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A 500-foot sea creature will climb the UN facade next week

It'll look like something out of a science-fiction movie.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

It'll look like something out of Alien, but there's a very good reason why a 505-foot-tall sea creature will be climbing the United Nations building next week.

In the evenings between September 21 and 24, a video installation called "Vertical Migration" will feature a "siphonophore," an ocean creature that is a symbol of the many working as one, according to artist group SUPERFLEX, who created the work, commissioned by ART 2030 and TBA21-Academy.

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A siphonophore is not a single animal but a colony of specialized marine organisms that work together to enhance group survival. These amazing colonies can grow to immense sizes: some longer than the largest blue whale. They're located just below where the sun hits the water, where it's so deep that it's totally dark. Each night, these animals travel up from the depths to the ocean's surface to feed and disappear before daybreak, hence "vertical migration." This acts as a biological carbon pump that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The video on the UN Building showcases "the hypnotic dance" of a single siphonophore as it emerges from the depths. 

Vertical Migration
Photograph: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe. Visualisations by SUPERFLEX.

The hope is to bring attention to the vitality of this mysterious yet hugely critical region and, generally, to the critical role of the ocean in the global climate. TBA21-Academy, a leading arts organization dedicated to ocean advocacy created this initiative with ART 2030 with support from Avatar Alliance Foundation, Dalio Philanthropies, OceanX and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

You can see the siphonophore travel up the 39-story UN headquarters from 8pm to 11pm nightly.

Vertical Migration is actually part of a larger, two-part project called "Interspecies Assembly," by SUPERFLEX that will also include a sculptural installation also called "Interspecies Assembly," in Central Park's Naumburg Bandshell. Also open September 21-24, this installation features a series of pink coral marble sculptures that will make space for people to slow down and actively listen to other species and see underwater life up close, hinting at the possibility of an underwater future thanks to climate change. They'll be arranged in a broken circle to evoke the feeling of "circularity without the comforting completeness of a ring, implying the need for both consensus and disagreement."

"Our agreements and demonstrations are proving insufficient; the water is coming. Eels are vanishing, corals reefs are under severe heat stress, sheep laurel bloom earlier and mackerel and flamingos are moving north," Superflex said in a statement. "All species are suffering from human-made climate change, but their needs and wishes are still to be accounted for."

Interspecies Assembly
Photograph: Courtesy of SUPERFLEX

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