19 March 2020

Coral and the Para-Pharmaceutical Industry

19 March 2020 - Written by Laurence Cornet

In Beyond Coral White, Marie Lukasiewicz investigates the bleaching and destruction of coral and the exploitation of its properties by pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies that advertise the health benefit of the calcium it contains.

© Marie Lukasiewicz, from the series "Beyond Coral White"

A few organisations have warned about what coral reef loss means on a global scale. A bulwark against natural phenomena such as cyclones and hurricanes, coral reefs are also home to 25% of our planet’s sea life. Yet, 40% of the world's coral reefs have been destroyed in the last 30 years and coral is largely exploited by pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies that advertise the health benefit of the calcium it contains – some even made it the number one cure to just about everything. “I would like to confirm that the use of coral calcium has been beneficial to my health. My knee replacements are deferred and my golf swing has improved”, a user says.

In Beyond Coral White, French photographer Marie Lukasiewicz makes use of fiction and humour to address our paradoxical attitude towards the natural world. On the one hand, we are conscious about the environmental crisis; on the other, we keep looting natural resources, driven by economic interests. “A 17th century engraving by Philippe Galle, of divers loading their boats with coral, sums it all up. Nothing has changed since”, she says.

© Marie Lukasiewicz, from the series "Beyond Coral White"

At the heart of her project, the – real - dietary supplement, coral calcium. Playing on the absurdity of one of the brand’s marketing strategy, she excerpts quotes and put a spotlight on their products, using a visual language borrowed from advertising. She combines these shots with pseudo-experiments photographed in the strict aesthetics of science imagery. In a picture, a cloud of smoke merges over a test-tube in a colorful chain-like experiment that one doesn’t quite know whether it’s supposed to bleach coral or produce pills out of it.

“I’m challenging people’s critical thinking, to see where everyone sets the limits of believing, when one steps back”, she explains. The absurdity of some scenes plays the same role. Yet, some photographs of coral farms, beautified by her close-up and surreal light, take us back to marveling nature. “How can such wonder and abuse coexist?”, curator Cale Garrido questions ? Or, as Lukasiewicz summarizes, “The central theme of the work is the inconsistency in our behavior in the face of the environmental crisis.”

For that, she makes use of poetry – her photos of corals are glorifying yet one can see the metal bars of the aquarium on the side of the frame; and in a video they are quietly rocked by the water, unbothered by the humming of the aquarium’s engine. Seeing together wilderness and artifact, nature and science, we are confronted to a dire present and realize that reality might be worth than fiction.

Hinting at the future, Lukasiewicz created a 2D modeled version of a coral. One picture of a discolored coral is covered with a transparent print of a colored one. Superimposed, it results in a new image, an attempt to recolor and revive coral. And a question, “How will we represent and show coral if it disappears?”, Lukasiewicz wonders.

© Marie Lukasiewicz, from the series "Beyond Coral White"


Marie Lukasiewicz is a Paris-based visual artist committed in a reflection on current environmental issues. Her work blends documentary and fictional narratives. Her series « Beyond Coral White » is currently on show at the festival Circulations in Paris : https://www.festival-circulati...

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Paris focusing on cultural and environmental issues. She is also the editorial director of Dysturb.


This article is part of our feature series Photo Kernel, which aims to give space to the best contemporary practitioners in our community. The word Kernel means the core, centre, or essence of an object, but it also refers to image processing.

Written by

Laurence Cornet

Reading time

4 minutes

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