Mae Lubetkin, Seafloor Futures Digital Residency 2023/2024

Hydrothermal vent at the East Pacific Rise 9° 50’ N, collected while Lubetkin was on research expedition AT50-07 (© Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Courtesy of J. Sylvan, Texas A&M; D. Fornari, WHOI; R. Parnell-Turner, SIO; T. Barreyre, U. Bergen; and J. McDermott, Lehigh U./NSF/HOV Alvin/2020)
Angled view of Biovent 3D reconstruction, East Pacific Rise 9° 50’ N. Source imagery collected while Lubetkin was on research expedition AT50-07. (3D reconstruction technical processing by Eduardo Ochoa - U. Girona, Spain, based on deep-sea imagery sourced from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the WHOI-MISO-Facility, research supported by the US NSF)

The deep ocean is a digital media environment. This realm exists in our visual reality uniquely through the observation of or involvement within collections of digital media (e.g., imagery, 3D models, maps, etc.) gathered using a variety of “technical prostheses for sampling and sensing."[1] We cannot crawl on benthic floors or swim through the abyssopelagic like the inhabitants do, but still, we can imagine the deep ocean. 

Digital glimpses of these depths have increasingly become "richer"[2] in the sense of picture quality, multi-dimensionality, and detail.[3] However, this vivid  imagery can stagnate in obscure databases and locked scientific articles or become over-aestheticized in mainstream ecomedia. 

Digital reconstructions or 3D models of deep ocean sites are visual tools for environmental observation. In the last few years, underwater 3D perception has advanced significantly to include possible AR developments for immersive observation and robotic navigation.[4] Like most technologies, these advancements are often linked to extractive, exploitative, and military purposes. The first photogrammetric 3D model made in the deep ocean was in 1978 for an oil rig leg repair.[5] Private science endeavors for deep-sea mining exploration also likely use 3D modeling for mineral deposit volume calculations. But the digital 3D ocean model, of course, has no loyalty to its origins.[6] 

Mesh grids and textured digital fragments act as multidimensional yet momentary representations of submerged landscapes. As a static digital object, the 3D model remains a moment in time, devoid of any active physical erosion and biological growth. The deep ocean becomes visually reconstructed into object files that rest in a harddrive or database, understandably empty of the constant dynamics that define this natural environment.

Databases are the symbolic form of our computer age.[7] One might consider the digital items that they contain and accumulate as having no beginning or end, ultimately no narrative.[8] However, it’s this multilinear possibility that brings the database into such relevance: we can decide how to cut a narrative through its many parts, and "the elements of the Ocean database are stories."[9]

Through the creative transformation of 3D reconstructions from seafloor sites across geographies, what stories can be told when we collectively alter the digital deep ocean? How can 3D models, as predominant digital links to the deep ocean, come alive and embody more-than-human lifeways or potential human impacts? In solidarity with the seabed and all who are linked to it, this digital deep ocean intervention acknowledges that there are numerous cultural and ancestral links to these depths without digital mediations. How can we learn from Pacific methodologies of oceanic understanding through involvement and movement within the ocean as we steer our interactions with the digital deep sea?[10] What futures can we collectively speculate for these barely known benthic worlds?

For their 2023–2024 Digital Residency, Mae Lubetkin invites the ocean comm/uni/ty to collectively envision deep ocean futures through the transformation of seafloor 3D models in their project titled "Seafloor Futures: Science and Fictions in Deep Dimensions." Mae will curate a micro-database of the digital deep ocean on, which will include: a collection of seafloor 3D models contributed by the broader ocean science community and new models that will be acquired while they are at sea on R/V Atlantis for a research expedition to the East Pacific Rise during the course of the residency.

The ocean comm/uni/ty and the broader public are invited to join Mae, and other guest scientists and artists, for an online lecture on April 10, followed by an online workshop on April 17. In the first session, participants will learn about deep ocean 3D modeling techniques, and the environmental context and characteristics of three selected seafloor sites. In the second session, participants will become collaborators in a collective creative process to activate and envision futures for these three sites. This visioning process will later result in newly transformed 3D deep ocean artworks. Anyone interested in speculative futures and fictions, collective community practice, digital media, 3D modeling, deep ocean science, and underwater imaging is welcome to take part. No experience in ocean science, 3D modeling or 3D design is required for participation in the lecture or workshop! 

RSVP for the first online session on April 10 HERE.

RSVP for the second online session on April 17 HERE.
Experience the project HERE
Estelle Coppolani, Our Resignation

Jamil Fiorino-Habib, Oceanic Ruination, Erosion, and the Grievability of the Unknown
To be released

Mae Lubetkin, More-Than-Data
To be released
Mae Lubetkin is an ocean scientist, writer, and artist. With remixed methods, they traverse disciplines and practices to understand our many relationships to bodies of water. Often at-sea, their scientific work is rooted in oceanography, volcanology, and imaging. Guided by fieldwork, creative experimentation, and thinking with the more-than-human, they approach making and writing through queer, anti-extractive, and decolonial frameworks. Their core practice is in solidarity with submerged, ancient, ephemeral, and imaginary environments.
The Digital Residency is a digital fellowship opportunity that investigates the potential of storytelling and transdisciplinary collaboration within and beyond archival practices.
Residents are invited to engage with the Archive as a digital ecosystem; explore and re-interpret its depths, add new research material, and interweave it into their own curatorial narrative. While interacting with each of the's digital tentacles—the Archive, Journeys, ocean comm/uni/ty, and OCEAN / UNI—the residency aims to question the notion of archives as repositories of the past, locked and inaccessible; but rather to understand them as living organisms where elements constantly resurface, active and in dialogue with each other.
[1] M. Jue, Wild Blue Media, Duke U. Press, 2020.
[2] Not that richness is the right measure of image ‘value’ – after H. Steyerl, In Defense of the Poor Image, e-flux 10, 2009.
[3] T. Pulido Mantas et al., Photogrammetry, from the Land to the Sea and Beyond, J. Mar. Sci. Eng. 2023, 11, 759.
[4] M. Laranjeira et al., 3D Perception and Augmented Reality Developments in Underwater Robotics for Ocean Sciences, Current Robotics Reports, 2020, 1, 123.
[5] N. Welsh et al., Photogrammetric procedures for a North Sea oil rig leg repair, Int. Arch. Photogramm. 1980, 23, 474.
[6] After cyborgs and tech as “illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism” in D. Haraway's A Cyborg Manifesto, 1985.
[7] L. Manovich, Database as Symbolic Form, Database Aesthetics, Ch. 2, U. Minn. Press, 2007.
[8] Ibid.
[9] G. Weinbren, Ocean, Database, Recut, Database Aesthetics, Ch. 3, U. Minn. Press, 2007.
[10] K. Amimoto Ingersoll, Waves of Knowing: A Seascape Epistemology, Duke U. Press, 2016.