I believe the future is created by the quality of the present and that art can contribute to making a difference; that the societal role of art is to explore the potentials within ecological, political, and economic landscapes, whether they form ideas (mental landscapes), or physical terrain (in the real world) and/or virtual environments (in cyberspace).
This is a critical historical juncture at which I feel we have the opportunity to make a huge difference. Material needs are simplified when we embrace a creative intellectual and spiritual life within the community. This moment of cultural transformation is based on a knowledge of interdependence, which is reflected in an economy of spirituality and a culture of ecovention. Art is central to the shaping of our world. We are participating in a revolution whose basis is in ideas, art and education. Today artists and industry are redesigning every facet of our physical and cultural terrain to create a sustainable internal and external environment.
Joseph Beuys (from a 1979 interview with Frans Hak)
Water is our first mirror. Its surface symbolizes the surface of consciousness where what is obscure comes to light. Can we bear the tension and humility of what the mirror tells us? Waters we thought endless turn out to be finite. As water, so we ourselves. What might it mean to think of ourselves as finite?
Instead of having an image of each of our bodies as a contained whole with a clear ( and transparent) boundary, though a boundary ever encroachable, problematic, whose fragile hold needs the buttress of rigid denial--instead of this, we could start by acknowledging our edges. This is difficult, in part, because it means acknowledging our limits. We don't seem to much like limits. They stop us. They affront our desires for infinite power. But we literally cannot exist without them. Any individuated form, by definition, must have limits, edges, boundaries. We need to see the value of limits, and to see our edges as places of possibility, places of relationship. Every boundary that separates also connects. As in ecosystems, these edges are opportunities for heightened diversity. Our membrane, that glorious and treacherous territory we must traverse to meet the world, we must negotiate to be. The edges--the territory of exchange--where all our senses vibrate in molecular excitement, where the world scratches its being on our skin, before names. Pores where the world can enter us and leave, orifices, the issue in, and out--places of terror and delight. Membrane leaps quantum, to heart and glands, spasms us, contracting inward, releases, extending out.
Considering ourselves finite means bearing the consciousness of these limits. It means apprehending that like all organisms, we cannot exist in isolation from the world we inhabit. Less autonomous wholes, we are more like pieces of an immensely complex fractal jigsaw puzzle, entangled, interdependent with all the other finite parts for our meaning and existence. Parts reflecting the whole, yet insistently parts. Immersed in the rest of being.
To bring about a future where we can move beyond reclamation, beyond an endless cycle of loss and repair and bandaging new wounds, we need a reclamation of human values where we revision what we value and what we undervalue in the world, in ourselves, and in how we see ourselves as a species. What are some of the values and unconscious assumptions that lay at the root of our environmental dis-ease? To start with, we are entranced by our genius for categorizing and analyzing. We love to separate things. We separate water from fire, air and earth--but our waters can only be healed in relation to healthy soils and plants which filter them (in turn dependent upon the sun, microoganisms, etc). And we separate ourselves from those soils--they're dirty--repressing our own material nature, rather than acknowledge our ultimate dependence upon the earth for all our human needs.
Center for Land Use Interpretation
The Center operates with the belief that the physical landscape embodies an inscription of the society that operates within it, and that in reading and understanding this inscription comes a deeper awareness of the relationship between humans and their environment. Learning and teaching the vocabulary of this "language of land use" is one of the functions of the Center. Another is to discover ways of seeing the utilization of terrestrial and geographic resources that have yet to be considered.
It is my hypothesis that the public realm is in need of interventionist care. The visual arts with a history of value-based creative, cultural inquiry are well equipped to take on this role. Any role in an arena complicated by capital and politics must be met with a sustained autonomy through careful funding. We must enable an advocacy that is free to raise questions, paid to voice alternatives and be willing to embrace conflict as a tool in the support of the goals of an expanded public realm. This calls for an independent, citizen-professionala generalist with training in the techniques and concepts of creative inquiry, social-systems intervention and discursive democracy. The long-term goal is to develop a cultural discourse which will 1) expand the social and aesthetic interest in public space to the entire citizen body, 2) re-awaken the skills and belief in empirical analysis and critical dialogue and 3) disseminate the notion that "everyone is an artist."
Since 1985, water has been my instructor. It has transported me to unknown places both internally and in the world. It led me eventually to do projects that reach beyond my dreams. From sacred water sites to waste treatment plants, from engineered treatments to projects that employ the deepest knowledge of the properties of water, I learned about water. Water is such a miracle that to imagine it can be replaced by other liquids and that its quality can be compromised is suicidal. Water is the connecting media of our world. We can solve our water quality and quantity problems by connecting each with each other community by community.
