Frame grab of a three-channel video depicting altered views of the ocean filmed at the same location. Differences in the images are to lead the viewer to recognize patterns.

Elise Stephens

Wave Counter


A middle aged woman sitting on a sandy beach with her back to the camera on a sunny day. She appears to be looking at the ocean in front of her.

Script 1


We are beings with at once fragile and resilient senses.

Each of us have a threshold that is tested by auditory and visual stimuli that are seemingly constant.

Silence is a luxury. Silence requires an investment in time and attention.

“Best way to think of a beach is a river of sand…it’s always flowing. Always moving.” – wave counter’s voice


when I returned … sat down …. and attempted to make sense of the choppy seas, I was overwhelmed.

I expected an ocean landscape to look different, but familiar enough that I could get my bearings –

see the swells or lack of swells I saw before and make a comparison.

Now, when I look at waves, I think about the waves as they are, rotations in place, not as moving horizontally-

my way of thinking has changed.

while watching the video from one trip while listening to the audio from another I am folding in three different time dimensions.

This is to understand something that is timeless and eternal.



A scientific chart and pictures of waves are pinned to a wall.


A clear representation of 3D printed waves rests on a black 3D printed mantle.


A spread of wave images


Waves with text in a split screen with a glacial cliff.


Montage of waves and words


A wooden shed with a blue sign saying Cape Cod Wave Laboratory on a dirt cliff.


Wooden slats are shown close-up in a detail shot with weathered and rusty nails and fastners.


Man sits with his wife and looks through binoculars at the sea.


Buoy Report from NOAA.


View of an overcast sea.


A sign on a wooden shed that states WAVE OBSERVATION LAB.


Man sits at a table in a wooden shed in Cape Cod MA recording the wave information.


It begins with surveying, then orienting, focusing, determining a baseline, identifying repeating elements – the pattern, concluding the observation, then reflecting on what it means.


I do this primarily through editing. I have a tryptic of monitors to allow you to survey and establish a horizon. I use video from the same place in each of the monitors to orient you. The color scheme is similar and at first the scale is similar. Through the length of establishing shots and the repetition of establishing shots, there is a sense of focus. The baseline is determined through time and the previous elements. The repeating elements emerge by comparing what has come before to what is happening now and what is happening in conjunction montage – on each side.  In addition to memory and anticipation, what I am exploring can possibly be explained by the phenomena of neural adaptation, specifically the motion aftereffect. This relates to my manipulation of the frame rates of the video.  The neural adaptation can also be applied to auditory experiences. The observation conclusion happens when one frame disappears, then the other two mirror each other, the second to last frame then disappears, the last center frame remains. The reflection on what it means then occurs when the video loops. The reading on the static image.


This process can be applied to other occurrences in life, whether staring at an endless starry night, or through the lens of a microscope, or into a beloved’s eyes.


For instance, early in my research, I made the citizen scientist- the wave counter- the center of the story. This repeats my personal pattern of seeking father figures and elevating them to experts. I later returned to the cliff several times, once with colleagues, then for a final time with my actual father. In this transformation from a seeker, to observer, to equal, to expert, I broke a personal development pattern.


The process can also be akin to the scientific method, which was used by the father of modern oceanography, Dr. Walter Munk to develop wave prediction. His experiments to trace ocean waves from Antarctica to Alaska in the 1960’s highlight the importance of studying the ocean. It demonstrates no one is isolated on the earth. The ocean is subject to systems that connect us all. What happens to the ocean affects everyone.


And to understand it, we need to assign meaning through data. This is where humanity’s connection to technology comes in. Scientists like the late Dr. Munk use data from specialized technology in the ocean to determine wave patterns. This is the same information the wave counter and his wife observe by eye and measure by internal time clocks. Comparing the two methods lends itself to questions of the limits of human senses or the advantages of human senses. It can lead to discussions of obsolescence and AI application. The use of handwritten records also introduces the issue of trust in science.


I was drawn to meditate on the meaning of measuring the sea by a desire to slow down the production and consumption of media. I have watched hours of the same footage of waves. It is a reaction to the quick-paced and sound-soaked edits I produced in local news for 16 years. In this piece, through omission of didactic information – what I call the greater edit- the audience has room to ask its own questions and come to its own conclusions given the right direction and context.


Ink line drawing of people at a seashore. Some are sitting, some standing. One looks down at the sand for seashells. Two sit looking out at the ocean.


Person in heavy coat works with an Edgertronic Camera and laptop high above the sea.


Sketchbook of ideas for installation.

Source Material for Analysis


A still from a 4K video of the glacial cliff in Cape Cod.

Computer-Aided Analysis


Rendered 3D Drawing of wave information from Cape Cod.

Resin 3D Print


Resin 3D print of wave information analyzed with CAD software.


A 3D rendering of an installation featuring a three-channel video contained in a wooden rectangular structure. On an adjacent wall is printed documentation.

A three-channel video piece displayed as a triptych of monitors each with a view of the ocean. Each sit within a weathered wooden structure attached to a wall. All channels of the sea are recorded at the same location in New England. On an adjacent wall, documentation of my research fills in the questions posed by the abstract piece of video/sound art. Programming of three computers with the piwall language route the video to the three monitors.

Stories are vital to a society’s and an individual’s survival.

I’m an artist and researcher who folds lessons learned as a journalist into explorations of environmental issues by creating new narrative devices that rely heavily on manipulating the formal aspects of emerging technologies.

In the process, I am drawn to stories that involve humanity’s relationships to technology, whether it benefits from, is harmed by, competes with, or lives in harmony.

The work you see in front of you and hear around you is your story of discovery.

A process of making sense of media then surrendering to the interior landscape you create by ingesting and synthesizing representations of reality.

In this case, an autumnal view of the ocean from a glacial cliff on outer coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Based on my observations of the methodologies of a citizen scientist who counts and records wave patterns there, my attempts to replicate his activity, and then my reflection on the meaning of it, the editing moves you through the stages of recognizing patterns.

References for Installation

Giese, Graham S. Jeffress Williams, and Mark Adams. Coastal Landforms and Processes at the Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusettes, A Primer. U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.  2015

One Man's Noise: Stories of An Adventuresome Oceanographer. University of California Television (UCTV) [2/1997] [Science] [Show ID: 636.

Zirker, Jack B., The Science of Ocean Wave

Waves Across the Pacific

Geodynamics Liberation-Front

BBC Arts Hour, olafur eliasson: Earth perspectives. Released On: 09 May 2020.

Calvino, Italo. Mr. Palomar. Reading a Wave.

New Yorker Radio Hour. Rachel Carson Dreams of the Sea. April 21, 2020.

Anstis, Stuart, Frans A.J. Verstraten and George Mather. The motion aftereffect. Trends in Cognitive Sciences – Vol . 2 , No . 3 , March 1 9 9 8

Remes, Justin, Motion(less) pictures: the cinema of stasis.

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My Debt of Gratitude Goes To:

Shona Kitchen

Aly Ogasian

Stephen Cooke

Nora Khan

Dr. Lora Van Uffelen

Edek Sher

Tucker Houlihan

Mark Cetilia

Shawn Greenlee

Emily Bright

Mark Moscone

Peter Stempel

and the cohorts of RISD Digital + Media 2019, 2020, & 2021



Elise Camille Stephens

IG: @elisecstephens

RISD Grad Show 2020