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‘Expanding Waters’ explores Florida’s rising sea levels

The artwork of Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse is on display at the Gallery at Creative Pinellas.
Married artists Robert Stackhouse and Carol Mickett stand with their piece, “Currency: Climate Exchange,” which is on display in "Expanding Waters" at the Gallery at Creative Pinellas in Largo.
Married artists Robert Stackhouse and Carol Mickett stand with their piece, “Currency: Climate Exchange,” which is on display in "Expanding Waters" at the Gallery at Creative Pinellas in Largo. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Apr. 12
Updated Apr. 13

LARGO — As the ecosystem of Tampa Bay is threatened by the dumping of millions of gallons of wastewater from the leak at the Piney Point phosphate plant, local waters are on the top of everyone’s mind.

But for Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse, the urgency of the health and future of our waters have been informing their work for decades.

The married artists of Mickett/Stackhouse Studio are the Creative Pinellas Artist Laureates of 2020. Their exhibition, “Expanding Waters,” is on display at the Gallery at Creative Pinellas.

Married artists Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse walk through their exhibit, "Expanding Waters," at the Gallery at Creative Pinellas in Largo.
Married artists Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse walk through their exhibit, "Expanding Waters," at the Gallery at Creative Pinellas in Largo. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Through 2D and 3D works, the exhibition explores the problem of rising water temperatures, which are causing water levels to increase. It also explores escalating levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The Tarpon Springs-based artists work in collaboration. The show features works they’ve created over 20 years, but it is the first time all have been on display together.

They became interested in exploring rising temperature levels when they moved to St. Petersburg in the early 2000s and became aware of the increasing frequency and severity of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.

“A lot of what we dealt with is ways of depicting water in not a normal way,” Stackhouse said. “It’s a great, perplexing thing. How do you make a sculpture of water, and make pictures of it that’s not like every other painting of a sunset in Florida?”

Upon entering the gallery, Currency: Climate Exchange dominates a wall. It’s a map of the Gulf of Mexico, with lines of longitude and latitude and the names of cities placed for reference. The blue swirl is the loop current, which brings warm water from the Caribbean into the gulf, loops and moves southeast, eventually joining the Gulf Stream. The large spiral represents the loop eddies that separate from the loop current, dance around the gulf and get pulled back in.

“Currency: Climate Exchange" is among the works on display in "Expanding Waters" at the Gallery at Creative Pinellas in Largo.
“Currency: Climate Exchange" is among the works on display in "Expanding Waters" at the Gallery at Creative Pinellas in Largo. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The artists pointed out that the eddies are extremely hot and were responsible for accelerating Hurricane Katrina. However, they were also instrumental in keeping the oil spill from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig contained in the gulf because they didn’t get pulled back into the loop current in time to send the oil out into the Atlantic.

In the four corners are icons that pervade the exhibition: metal ice cube trays and the mangroves that the artists see as “acts of mitigation.”

The ice cube trays are an effective way to symbolize the need to cool the water down. In this respect, they take on the figure of lifeboats.

Mangroves factor heavily in the exhibit, along with live oak trees, as beacons of hope. Both are great absorbers of carbon dioxide, and they are treated as precious objects of honor.

“Three Carbon Catchers” honors mangroves for their ability to absorb CO2.
“Three Carbon Catchers” honors mangroves for their ability to absorb CO2. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Conversely, if the trees are cut down, they release carbon dioxide, so preservation is crucial.

“Aspiring Gulf (Mangrove)” is another painting that celebrates the importance of mangroves for the environment.
“Aspiring Gulf (Mangrove)” is another painting that celebrates the importance of mangroves for the environment. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Additional works include a series of prints depicting the Gulf of Mexico with a tarpon, a snake and currents overlaid on top. Another section, called Thought Experiment, encourages viewers to share their ideas for solutions.

Central to the exhibition is the site-specific installation Breath of Influence. It includes a large ring, flanked by long strips of tape that are suspended. On a wall at the far end hangs a painting of the moon.

“The moon is the symbol of our collaborations,” Mickett said as she moved through the installation. “The only way we see the moon is because the sun shines on it. So the only way we can see the moon is because of the sun.”

Married artists Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse with their piece “Breath of Influence," which is included in their "Expanding Waters" exhibition.
Married artists Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse with their piece “Breath of Influence," which is included in their "Expanding Waters" exhibition. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“This is all the light of the moon emanating out,” she said, gesturing to the strips of paper hanging around the circle. Gallery lighting was positioned to create the effect that the moon is casting light.

As part of the exhibition, dancers will perform amid the strips, giving them “breath” as they move through and rustle them.

An acting group that includes Mickett will perform Shakespeare in the space. Stackhouse said that when they saw the space, they immediately thought of incorporating performance into it.

A piece titled “Breath of Influence" by married artists Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse is part of the "Expanding Waters" exhibit at the Gallery at Creative Pinellas in Largo.
A piece titled “Breath of Influence" by married artists Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse is part of the "Expanding Waters" exhibit at the Gallery at Creative Pinellas in Largo. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Concepts of fire and water appear on nearby walls.

From left, “Imbalance: Mitigation," "Imbalance of Fire” and “Imbalance: Consequence” hang together in "Expanding Waters."
From left, “Imbalance: Mitigation," "Imbalance of Fire” and “Imbalance: Consequence” hang together in "Expanding Waters." [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
“Idea of Water” in "Expanding Waters," by married artists Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse.
“Idea of Water” in "Expanding Waters," by married artists Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Additional programs will include science panels on climate change and an ekphrastic writing workshop.

“To really tell a story, you need all the arts,” Mickett said. “You need science, you need mathematics, all of them work together. They all use the same creative process. You don’t get new inventions without that.”

If you go

“Expanding Waters” is on display through June 13. Free. Noon-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. The Gallery at Creative Pinellas. 12211 Walsingham Road, Largo. 727-582-2172. creativepinellas.org.