It’s really tough to justify putting sculptures in the ocean, because no matter what you do you will be introducing a foreign material into an ecosystem that it just doesn’t belong in. This is why I prefer to use the science behind Bio-rock®, as it creates a natural forming limestone from minerals in the seawater by using a type of man-made mineral accretion process.

My knowledge of this science paved the way for my bicycle reef sculpture project (pictured in Resurgence & Ecologist issue 281), installed in 2011. Bio-rock® is not a new method, it’s been around for many years and there are more and more people beginning to use it as an artistic medium. At present, all Bio-rock® work must be welded on site and what makes my artwork different is that welding isn’t needed. I do this because we waste not only manpower and expertise but also electricity in the process.

The act of welding also dictates where a sculpture can be placed and ultimately the size. I prefer to be able to make my sculptures anywhere, designed like flat-packed products that fit into a box, put on a boat and then constructed underwater. So instead of welding I came up with the idea of making my work out of pipes and using a metal thread maker to make parts connectable and screw into each other.

The other aim of this sculpture was to use it as a catalyst for community involvement. Therefore bikes were used so that the material itself could be donated and recycled. This made the project not only more environmentally friendly but it also forced the community to actively become a part of the project.

The sculpture was created in an Indonesian fishing community in Pemuteran where, in the past, some residents had been involved in dynamite fishing which ultimately took its toll on the local reefs. My goal was to encourage the community to give something physical back to Nature. To make amends for the reefs that they had once destroyed and to help them regrow.

As I prepared my sculpture for the water I had to step back and let the sea have its way. In Nature not everything is under our control and maybe that’s what I like about this kind of work. When you work with so many different people nothing is ever going to be at your command. You have to find common ground and begin to learn together what the experience you are sharing means.

I thrive off the by-product of learning about your own culture by participating within another. It can be as simple as the way we perceive materials, or as complex to the way we comprehend the arts. However it is that dialogue, the transitional pull, that I feel can provide new insight into our own intimate history and contribution.

In Indonesia I succeeded in creating something that wasn’t just mine. In the past I controlled the variables of my art too much. The community I was in flourished because people gave them the trust they needed. The locals there have, in the past, destroyed most of their environment, and bringing it back to its former glory might never happen, but it doesn’t mean they have lost their chance to try.

Joey Foster Ellis is an American artist living and working in China. He is a recipient of the 2010 TEDGlobal Fellowship.