Colleen Flanigan works at the intersection of art, science, technology, and the environment. She is the first visual artist to be certified by the Global Coral Reef Alliance in Biorock® mineral accretion, a method for coral reef restoration that shares many metallurgical, electrical and chemical principles with her early jewelry and sculpture, which encompassed electroforming, casting, welding, surface patinas, and mixed media fabrication. She and an international, interdisciplinary team have created a DNA-inspired sculpture to become an artistic coral refuge, scientific study, and unique attraction in the Museo Subaquatico de Arte (MUSA) in the National Marine Park of Cancun, Mexico. Scientists, filmmakers, environmentalists, government, tourism, divers, and others are involved with bringing this new angle to the underwater art/science institution started in 2009.
One of the inaugural class of TED Fellows (2009) and TED Senior Fellows (2010-2012), Colleen has been raising awareness about "art as ecology" coral work through presentations and creating multimedia installations, sometimes participatory, at TED, TEDx's, Maker Faires, Science Pubs, American Museum of Natural History, Environmental Film Festivals, NOAA, School of Visual Arts (SVA), ocean conferences, and youth events.
Exhibiting internationally, including Indonesia, Europe, the US, Canada, the UK, and Mexico, Colleen has been making art all of her life. She has a BA in Design from UCLA and a post-baccalaureate degree in Metals from the Oregon College of Art and Craft. For years she applied her metalworking expertise to stop-motion animation, such as the 3D feature film, "Coraline," directed by Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas), adapted from Neil Gaiman's novel. An armaturist for puppet fabrication, Colleen made ball-and-socket skeletons for stop-motion puppets. Presently she's investigating multiple streams of media to communicate scientific observation, universal "truths," and poetic interspecies concepts in provocative artworks on land to complement underwater projects. The immersive, multisensory participatory exhibit, Respire - The Coral Corollary, will correlate human health and coral health with data sensors and kinetic sculptures through the context of artificial respiration and life support. This large-scale collaborative project is in its early phase of R&D at THE IMC LAB + GALLERY Co-Create residency. She is an educator at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, and a producer and creative director currently residing in New York.
Human relationships with resources and other species are at the core of my artistic investigation, along with a strong connection to tactile materials and a desire to semi-curate spontaneous public interactions. In 2004, my work evolved to include alter egos who give physical/visual voice to specific socio-ecological concepts, from ocean health to climate change. Miss Snail Pail (MSP) for example, emerged as a healthy alternative to pesticides and a back yard chef with over 30 recipes using the spiral-shelled mollusks. As her, I'm a snail abatement specialist collecting unwanted "pests" and feeding them to people, geese, and turtles. The nature of being in a unique costume means I am on point for the topic I am visually voicing. Mixed-media installations and sculpture are important outlets for me to get to know my subconscious self, yet with these personas, I am both hiding and revealing myself. By choosing the commons to be my gallery and me to be the artwork, I am making myself more vulnerable and open to whomever may see me as a mirror or window. Others can project their thoughts onto me and begin a dialogue from an atypical entry point for important environmental issues. I like the unknown impromptu interactions and the face to face insight.
For the past 10 years I have been exploring ways to bridge the gap between quantitative scientific approaches to environmental issues and hands-on, life-saving actions by evolving the concepts of "art as ecology" and interactivism. Art is an integral part of the equation for cultivating healthier, long-term dynamics and curbing our enthusiasm for short-term gain. Bringing together multiple disciplines in collaboration, I stand for inviting the artistic method - a combination of sensory vision, playful imagination, and maker intelligence - into global solutions.