17 million years – 57 years, 2021
Cladophora in borosilicate glasses tube
57 cm in diameter
Cladophora is a type of fresh-water plant found in the Mekong River. A rich source of nutrients for the dry season, it was once a crucial economic crop for locals that made their homes along the river bank, both in Thailand and Laos. Cladophora can be naturally found growing on the rocks and beaches of the Mekong, though the formation of a dam on the lower reaches of the river – combined with the impact from 11 other dams constructed upriver in China – have led to tumultuous water levels in the river since 2019, in turn stunting the growth of Cladophora, resulting in smaller clusters compared to before. The artist aims to present several methods of maintaining the natural abundance of the ecosystem that has been cultivated over millions of years, but has been so easily destroyed over the past 50 years, by creating a sculpture that acts as a time capsule which preserves this rapidly disappearing symbol of life in the Mekong.
For the exhibition, the artist has collected samples of Cladophora from the Loei Inland Aquaculture Research and Development Center, Loei Province, mixed with water from the Mekong River. The artist chose to display the sample in a double-layered borat-silicate vial, a highly heat-resistant glass used in scientific experiments. Any materials placed within the vial will be able to maintain a constant temperature, leading to increased longevity and permanence. The vial is placed on a carved wood sculpture of a Naga, believed by many Southeastern cultures to be the guardian deity of the aquatic realm responsible for maintaining the abundance of the Mekong River. The wooden Naga head sculpture is commonly used as an ornament for the mandolin, a musical instrument local to the Esan region. The Cladophora is considered one of the indicators of a healthy ecosystem. The deterioration of biodiversity has also affected other organisms surrounding the river, including the way of life of local people who rely on the Mekong, which have also been lost.