It is now four year since The Living Water Garden was finished. Last November, I was hired by the Beijing Water Bureau to create with them an ecological design for the Wen Yu He river, one of the last running rivers in Beijing. We will start a demonstration project next week, May 9, 2002. As the only ecological designer working with a Bureau of 100 engineers in Beijing and 40 engineers on Dianshi Lake in Yunnan province, I've learned how tremendously efficient it is to reduce the world to a straight line. It remains to be seen whether the senior engineer who told me last week that I had changed them in six months was trying to reassure me or save me some face. Nonetheless, the dominant view that paves and straightens urban rivers lost yet another battle to systems planning and ecological design.
People at their best are like water
I believe that the new role of the artist is to create an art that questions
the status quo and the direction life has taken, the endless contradictions
we accept and approve, offering intelligent alternatives. In a time when
meaningful global communication and intelligent restructuring of our environment
is imperative, art can assume an important role. It can affect intelligent
collaboration and the integration of disciplines. It can offer skillful
and benign problem solving, motivate people and effect the future. Artistic
vision, image and metaphor are powerful tools of communication that can
become expressions of human values with profound impact on our consciousness
and collective destiny. The artists' vocabulary is limited only by
the depth and clarity of their vision and their ability to create true
syntheses well expressed.
In 1993, I became attracted by the idea that one gourmet mushroom, the oyster mushrooms, has the unique ability to decompose soil contaminated by PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) without getting toxic itself. Oyster-mushroom's mycellium splits off PCB-chemical structures into non-toxic substances, which could thus be used to recultivate industrial ground contaminated by PCB and to decompose several kinds of waste. Could this knowledge be transferred to temporary site specific artworks designed for mostly industrial sites and former army bases?
I want to create itemized systems of sewage plants for soil bioremediation.
I would thus like to research and develop additional biological systems.
Finally, art is becoming open to visions of awareness and responsibility
for environmental, social, and political issues related to an independent,
interdisciplinary international network. Such a co-operation between artists,
scientists, media, and the economy can use each artist's potential
for creativity for the future.
However, being in a position of safety from external threats, one assumes responsibility to consider issues beyond basic survival needs. Anyone reading these words is most likely in a relatively safe position. I'd like to address the reader with the question: What is your relationship with your environment? What choices do you make? I believe it is a misconception to think that what is "out there" is not connected to oneself.
This perception of disconnection allows space for neglect, abuse or disregard. In all probability, an individual (or people) that is disregarded will neglect him- or herself and abuse others, as well as the environment (intentionally or not). Only when a person is free from fear, can he or she make choices to improve the health of the environment.
With that being said, it is honestly incomprehensible to me how persons
in positions of power can continue to make decisions about issues that
have the largest impact on the health of our planet without realizing
that they have the greatest responsibility to protect it.
For four hundred years, immigrants have been bringing introduced species into this country. How were butterflies adjusting to these non-native plants as food sources? For this exhibition, I chose to work on Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera Japonica), one of the invasive species in Cincinnati. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an "invasive species" is defined as a species that is 1) non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration and, 2) whose introduction causes, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.
Japanese honeysuckle originally came from Asian countries. In Japan, we call the plant Sui-katsura, Kin-Gin-ka, or Nindou. The "sui" in Sui-katsura means sucking. It is similar to the English name honeysuckle. Kin-Gin-ka means gold and silver flower, because the flower would change white to yellow a few days after it bloomed. Nindou means patiently waiting out the winter because the plant is evergreen.
I don't have any emotional reaction to harvesting the plants and
making paper from them. The more time I spend with honeysuckle, the more
I think about other plants. Simply getting rid of the plant would not
be an ecological or environmental improvement. I am curious how other
plants grow beside honeysuckle. What kinds of plants exist beside honeysuckle?
How many kinds of native plants? How many of them are there? It is very
difficult to predict the future without knowing what is happening here
in the present.
Helen Mayer and Newton Harrison excerpt from There to Here (2002)
These works also proposed ways in which the harvesting processes, when appropriate, can be modified to preserve the life of the soil and the cycle of growth. To bring about these outcomes requires accepting limits to growth. Thinking about quality of life and well-being must, we believe, be disassociated from the modernist notion that continuous growth is the only avenue to well being. We believe currency reevaluation needs to happen in which the currency of growth and the acquisition of wealth is revalued, rebalanced, if you will, in terms of correlation with the currency of intrinsic worth and well-being. The proposal for Peninsula Europe that follows is our first approximation towards that end.
