By Lena Katz
December 6, 2018
While most Art Basel participants and artists enjoy the beautiful weather and sea views without a care, Miami residents can’t help but observe the sea with more trepidation every year. Last year, some were still recovering from the hurricane. Miami Beach is still dealing with a nasty proliferation of thick, smelly seaweed– brought in from the Bahamas by last year’s hurricane swells. Red Tide came dangerously close to Miami Beach, and only by the grace of a higher power did Hurricane Michael miss South Florida. So, as much as developers try to pretend that climate change is a non-issue, anyone who’s here for more than a party has spent some time worrying about Miami’s precarious position.
The Village of Pinecrest, an upscale residential neighborhood far from the hectic Basel hot zones, would like to get visitors’ attention via a community-wide participatory art project entitled Underwater HOA. Through markers placed by residences on the community’s 6000 houses and an art exhibition by environmental artist Xavier Cortada, this typically non-exhibitionist town is inviting the rest of the world to get a glimpse of its future.
Obviously, the laws of physics and safety won’t allow for a town to submerge itself in actual liquid or even any type of colored smoke for an extended period of time. So visitors will not see a community that looks actually underwater. Instead, each resident was invited to come pick up a marker, numbering 0 through 17. This number indicates the home’s elevation above sea level (data can be found at– a partner in the project). Residents can also make their own markers. Then, residents place the marker on the front of their home to show exactly how many feet the sea would need to rise to submerge their house.
Underwater Markers have also been placed along 2.5 miles of the village’s main drag, Killian Drive. Finally, local high school students have created artistic Underwater Markers for placement on the four major intersections in town.
The epicenter of the art project is Hibiscus Gallery at the Pinecrest Gardens cultural park. Here, the artist and mastermind Xavier Cortada debuts 60 paintings under the exhibition theme Antarctic Ice Paintings: Global Coastlines and Underwater HOA. (The thematic connection between Antarctica and the Florida coastline, just to briefly explain, is that Cortada had his revelation about sea level change while making art in Antarctica.)
“I learned from the scientists that the very Antarctic ice I was using for my work threatens to drown my city,” Cortada said. “Antarctica is coming to every coastline across the globe.”
The exhibition will remain on display long past Art Basel, until January 13, 2019.
However, the most meaningful thing about this project is that it’s more than art. It’s also an eco-activism project by and for the community, in partnership with Florida International University’s Sea Level Solutions Center and with University of Miami’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science. And the hoped-for outcome isn’t just to get people to think. As the exhibition winds down, the inaugural meeting of a real Underwater Homeowner Association will take place – on January 9, at 7PM. On the immediate agenda: elect officials and create by-laws. On the long-term agenda: Get the community members, top university research programs, and local officials discussing ways to face the rising seas..
“Climate change will affect the future of Pinecrest and all of South Florida,” says Pinecrest Mayor Joseph M. Corradino. “Through Xavier’s extraordinary vision, he will use art to bring the community together in an impactful way.”
Hopefully the rest of Miami-Dade and all of Florida will follow this example and take meaningful community action before another Art Basel goes by.