie developed a curiosity about the natural world as a child growing up in Minnesota. She moved to the Bay Area in 1966 to attend the University of California, Berkeley. She has a background in Slavic languages and literature and early childhood education.
Laurie Sawyer grew up on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. Today she lives in Northern California, where her family runs a business growing shellfish in Tomales Bay. Working primarily in life drawing, Sawyer’s interests are the concern and care for the ocean. She has a BFA from the Art Center College of Design and, more recently, a Graduate Degree in Science Illustration from CSU Monterey Bay.