The life on, above and under water has long captivated Jana Winderen. Delving into the hidden depths to uncover the complexity and mystery of the invisible world beneath, reaching places and creatures that are hard to access, the 55-year-old Norwegian artist brings the audio topography and richness of the oceans to the surface. As fish, crustaceans, aquatic insects and mammals use sound to communicate, orient, hunt and meet across the globe’s oceans, she has recorded everything from seals, dolphins, humpback whales, shrimp, cod, perch, damselfish, bats and even coral reefs. Creating intensely moving experiences, her works may be viewed as a call to action in light of urgent environmental issues that we may be less aware of since we can’t see them directly, as they are submerged in the seas.
Winderen has long been obsessed with the ecological impact of ever-present manmade sounds on our planet, saying, “For all creatures that live in the ocean that are dependent on communicating with each other, all these sounds that humans are pouring into the water are stressing them. I think we are not so much aware of it, but it’s very important that more attention be placed on it because if people knew, they wouldn’t necessarily do it. It’s unbelievable that we are allowing this to happen around us. But it’s also about the listening experience itself and our position as human beings. We have input from everywhere all the time. We are filtering reality. I think it’s time to ‘put your finger in the earth’, like we say in Norway, which means to recalibrate or ground yourself, to get real.”
Collecting recordings from oceans, rivers, lakes, glaciers and shores, Winderen can spend hours on end out in the wild in the farthest reaches of the globe listening in real time. She has captured the sounds of aquatic life from the warm Caribbean waters to the cold, nourishing waters around Greenland, Norway and Iceland. In Spring Bloom in the Marginal Ice Zone, audiences experience the bloom of plankton, the shifting and crackling sea ice in the Barents Sea and underwater noises made by bearded seals, migrating humpbacks and orca and spawning cod, all relying on the spring bloom. The phytoplankton present in the sea produces at least half of the oxygen on the planet and, during spring, this zone is the most important CO2 sink in our biosphere.
In 2019, Winderen had visited Audemars Piguet, the oldest fine watch manufacturer still owned by its founding families, in La Vallée de Joux, Switzerland, for a brief residency that resulted in Du Petit Risoud aux Profondeurs du Lac de Joux, which features sounds of civilization traveling through the forest and land into the Lac de Joux, as well as the spectacular dawn chorus of birds. “Le Brassus is visually calm and beautiful with the fog, the forest and the mountain,” she notes. “But as soon as I put my headphones on and started listening, there was an overwhelming amount of human-created sounds. I was expecting it because they really are everywhere, even up in the North Pole where I have also recorded.” Committed to supporting the arts, Audemars Piguet has, since 2012, nurtured exchanges with artists including Kurt Hentschläger, Dan Holdsworth, Ryoji Ikeda, Lars Jan, Alexandre Joly, Theo Jansen, Kolkoz, Quayola, Robin Meier, Cheng Ran, Arin Rungjang, Tomás Saraceno, Semiconductor and Sun Xun.
In The Art of Listening: Under Water, a site-specific sound installation commissioned by Audemars Piguet Contemporary that was presented during Art Basel Miami Beach last December, Winderen brought awareness to the ocean’s increasingly fragile ecosystem and the constant underwater presence of human activity through sounds recorded in the Miami harbor area, the Barents Sea and the tropical oceans. In the 30-minute-long, immersive 22 audio-channel composition made with long-time collaborator Tony Myatt, she envisioned the migration route of several species from cold areas where the ice is melting to warmer zones where flooding is occurring, and the problems they encounter along the way that make navigation and communication difficult. There are echo locating orca, bottlenose dolphins, bearded seals, toadfish, tropical fish that she had recorded in Thailand and manmade sounds on land originating from planes, ships and yachts. “I included a lot of mangroves, seagrass and coral to talk about how it could have been in Miami,” she states. “There are surprisingly very few fish sounds here, but it is possible to get them back if we bring all the knowledge and forces we have together because there is a village in Thailand, Chana, where they managed to get fish back using techniques of building artificial reefs in a way that’s not harming the environment in the long term. They actually got 144 species of fish back, after commercial fishing had emptied the bay 30 years ago. It gives me hope.”