Colin Foord and Jared McKay have a valid fear that cops will mistake their Overtown space for a grow lab. In fact, they are nurturing organic life inside their warehouse on the Miami River — but it's not of the smokable variety. Foord and McKay are Coral Morphologic, a hybrid scientific/art endeavor dedicated to coral.
In their laboratory/studio, bubbling tanks are warmed by a series of hydroponic lights while water pumps hum in the background. The tanks hold more than 40 species of soft coral, glowing neon pink and green. "These animals are living art forms," Foord says. The outfit clones and sells these fluorescent creatures to aquarium enthusiasts all over the world. But that business exists only to serve their multimedia art.
Last year, their large-scale video projections adorned building façades around Miami Beach for Art Basel. And their hypnotic videos have been featured at an Animal Collective-curated festival in Britain and on the late-night cult TV network Adult Swim. As finalists for a Knight Foundation grant, they recently proposed an aquascape video series at Miami International Airport and an underwater sculpture park where local artwork would serve as an artificial reef.
The two have been best friends since middle school in New Hampshire. Foord, 29, came to Miami to study marine biology and was struck by the discrepancy between the city's hedonistic party reputation and its natural resources. Miami-Dade is the United States' only county bordered by two national parks, and Miami is the only mainland city with coral growing just offshore. "Miami has had its fluorescent, colorful spirit imbedded in it for eons," Foord says.
Foord noticed the Magic City was as blind to the rich local music and art scene as it was to the natural beauty. Determined to "change the narrative," he invited McKay, 30, to Miami to start Coral Morphologic in 2007. Foord dives to collect coral, and McKay composes original scores for the video art.
As self-taught artists, they are motivated by DIY punk ethos and prioritize collaborations that service the scene at large. Foord sees coral, which is actually colonies of polyps, as a metaphor for cities.
"To survive in a city, you have to adapt constantly. You have to work with other people, other artists, " he says. This symbiosis is something they see lacking in Miami, a city that's too compartmentalized.
Foord and McKay are activists for their art too. Foord recently discovered a rare coral — the fused staghorn — thriving in Government Cut, the cruise-ship-choked waterway set to be dredged by the Army Corps of Engineers to deepen the Port of Miami.
"I'm realistic about the necessity of such projects," he says. "I just want to ensure that no corals die in vain."