Dean Burke: A Virtual Underwater World

TACOMA OCEAN FEST, Tacoma WA - online Sep 13 and beyond

by Rosemary Ponnekanti
Q: How do you show art in a pandemic?
A: You create a real-world installation, capture it with videos, photos and artist livestreams, and invite people to dive in.
That’s what’s happening this month with the three art installations of Tacoma Ocean Fest, now entirely online but created in person at the Foss Waterway Seaport, Tacoma. In a way, it’s entirely appropriate for one of the three artists: Dean Burke, whose ethereal photos capture an underwater world of Puget Sound that is usually only experienced virtually – unless you happen to be a diver or open-water swimmer.
Burke, by day CEO of Travel Tacoma Mt. Rainier Tourism & Sports, is neither of these. But he paddles out on the sound year-round, often supporting swimmers, and as a result his photography has a deep, almost primeval connection to the water. In Burke’s underwater world, Puget Sound isn’t the empty blue-gray seen from the surface. It’s kelp swirling in lush emerald greens; pink jellyfish floating in translucent, tropical aqua; a sapphire wave caught improbably in a triangular liquid point, mimicking the mountain we know stands far behind it. In this world, female bodies dive beneath lion's mane jellies with blood-red tentacles in baroque chiaroscuro, their pale limbs wreathed in bubbles.
But, as Ocean Fest curator Lisa Kinoshita points out, this magical world is only possible because of eight Superfund cleanups and many dedicated residents. In the beauty of this water world lies its incredible fragility – and that’s the whole point of Tacoma Ocean Fest, where Burke’s art will be installed, Instagram-like, in a giant wall grid. It’s art for immersion, even if you can’t be there – just like Puget Sound itself.
Art: All day Sep. 13 and beyond at
Artist livestream: 3:30pm at

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