Artist Statement – Hong Xu

Title: Surfacing Basic Elements – Amorphous Force of Exchange at Sea

In collaboration with WHOI scientist Caroline Ummenhofer


When and where does the moisture rise?  When and where will the rain fall?  Near or afar?  Perhaps sea surface salt can tell.  Simply put this is what oceanographer Caroline Ummenhofer wants to know.  Her team of researchers studied the salt levels at sea surface of different water mass of the oceans, and how that changed over time and seasons.  She emphasizes that even very small changes in sea surface salt levels as a result of ocean heat could bring significant drought and rainfalls on distant land.  I was drawn to Caroline by the clarity of her research purpose, her direct communication style and passion for science under a calm demeanor. More importantly her research work has a positive trajectory in helping the society for farming and disaster management.  


Together we had tested multiple concepts.  While not short of imagination making the art both beautiful and meaningful was technically challenging to me.  In the end for creating this art piece I conceptualized on basic elements: WATER, HEAT and SALT.  I combined photography with digital painting tools to visualize “the amorphous force of exchange” that constantly happens at the ocean surface – what rises above and left beneath.  Over the process I received critical input from Caroline. 


My journey is a convergence of different paths:  science and art, east and west cultures, old and new.   Certain paths I have chosen and others I simply stumbled onto.  While conflicting components or frictions emerge at times, more often joys, anguish and triumph are shared threads.  Nature (people included) is forever inspirational and instructive; curiosity lights fire; and imagination is the magic wand.  I try to capture a moment’s spur of creativity and treasure the spirit of freedom to experiment and to be original.  There is so much to learn and I wish to remain curious.  The journey has enriched me personally and I hope through my feeble effort to give back or to pay forward to the society in a positive way. 


(I am grateful for Caroline Ummenhofer to invite me into your sea world and for ALRI to invite me to this project and accept me as an artist.  I am forever indebted to my family and friends.)

–Hong Xu