Artist at Sea 2019
Salish Sea/British Columbia

Funded by the University of Washington, Rutstein participated on the first “Ocean Memory Project” expedition on the R/V Rachel Carson in the Salish Sea in off the coast of Washington and British Columbia. As part of a group of interdisciplinary artists, historians and scientists, her participation as a visual artist was an opportunity to capture moments in time, respond improvisationally to environmental shifts that were experienced, and illuminate the marine research being conducted through the medium of painting. Fascinated by microbial worlds, Rutstein is interested in how these vast but hidden networks mediate processes on a macro scale. In the Salish Sea the team was looking at extremes – a place where deep salty waters from the Pacific upwell into fresh water systems, where oxic waters mix with water devoid of any oxygen at all. These anoxic waters and the chemosynthetic microbes that thrive there offer a window into ancient processes in real time. From a memory perspective the team was looking at how microbes existing at these different extremes can survive and coexist when carried elsewhere in these dynamic systems. What does this tell us about their ability to remember, adapt, encode, exchange?

Rutstein set up a makeshift “studio” in the wet lab fitting closely between the scientists, and outside on the upper deck of the ship, taking in wind, currents, rain and stormy seas, letting the canvases be a record of motion and events, experimenting with combining deep sea water with pigment, and improvising around themes of fluid dynamics, waves, layers and mixing. She observed phytoplankton and microbes under the microscope, witnessing a startling phytoplankton bloom of diatom chains from Saanich Inlet and bacterial networks through flourescent microscopy. The small paintings were experimental in nature; studies that may be developed further and on a larger scale after samples have been studied, more flourescent microscopy images are available, and genetic sequencing has been done. There were limitations of space and equipment but that intimacy allowed the team to feed off of one another, encourage altered ways of thinking and get out of ones comfort zones.

salish sea series II, 18x18, acrylic on canvassalish sea series II, 18x18, acrylic on canvas

salish sea series II, 18x18, acrylic on canvas

salish sea series III, 18x18, acrylic on canvassalish sea series III, 18x18, acrylic on canvas

salish sea series III, 18x18, acrylic on canvas

salish sea series IV, 18x18, acrylic on canvassalish sea series IV, 18x18, acrylic on canvas

salish sea series VI, 18x18, acrylic on canvas

salish sea series V, 18x18, acrylic on canvassalish sea series V, 18x18, acrylic on canvas

salish sea series V, 18x18, acrylic on canvas

salish sea series VI, 18x18, acrylic on canvassalish sea series VI, 18x18, acrylic on canvas

salish sea series VI, 18x18, acrylic on canvas

salish sea series VII, 18x18, acrylic on canvassalish sea series VII, 18x18, acrylic on canvas

salish sea series VII, 18x18, acrylic on canvas