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Artist Talk | Michel Varisco: Below Sea Level

Please join us for an artist talk with Michel Varisco on Saturday, February 17,  2:00 PM at A Gallery for Fine Photography (241 Chartres Street). Variso will discuss her current project, Below Sea Level.

Louisiana citizens are America’s first refugees of climate change; our land is disappearing and our lives are threatened due to conditions slipping further out of control. In New Orleans, the frightening truth is that the below-sea-level bowl we’re living in is sinking deeper, the infrastructure for keeping water out is failing, sea levels are rising, and storms are intensifying. Yet there’s a genuine enchantment to our ecology that makes it heart-wrenchingly difficult to witness its destruction, or to abandon.

Spellbound by the uncanny truth that the water that surrounds us both sustains and destroys, Varisco’s current project, Below Sea Level, aims to unpack the intimate and complex experiences of life as an endangered community. A collection of magical realist photographs in which she imagines a modern-day Atlantis with residents adapting to life underwater, Below Sea Level is a artistic investigation of place, subject, and the emotionally rich narrative of befriending our predicted fate. How do we survive in this nature, how do we stay grounded on a land that’s vanishing? Below Sea Level imagines a poetic, metaphorical response to these urgent questions: we wrestle, submit, float, commune, and endure–we create a new world below the surface of the water.

Unconventionally shot while submerged under water, Below Sea Level also functions as a performative collaboration. The artist got in the water with a diverse group of residents and gently coached them away from playful swimming toward a somber state of submission. Guiding them to be versus perform reflects the gravitas of our lived reality as an endangered community, while being underwater imbues the images with an elegiac beauty I identify as a particularly spiritual expression of living with impermanence. Out of this experience of powerful surrender, images of resilience and paradox emerge.

Immersed in the water–literally and figuratively–Below Sea Level is deeply rooted in personal experience, while reflecting the larger global climate crisis that is taking such an immense toll on our communities worldwide. We can embrace the water, and realize the true “ecological” ethos, as translated from its Greek roots: oikos (home) and logos (underlying understanding). In this context, water creates an implied connective tissue, and the images reflect a new understanding of home.

Below Sea Level is a solo exhibition comprised of archival pigment prints and assemblages on display at A Gallery For Fine Photography in conjunction with PhotoNola 2017 and Prospect.4.


Michel Varisco‘s work explores the complex relationships between the natural and man-made environments though photography, assemblage, sculpture, site-specific installations, printmaking, and video. Varisco is currently represented by the prestigious A Gallery for Fine Photography in New Orleans, where Below Sea Level, her new body of magical realist photographs and assemblages, is on view through February 2018.

Varisco has received multiple awards and commissions through the SURDNA Foundation, Joan Mitchell Foundation, the Louisiana Division of the Arts, and was an invited residency artist at the Rauschenberg Artist Residency in 2014 and 2017. She was honored most recently with the commission from the City of New Orleans Percent for Art program to produce the original public sculptural installation, Turning: prayer wheels for the Mississippi River, which unveiled as a featured site in the 2017 New Orleans Prospect.4 triennial.

Varisco’s solo and group exhibition history includes galleries and museums such as the United States Embassy in Moscow, Pingyao International Photography Festival, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, The Acadiana Center for the Arts, Francis McCray Gallery of Contemporary Art, Wignall Museum of Contemporary Art, Armory Center for the Arts, Gallery 1646 Den Hague/Netherlands, and Soho Photo Gallery, NY. Varisco’s work is included in public, private, and corporate collections in the U.S. and abroad such as the National Library of Paris, Luciano Benetton collection, and the SURDNA Foundation collection.

Varisco received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Loyola University, her MFA from Tulane University, studied in France and Italy, and is an artist/mentor at NOCCA|Riverfront in New Orleans. Varisco is a founder and former Vice President of the New Orleans Photo Alliance, and teaching honors include multiple National Foundation for the Advancement in Teaching the Arts awards.

Image: “Baseball” from the series Below Sea Level by Michel Varisco ©