Inside a red-washed room, two enlarged sculptures of murex seashells stand side by side, as if reflected in a mirror, quietly suspended from the ceiling. They both have a hollow cavity in the upper half of their bodies, inviting passers-by to press their ears and heads against them, perhaps expecting to hear the sound of rolling ocean waves. Instead, they are greeted with a strange but poetic conversation between two androgynous voices as they recall accidentally changing genders while swimming in the ocean.
The oil industry has had a significant impact on marine life, and not always in ways visible to us. The reddish biocide paint tributyltin, known as TBT, protects oil tankers from accruing algae, barnacles, and mussels (in a process commonly called “anti-fouling”), but it has also caused bizarre changes and strange contaminations in the natural environment due to its rapid leakage into the water. For example, TBT contamination causes female Murex mollusks to change their gender, impairing their ability to spawn and devastating gastropod populations.
Gastromancer attempts to imagine these female-to-male creatures as story tellers, recounting their history of transformation through an audible conversation that emanates from their reddish painted bodies. Parts of the dialogue are adapted from the book The Diesel (1994) by Thani Al-Suwaidi, an Emirati author writing about a gender non-binary character growing up in Ras Al Khaimah at the turn of the century, a period when traditional society was changing in the wake of the oil boom.
Commissioned by Kunsthaus Bregenz, sponsorship by Rossogranada AG Zurich