Choral, an audio/visual projection by two Northwestern artists that imagines coral reefs as the metaphorical “voice” of climate change, is being presented to the public this spring as part of Chicago’s Art on theMART program. The work will be projected on the 2.5 acre façade of the Merchandise Mart every evening at 8:30 and 9:00 p.m. through June 29, 2022.

Bienen School of Music faculty member and composer Jay Alan Yim and alumna and digital artist Marlena Novak (’83 MFA Weinberg)— who are collectively known as localStyle—first introduced the Choral project in 2019 when it was displayed at 150 Media Stream in Chicago. Art on theMART invited localStyle to rework the project specifically to be presented on the Merchandise Mart, where thousands of visitors can view the projection from the Chicago Riverwalk each night.

In Choral, human impacts on the natural world are revealed through a diverse array of coral species while an otherworldly electronic choir drones in the background. The work’s computerized 3D visualization of corals is grounded in scientific research, and some of their behavior reflects the artists’ imagination via speculative underwater world-building.

“We wanted to create an artwork that engendered hope and fostered public engagement rather than despair and cynicism,” Yim said.

Coral researchers Luisa Marcelino and Timothy Swain from Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering advised Yim and Novak on scientific research that shows the factors impacting coral reef habitats and introduced them to colleagues at Shedd Aquarium involved in coral reef conservation. The habitats that corals create are fundamental to the sustainability of a quarter of all marine species—as well as the livelihoods of 500 million people around the planet—but these ecosystems are in crisis.

Since 2000, Yim and Novak have addressed environmental concerns through a wide range of media, deploying tactics that trigger multiple senses so that audience members can experience and consequently re-examine our climate’s most pressing issues. Through this latest installation, Yim and Novak hope that the public will be engaged by the beauty and charisma of coral reefs and that it will lead to greater appreciation for ocean conservation efforts.

Photo by Margo Hawk; Artistic image by localStyle

  • Jay Alan Yim