Year: 2022 Type: Installation

BREATHING CORAL is an aesthetic journey into a macroscopic underwater world of coral existence and silent extinction. 

In a close collaboration with international coral researchers, visual artist and documentary filmmaker Maja Friis has used macro optics to discover distinctive personas in coral species and to pass on stories about slow life, transformation and extinction from a place, which the naked eye can’t reach. BREATHING CORAL is a video and sound installation that creates a sensitive portrait of the planet’s disappearing coral individuals.

BREATHING CORAL exhibits the slow life of corals through video portraits of 13 coral individuals.

Macro-optic videos exhibited in over-scale dimensions on walls built as a maze-like structure allowing the audience to experience these tiny creatures at a proximity and huge scale, where even the tiniest movement of a coral becomes noticeable.

The corals have been filmed over several weeks. This thorough process has made it possible to follow their circadian daily rhythm and capture each animal’s unique personality and distinctive behaviours – as well as visually capturing responses to climate change stressors that haven’t been detected and captured in real time before.

The work is created in close collaboration with an internation team of coral scientists: Michael Kühl, professor at University of Copenhagen, Postdoc Elena Bollati (it), post.doc Cesar Pacherres (Pe), PhD Gabriel Ferreira (Fr.) and Post.doc Tom Schlesinger (IL).

Coral bleaching. Genus: Fungia. Excerpt. 5 min.
The coral undergoes a gradual bleaching during 12-days heat stress.
The video shows one minute real time from each day of the experiment.
The coral has fully recovered after the experiment.

“Working on Breathing Coral gave me the opportunity to visualise coral bleaching using new tools that are normally not available in a scientific laboratory. In 10 years working with corals, I have measured this phenomenon countless times but I have always looked at it indirectly, through signals, numbers, graphs. But now for the first time, I felt like I could truly witness coral bleaching. The method allowed me to notice movement patters that my previous approaches had overlooked”

Dr. Elena Bollati Post.doc, University of Copenhagen


Visual artist: Maja Friis
Scientists: Michael Kühl, Elena Bollati, Cesar Pacherres, Gabriel Ferreira, Tom Schlesinger
Cinematographer, Denmark: Anders Nydam
Cinematographer, Israel: Tom Schlesinger
Design of projection-design: Nikolaj Dinesen
Design of installation: Elisabeth Holager Lund
Construction of scenography: Morten Just Hansen
Composer and sounddesign: Martin Dirkov
Text and poem: Pernille Kaufmann
Colorist: Anders Vadgaard Christensen
Project manager: Sofie Mønster

Thanks to

Forskningens Døgn
Ministry of Higher Education and Science
Department of Biology, Copenhagen University
Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
City of Copenhagen