Working in Southern Mexico with ProNatura in the high oak forests of Chiapas, I found the birds who nest during summers in California oak forests. The largest prairie dog town left in this hemisphere is in Northern Mexico. Birds I know from Colorado winter there. My current projects link communities from Canada to South America through our shared wildlife. While assisting wildlife, I often design projects with components of sustainable economic development for humans. Some raise human awareness of our trans-species relationships by offering harmonious ways to live that relationship in the landscape.
The greatest challenge faced by other species is the need for change in human values and attitudes toward conflicting rights, wants, and needs. As I create structures for other species, I hope that art can encourage the shifts in attitude we must have for all to survive in the long range.
Basia Irland watermind
A plethora of toxins, medical waste, raw sewage, pesticides, fertilizers, hazardous chemicals and even drugs flushed down household toilets find their way into my system. Often, just as I am meandering naturally along, my way is abruptly stopped by huge concrete structures where I remain pent-up until someone else determines when it is time for release. Once unconfined and breathing easier, I pass through mountain wildflower meadows and cactus blooming deserts. An irrigation channel takes me to a field of corn, wheat, strawberries and cotton. I am used for turning turbines, cooling semi-conductors, powering steam engines, making a hot cup of tea and washing clothes, dishes, teeth and bodies.
I am ancientolder than trilobites, pyramids, fossilized shark's teeth and Cro-Magnon bone shards. I transmute. You will find me in worn down glaciers, rain, steam, snow, dew, mist and tears. Cascading over stones, merging into streams, forming lakes, evaporating, coalescing into clouds, and free-falling back to earth, my dance continues a timeless rhythm.
One example: "Tiger Tail Plaza" surrounds a former concrete reservoir framed by skyscrapers. The engineering has been reconfigured to become a major wildlife area, with native vegetation as food and habitat for waterfowl, fish, and amphibians. The "reservoir" now reconnects to its natural drainage wet meadow and cattail marshand tiger-stripe paths allow visitors to journey through shrubs, bulrushes, and marsh plants to open water where nesting-islands, waterfowl, and muskrats are seen. Tiger-paths move into a reforested valley, up the slopes of a mountain, and through a restored pine groveeach filled with sculptural park-features and living communities.
A "Tiger-Paw" spillwayincorporating bridge, seating, "Tiger-Claw" climbing structure, and ponds for flood control reconnects the renewed "reservoir" to its natural flowa stream cascading off the mountain and remnant floodplain. My educational program stresses the message of each animal here, the beloved tiger is extinct in Korea due to deforestation and habitat loss.
Public art has provided a way for me to get involved with projects that impact the local environment. In the Phoenix area most public art commissions are linked to some type of infrastructure improvement or municipal building project. I approach these large scale projects a bit like a detective investigating a crime scene. I ask questions and look for clues to determine where I can be effective. I am interested in finding ways to link the mechanical and engineered that we have come to depend on with the natural systems that we have come to take for granted. I look for ways to grapple with the dynamics of water in the desert landscape, like day lighting a life sustaining drip of gray water or, commandeering the condensation from an air conditioning unit and directing it to a thirsty tree.
My work ranges from small non-sanctioned acts (seed bombing) to funded,
sanctioned projects, and investigations. Respecting or restoring native
landscapes and wildlife corridors while educating the public on these
matters is of utmost importance in my art projects. I'm very interested
in the role of artist as social participant as a means to strengthen the
link between nature and culture.
I've watched land continuously disappear under asphalt, concrete,
housing tracts, box-malls, and freeway expansions in Southern California.
Native landscapes that took hundreds of years to establish are wiped out
in a day or two. This is a crime. We need to start treating the natural
environment with the same kind of love and respect, care, preservation,
and security that we currently allot to great artworks.
My work is a fusion of engineering, architectural planning, and art. I design and build wastewater treatment plants for cities and industries. Having a strong interest in horizontal architecture, I like things that stay on the ground. People have asked me if my work is public art. That is my intention, but I do not like to use those words because they segregate me from the working people. I recognized early on that to be successful in infrastructure work, one needs to be in touch and to have the support of the general public. The work I do is utilitarian in the most basic manner it is treating waste, and it is user-friendly and fairly simple to understand, but this is no ordinary task.
My background as a Vietnamese helped in the search for a simple and benevolent way to treat the pollution problems prevalent throughout the world. I am not interested in scale for the sake of scale. I am attempting to design and build meaningful infrastructure works to help people manage their waste problems. Wastewater is not a particularly glamorous thing, but it sure needs help. I devoted ten years of my life to develop and practice this stuff. The Lemna concept takes into consideration biology (plants to treat wastewater), engineering (ponds to contain waste), design (earth work and park environment), and socio-economics (cost/benefit, regulations, acceptance).
