Below Sea Level, the latest body of work from New Orleans artist Michel Varisco, imagines a metaphorical future for citizens after global sea levels have risen to overtake the land. In these magical realist photographs and assemblages, Varisco explores the intimate and complex experience of life in an endangered community, where citizens feel such a powerful connection to their home that they would rather reinvent themselves than abandon it. Unconventionally shot while submerged underwater, Below Sea Level also functions as a performative collaboration; Varisco gets in the water with a diverse group of residents who have been gently coached to surrender to their subaqueous state, with no air tanks or breathing masks to support them. These photographs establish a profound connection between the viewer, the subject, and the artist herself – all of whom float silently together in this strange oceanic world. Below Sea Level embodies a poetic response to the predicted fate of rising waters, as we struggle, adapt, float, and endure to create a new world beneath the water’s surface.
Below Sea Level is in conjunction with PhotoNOLA and Michel Varisco’s Prospect.4 installation, Turning (Prayer Wheels for the Mississippi River), a permanent public sculptural installation on the Lafitte Greenway in New Orleans.