A few centuries ago, art and science were not such different and separate fields, as we know them today. They had many points of correlations and coexistence. As practitioners in the art field we are aware of the color studies in art history, but color dictionaries were also developed in the field of natural studies as a means of describing and communicating the examination of nature. In 1831, Charles Darwin carried a book called The Nomenclature of Colors aboard the HMS Beagle. Scientists used this book and other “color dictionaries”, predecessors of today’s Pantone swatch books, as a common reference when describing the appearance of whatever they were studying. Color Dictionaries were designed to give people around the world a common vocabulary to describe the colors of everything, from rocks and flowers to stars, birds and postage stamps. They afforded scientists and naturalists the means of descriptive biological precision that could be easily shared so naturalists in Kalamazoo and Germany could communicate effectively about a family of birds found in both places in related (but different) forms. They typically consisted of a set of color swatches; each assigned a name (usually rendered in several languages, to facilitate international use), an identifying number, and an often-lyrical description of the color (“the color of the blood of a freshly killed rabbit” or “mummy brown”).
Once I had decided, by discussing the ideas with Luis and João, that we would go for it, I contacted Dr. Marcel Wernand, a physical oceanographer at NIOZ (Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research). Dr. Marcel R. Wernand is a senior research scientist whose main research interests combine the design and development of multi-spectral ocean color instrumentation; bio-optical variability of estuaries, seas and oceans, long-term monitoring of coastal color; long-term changes of ocean color in relation to global change and marine-optical science history. This very particular combination of approaches, summed with a very particular personality made the dialogue from the beginning extremely interesting and enriching. It turned that Marcel was not only a very knowledgeable researcher but also a great story teller. His research had taken him all across the globe, seen many waters and coming across many people. His interest in the history of color studies is what makes it come all alive to me.
The interviews with Marcel become the very core of the project. I kept studying papers, looking at books, getting more involved in the topic to the extreme of joining and participating in a congress of the Ocean Darkening Project. The amount of information started becoming overwhelming and I realized that it had started being more constraining than inspiring. I then realized that the most interesting thing I had in my hands was the conversations with Marcel. His stories, the mental space that all that information was creating in the dialogue with him. I decided then that I would follow that quality. Keep talking to him, recording the interviews, letting the information float and taking notes of images that would materialize from the conversations. The narrative of the conversations became the script of the exhibition as well as the artist book we will publish.
As the conversations were too broad, I proposed Marcel to take the color scale he uses in his studies as a guideline. The scale he still uses is called a Forel-Ule scale. François-Alphonse Forel (1841 –1912) developed the method, and was three years later extended with greenish brown to cola brown colors by the German limnologist Wilhelm Ule (1861 – 1940). The scale has 21 colors. I proposed Marcel to talk color by color. He proposed to group them. One day about blues, one day about greens, yellows and browns. Dissecting the scale by colors helped me better understand the factors affecting the color of the water.
Photos by Bruno Lopes.
Irene Kopelman - Indexing Water
Kunsthalle Lissabon, December 13 - February 17