Scientists know the problems; lawyers have drawn up legislation to meet the problems; even engineers have come up with solutions, though too ill financed. It remains for a vehicle of group practice, such as Ocean Earth, to bring the visions of artists practically to bear. Visual and physical imagination have made the human race survive for millions of years: rely on it again. Our vehicle, functioning as an Architect, adopts the job description made by Leon Battista Alberti: that architecture has to do with the city, the inhabited region, and therein it makes the material and technical arrangements to assure (1) clean air, (2) clean water, (3) circulatory space, (4) defense. None of these tasks is adopted by those now professed to be "architects", like Frank Gehry. Practically, who is going to prepare the plans and start the construction of those technical means which assure, for a city like Cincinnati, or even a broader area like the entire Ohio River and then Gulf of Mexico basin, (1) energy sources which don't pollute the air (or soil), (2) uplands with beaver, buffalo, prairie dogs, and other "keystone" species, as well as forests, for healthy water cycles, (3) infrastructure for easy movement yet low impact on animal habitat, (4) public knowledge of material threats to territory, like acid rain from up-wind, fossil-warmed rivers in Siberia, or desertification (hence misery) in lands breeding alleged terrorists.
On the latter point, Ocean Earth has been a world pioneer: bringing to
mass media, for global decision-making, the often-concealed truth about
the Persian Gulf, the Libyan Sahara, the Dead Sea Basin and the Levant,
and even about preventable deadly events like Chernobyl and toxic micro-algal
blooms. The power structure in most sovereign states today has been afraid
of what we attempt as Architect. That should well be: the territories
they now govern are in physical, ecological decline. For four hundred
years European civilizations, armed with technologies born in the Renaissance,
have swept over the planet, and while they have afforded longer human
life, net, they have sharply reduced chances for other species. What were
once a glorious Americas, teeming with buffalo, antelope, crocodiles and
fish, has become an expanding Desert. Restoring original animal numbers,
along flyways and down rivers to the sea, remainsas in 1980, when
we startedthe No. 1 task of the Architect today. As Spenser wrote,
"Art is that by which Nature makes more Nature." Well?
As part of a permanent art installation, recreational, trafficked, and
reflective areas can be integrated into wildlife habitat and the re-establishment
of wildlife corridors by the sculptural use of local rocks and clustered
indigenous plantings. My premise is that natural elements can be used
to enhance environmental perception and understanding while creating a
comfortable and inviting, human scaled ambience. The public works I have
created used local boulders with native vegetation to affect naturalistic
but monumental groupings. Elements used include exposed bedrock, water
and landscaping that echoes the shapes and habitat elements of the surrounding
area. These are integrated into larger components as buffer zones that
re-create natural eco-tones, thus serving to sustain the natural infrastructure.
In the early 1970s and continuing to the present, I have been involved in an ongoing series of publicly sited temporary (sometimes becoming "permanent") projects I have called "temporary prototypes." The work in this "laboratory" took on a form of agit-prop, melding social issues into a poetic aesthetic. Over the years, these projects have served me and others by informing and expanding notions of work that works in the public realm. First Avenue (Seattle, WA 1978 to present) has hosted a number of innovations. Expanding the pallet of tree types, bench designs and other amenities, and innovative approaches to community design are a few of the issues involved in this work in progress. The Composting Commode (1978-1997) originally installed on First Avenue addressed the issues of a lost resource, the enrichment of tree pits, and gave the homeless the most basic of common decency. It was more than a public toilet, it was a strategic aesthetic for a compassionate urban design. Shared Clothesline, five stories between a condominium and a fixed income housing unit, illustrated that pretty banners (the usual solution) are not enough to reinvigorate a neighborhood being repopulated. The clothesline also functioned as an Aeolian Harp while the lines were bare.
Most recently, I have participated as an artist/consultant on the University
of Washington/Tacoma Campus and Kings Cross Railroad Lands in London.
Both of these projects exist on antiquated industrial lands awaiting their
awakening. Mitigating the history of negligence and creating a holistic
future are the challenges. The making of the new University Campus could
be a laboratory, since architectural and landscape students rarely have
the opportunity to document and work on a site that is both meaningful
and in a state of flux. Environmental scientists, sociologists, anthropologists,
writers, artists, and historians have equally rare opportunities to perform
research and to participate in the growth of a living organism. The Kings
Cross Design Team set goals to "develop popular, practical, and innovative
links between art, technology, and ecology."
