Roots;Into the Sea

By Moni Kanthan

Do you know what the colour of the year is? It is living coral, that’s what Pantone chose for the colour of the year 2019. It represents a striking, yet familiar warmth. 

As Pantone say, it is an ’animating and life-affirming coral-hue with a golden undertone that energises and enlivens with a softer edge’ that reflects the ‘innate need for optimism and joyful pursuits’ in our lives. Corals are also the roots of the ocean, equally life-affirming to the ocean life that it feeds and nurtures. 


Coral is the base of many incredible works that delight the senses. But the colour is living coral, a living celebration of the many species that live there (though as we know, they are endangered). These works remind us that their beauty is fragile, that we must tend to these roots of the ocean if future generations are to have the chance to see them for themselves.

Australian musician Flume is one of these artists. A pioneer of future bass, he teamed up with Greenpeace in 2017 to show how the majestic reefs are being threatened by climate change. Flume shared previously unreleased anthem for the reef with Greenpeace to raise awareness and demand that governments begin to take action. The video (seen above) is a gorgeous and haunting reminder of the life nourished by the living coral, interlaced with images of the industry and pollution that threaten it.

Flume’s track is equal parts ecstatic and mournful. Altogether too brief, highlighting the inevitable decay of the ocean’s roots if nothing is done, otherworldly fish dance among the explosive colours of the reef. The thumping synth base is the beating heart of this vast collective of life, dragging itself out in a gloomy realization that it is on life support. A healthy reef is alive with music, but it fades as the coral dies. Flume perhaps says it best, asking us to ‘please tune in, this is important.’

This importance is not lost on Coral Morphologic, a design-art-science duo formed by marine biologist Colin Foord and musician J.D. McKay in 2007 in Miami. Attempting to understand how corals respond to the challenges facing them, their mission draws in science, art and design in equal measure. Looking to document and explore the contemporary life of the ocean’s roots, their multi-disciplinary approach is a stark reminder that the beauty of living coral is not restricted to any one discipline – their roots are buried deep in the ocean, but deep in our beings as well. 

Their work includes everything from the audio-visual album Tangerine Reef (seen above), projection-mapping corals across the Faena Forum for Miami Art Week, vinyl-wrapping parking booths in coral portraits, and contributing to several documentaries, all of which are available at their website. Their design acumen is clearly on display on their store as well, where beautiful prints of corals and ocean life are available alongside their other productions. 

The white ceramic of Courtney Mattison’s work mirrors the damage already done to the coral reef by bleaching. In the Australian summers of 2016 and 2017, coral bleaching damaged 25% of the reef’s coral. In order to preserve the coral reefs around the world, we need to limit global temperature to rising by 1.5C. The colour ceramic installations in the middle of her installations however shows that there is still hope, and if we act now the damage done to the coral reefs can be reversed.  The growing relevance of climate change is so unavoidable if has permeated different forms of art, and sends out the important message to take care of our roots. Our roots are the foundation of everything.

Shockingly, corals are not plants. They’re animals. They are made up of individual polyps connected by living tissue and form the vast living roots of the ocean, protecting coastlines from damaging ocean movements and providing all life in the ocean with the essential nutrients they need to survive.

Living coral give us colour, inspiration and beauty in equal parts. It is a truly stunning delight that should be celebrated and preserved.

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