College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

USM Professor to Present Sea-Level Change Art Installation


PORTLAND, Maine – Whether it’s the “Little Ice Age” of medieval Europe or the pending world climate change, it’s clear that when our environment undergoes metamorphosis, human beings change as well.


How we respond to this environmental influence, specifically the sea-level rise threatening the Maine coast, is the subject of a new and timely art installation by Jan Piribeck, University of Southern Maine (USM) professor of digital art and foundations, in the USM College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.


Titled “METADIVERS: Worlds Beneath the Waves,” Piribeck’s installation will be displayed next month at Zero Station gallery located in a Portland neighborhood most likely to be affected by rising sea levels.


“This is one of several projects I’m doing that bring together the arts with science and technology,” Piribeck said recently, “and this has a special focus on sea-level change as a metaphor for change in general.”


The details of the exhibit are:


-- "METADIVERS: Worlds Beneath the Waves,” an installation of sound, light and form by Jan Piribeck, University of Southern Maine professor of digital art and foundations, in collaboration with Keith Fitzgerald and artists Hi Tiger, John T. Bullitt and Christopher Wright; Reception with music by Hi Tiger, 5-8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 8; Artist’s Talk, 2 p.m., Friday, Nov. 15; both events at Zero Station Gallery, 222 Anderson St., Portland. Free and open to the public; FMI, contact Keith Fitzgerald,


This project is funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, and a University of Southern Maine (USM) Faculty Senate Research Grant.


For more than 15 years, Piribeck has been interested in the subject of psycho-geography – how geography affects human beings psychologically and the human response to natural and built environments -- and the fusion of art and geographic information science. For the past three years, she has focused especially on sea-level change and has become immersed in several creative-scholarship projects on the topic.


This latest exhibit “looks at sea-level rise through a personal lens,” she said. The faculty artist said the display is meant to ask the questions: “How do I respond to change on a personal, psychological level?” and “How do we address environmental change as a culture or social group?”


One response is using the image of diving into water, as Piribeck has done, “as a gesture of repair.” The image of diving is “a gesture of accepting, experiencing and being engaged with change, basically not ignoring it,” she said.


Using multiple, complex references to such notables as 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, American poet Adrienne Rich, German photographer and film director Leni Riefenstahl, and physician and physiologist Dr. Gilbert Doukan, Piribeck has created what she calls “a moody environment” about diving and emerging. Her artistic response examines what it means “to become more human and take responsibility for oneself and the world,” she said, while juxtaposing history, poetry and philosophy with the tension between art and science.


Visitors to the installation will experience hand-drawn animations, three-dimensional constructions, visual displays of large-scale prints and sound and music responses, the artist said.


The location of the art installation at Zero Station also is “very intentional,” she added. “The gallery is known as a community gathering place and is located in an area that’s vulnerable to flooding during high tides.”


“I’m providing visual cues that are multidirectional, but also that attempt to show relationships,” Piribeck said about her installation. “I’m providing an experience that points to other experiences. It’s simple, but it points to complexity. I’ve pulled out something that gives you a hint; if you want more, there is more.”


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