Špela Petrič with Klaas Timmermans

Naval Gazing

In collaboration with Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

Petrič explores the paradox arising from attempting to create a utilitarian object for the non-human

With the project Naval Gazing, Petrič explores the paradox arising from attempting to create a utilitarian object for the non-human. For this work a windmill-like structure was designed for release into the North Sea. This “habiton” is meant to support life as a habitat or colony: its tetrahedron form catches wind as a sail and propels it in a gentle yet unpredictable path. Eventually the slowly churning object accumulates sea plants, bivalves and whatever else decides to make it its home, at which point the weight of new organisms sink it.

The work is rich in associations with Dutch naval history, colonialism and the use of windmills to “make” land by creating polders. The research, design and building of this work in the context of a research institute investigating aquaculture also challenges us with a question the artist poses “can the human fathom an investment into structures and processes that are non-utilitarian for the human?”

Post BAD Award

“It is a rare that a bioartist is offered the opportunity to work on a project with considerable funding and I tried to make the most of it. Indeed working at NIOZ on Texel was unique and intense – I was imbued with the realities of the exploration of the marine environment, which is a very different experience compared to thinking about the topic from the academic armchair. Overall, the collaboration was greatly influenced by the respectful, supportive and inspiring environment at NIOZ. Dr Timmermans was incredibly helpful in facilitating the project and connected me with highly competent and motivated marine engineers/constructors from Texel – Andre Smit and Matthias Schrama. Only with their help and the generous support of the entire NIOZ Harbour crew was it possible to take on the construction and release of the two habitons, for which I am truly thankful.

The expertise and know-how offered to me by the scientists and engineers greatly influenced the outcome of the project, the gradual transformation from the proposed Four Cultures to Naval Gazing being a testament to the shift in perspective I underwent in the process. The scientific collaborators seemed satisfied with the outcome and I hope will be willing to support artistic projects in the future as well.

In regards to my development as an artist, Naval Gazing signifies the synthesis I have been hoping to achieve. The piece is emergent and abstract, and rather than being an application of scientific knowledge to a utopian commodity, it materializes the nature-culture discourse, offering a multitude of readings. At the moment I am discussing the possibility of showing the piece again at sea, offering the viewing of the habiton in its natural environment to a wider audience.” – Špela Petrič