Sarah Cameron Sunde, an interdisciplinary artist, was visiting Maine in 2013 when she noticed something in an ocean inlet. The tide was coming in quickly and completely covered a rock, making it disappear within 30-40 minutes.
It was her eureka moment, the inspiration she had been looking for since Hurricane Sandy devastated her adopted hometown of New York City a year earlier.
The tides struck her as the perfect metaphor for sea level rise, quickly transforming the shoreline in a matter of hours the way climate change will, to a much greater degree, over decades.
Three days later, after some planning and preparation, she returned to the inlet for a “durational performance.” Sunde began standing at the edge of the water at low tide, and, in front of other artists from the retreat she had been attending, she continued to stand until the water rose up to her neck. She stayed until the next low tide, nearly 13 hours total.
Standing in that cold Maine water, Sunde decided that if she could last the entire tidal period, it wouldn’t just be a one-off performance. She’d produce a series of events in coastal locations around the world to demonstrate the threat of climate change.
The physical aspect of the work is clearly part of its power. Sunde was 36-and-a-half-years old when she performed her first stand in Maine. (The name of her project is “36.5: A Durational Performance with the Sea.”) Now, she’s 45. So, to prepare, she is doing yoga, watching what she eats, and taking pains to make sure she’ll be free on the day before the performance.