Alan Sonfist, excerpt from Natural Phenomena as Public Monuments (1968)
Since the city is becoming more and more polluted, we could build monuments
to the historic air. Museums could be built that would recapture the smells
of earth, trees, and vegetation in different seasons and at different
historical times, so that people would be able to experience what has
been lost. A museum of air sponsored by the U.N. can show different air
of different countries.
Susan Leibovitz Steinman
In 1987, after 18 years as a professional ceramic artist/sculptor, I
began creating sculpture and installations to explore the links between
local daily life and environmental issues. For me, this venue retains
a healthy ceramist work ethic: community-oriented, earth-based, labor-intensive,
and direct. More than visualizations of obvious connections (domestic
to industrial; natural to human design), this genre can critique precarious
situations while implying hope through community action.
Working with familiar objects and industrial materials culled from local waste streams, and adding organic elements such as endangered native grasses or fruit trees, I construct both large scale installations and human-scale assemblage in publicly accessible locations. Most are temporary. Many are audience interactive. Collaborationswith public school students, community action groups, community college horticulture students, public infrastructure staff, and other artistsare essential to this methodology.
The fruits of this work are the one-to-one and public discussions it
generates. The best of assemblage makes extraordinary connections between
ordinary materials. Collaborative assemblage installation in community
settings with indigenous materials can create positive connections between
us and our environment. It's a possibility.
Superflex excerpt from Appropriate Technology and Design
...A biogas plant is correctly operated and maintained if it satisfies the user's need for recognition and convenience...Biogas plants are appropriate to the technical abilities and economic capacity of Third World families. Biogas technology is extremely appropriate to the ecological and economic demands of the future. However, a biogas plant seldom meets the owner's needs for status and recognition. Biogas technology has a poor image. "Biogas plants are built by dreamers for poor people." If you do not want to appear poor, you do not buy a biogas plant. The image of the biogas plant must be improved. The biogas designer makes a contribution by creating a good design... As an investment, a biogas plant is in competition with bicycle or moped, a radio set or diesel pump, a buffalo or an extension to the farm-house. The economic benefits of a biogas plant are greater than those of most competing investments.
Upon my return to Pittsburgh I found myself starting an environmental law practice in a City struggling to redefine itself in the post-industrial world. It was a poster child for the scar of brownfields, its rivers lined with closed steel mills and railroads, and tributary streams buried in culverts or lined with slag.
Change needed to happen quickly for the region to compete in the new economy. But the inertia of policy, law and professional disciplines was making it difficult to transform our industrial lands to new public space. The artists at the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry provided a powerful mechanism for intervening community, aesthetics, and criticism into critical public decision-making affecting the future of Nine Mile Run and the slag pile it bifurcates.
To my joy, I learned that with access, and informed dialogue, an enlightened community can force policy changes much faster than the processes of legislation, regulation, or litigation. As a result of the community dialogues, concept designs, and restoration plans sponsored by the Nine Mile Run Greenway, a stream is saved, a verdant valley restored, and an urban habitat created.
The most important result may be that the Nine Mile Run Greenway Project process created stewards with the tools and knowledge to prevent a repeat of the environmental disrespect of the last century. By encouraging the community to become engaged with the decision-makers, the participants became engaged in the restoration of the valley. As a result, the ideas developed in the community dialogue and set forth in the conceptual plans, have a good chance of becoming real, and staying healthy.
Mierle Laderman Ukeles
This installation encapsulates optimism about transformationwhat many people thought this site could become one year ago, before September 11, 2001, before the landfill was re-opened to receive the debris of the World Trade Center. Since receiving this commission in 1989, I had looked forward to being a part of the group who would transform the world's biggest landfill into a healed public place. Now part of it will be a cemetery.
In 1991, the city of Cambridge accepted my project, Turnaround/Surround, for Danehy Park, which I hope to finish by 2003. I've now worked on the Schuylkill River project for about 5 years, the same amount of time that the Hiriya Landfill project in Israel has occupied me. Has this become a short length of time?
I long for studio art or museum art where a piece begins, middles, and ends inside a time when I'm still sort of the same person. But then the land calls, especially the screwed up land, the messed up water, the clogged up air..... Many of my works haven't happened or haven't yet happened. Or are slowly slowly unfolding. So who are they for? Who am I, as an artist, in all of this?
Shai Zakai excerpt from Concrete Creek (1999-2002)
Rather than threats of being fined or standing trial (the current situation), I opted for the identification and collaborative approach. This is an eco-centric, eco-feminist approach which regards the "rehabilitation" of both man and nature the stream, organic and inorganic elements found in it and its flora and fauna with equal importance. Physical work collecting the waste, hewing, filing, surveying, photographing - is an essential part of this course of action.