It's almost as though Sam Trubridge has spent his life trying to drown his younger brother, William.

When Sam produced his first play — Shakespeare's The Tempest at Auckland's Tepid Baths — he made William swim the length of the pool underwater. It was an interesting stage direction, though not one prescribed in the Bard's text.

William had the last laugh, though. He's a multiple world champion and has set 18 world records as a professional freediver. He's also one of the subjects of dEEP ANATOMY, a cross-disciplinary art exhibition produced by Sam that examines what it means to be immersed in water. More attempted drownings, then?

Sam Trubridge claims not, laughing heartily at the suggestion, but admits he and his brother have always competed with each other. If sibling rivalry has indirectly led to dEEP ANATOMY, so too has the pair's unusual upbringing. They were born in England but spent their early childhoods sailing the globe.

Advertisement

"It was a rich context in which to shape a mind," Sam says.

And a direct influence on his own work in the art world?

"Actually, I think it's really influenced the way my brother and I both work, bringing together different ways of doing things in creative and innovative ways. We were travelling between countries and languages and cultures and always playing, exploring places that were new, with different stimuli, so it was fantastically productive."

A childhood of goodly creatures and brave new worlds, then.

Sam was just 4 when his family cast off and 13 when they finally settled in New Zealand, so it's unsurprising that nine years in a leaky boat left its mark. You can hear it particularly in the way he talks about the water.

"In the sea there's always a sense of something bigger than you. You can never be seduced by your own sense of importance; it makes you feel smaller and less significant, which leads to a humbleness that can easily be interpreted as philosophy or spirituality, but it's also an admission of your own scale."

Artist Mick Douglas with materials which form part of his performance work.
Artist Mick Douglas with materials which form part of his performance work.

Scale plays an important role in dEEP ANATOMY. The exhibition, at Wynyard Quarter on Auckland's inner-city waterfront, uses the old petrochemical silos and a 13m shipping container.

"It's a great place to investigate depth," says Sam. "The silos are 20 or 30m tall, so you can play with a sense of being below the water and looking up at the surface or being in a deep space. The shipping container plays with depth on a horizontal plane."

Most of the works arise from a 2015 symposium Sam Trubridge organised in the Bahamas, where his brother lives and trains. Auckland is not the Caribbean, so Wynyard Quarter's cavernous spaces help compensate for the re-contextualisation of the art.

Among the 10 exhibitors is Daan Verhoeven, a freediving underwater photographer who appropriately, given the metaphysical way freedivers talk about the sea, is the son of the late Dutch philosopher Cornelis Verhoeven.

Work by Christopher McElroen, an experimental theatre artist and film-maker from New York, is included in dEEP Anatomy.
Work by Christopher McElroen, an experimental theatre artist and film-maker from New York, is included in dEEP Anatomy.

Other participants include performance artist — and Trubridge's Massey University colleague — Sally J. Morgan and writer Jess Richards. Trubridge is especially excited to have secured Christopher McElroen, an experimental theatre artist and film-maker from New York, whose work is represented in the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection.

Trubridge's contribution is called Many Breaths (to Lift an Ocean From the Sea Bed) and documents a work he created in the Bahamas, where freedivers added a breath to a structure that helped raise an anchor.

"It's a magical thing you can do in the sea," he explains. "[The work] celebrates the possibilities of performing in the water and the untapped worlds of creative exploration."

The breadth of artists and artistic approaches in dEEP ANATOMY is a hallmark of Trubridge's own work and the exhibitions he produces. He's taken with the idea of moving between disciplines and inevitably uses a liquid metaphor, "fluidity", to describe the process.

The central theme of immersion means there's coherence to dEEP ANATOMY. Trubridge says what also connects the artists is a sense of wonder and he believes audiences will be similarly entranced.

"Everything starts with a complete captivation in the spectacular. People will be able to imagine what it's like to be 20 or 30 metres below sea level, trying to swim back up, and in that simple experience they will start to understand freedivers and why they do it — because of the magic of that experience."

Lowdown
What: dEEP ANATOMY
Where and when: Silo Park, Wynyard Quarter, until December 3