e c o v e n t i o n

Buy this book

foreword

section 1: introduction
  getting it built
  land art, earthworks...

section 2: activism...
  direct engagements
  breaking out of the box...
  research centers
  community action

section 3: valuing anew...
  sites and non-sites
  itenerant nature
  agents of perpetual change

section 4: biodiversity...
  habitat architecture
  ocean habitats
  trans-species art
  spying for nature
  species reclamation

section 5: urban infrastructure...
  urban forests
  artist-in-residence
  waste treatment
  sustainable 'hoods

section 6: reclamation...
  watershed management...
  uniting human intellect
  unspoiling soil

section 7: notes

section 8: a short history...

section 9: philosophical statements

section 10: glossary

section 11: critical diversity

greenmuseum.org



ecoartspace


The Contemporary Arts Center

 
 

section 9: artist's philosophical statements

AMD&ART
AMD&ART is a community-driven design team. Our goal is to give voice and form to community aspirations for their spaces, environment, and future. Our challenge is to work closely with the community to bring successful results, rather than tell them what to do. Each contributor--the community, scientist, historian, designer, and artist must each consider the design successful. Each member of the design team (the historian, scientist, sculptor, and landscape designer), who worked most closely with Vintondale, never compromised his/her disciplines, but each had to accommodate the others'. There are no singular or formally sufficient members of the design team or the staff, only necessary members willing to contribute what their perspective, knowledge, and talent can bring to the larger whole. This is not an easy process, but the results are worth the effort.
AMD&ART's recently completed Vintondale, a large 35-acre art project, can provide a viable model for others to follow across the Appalachian coalfields. Our entire staff has been AmeriCorps members of great talent. Our director has been a volunteer throughout the years of project development and implementation, and our design team has functioned more like a visiting consulting service. Our website and printed materials serve as a kind of intellectual catalogue, providing other communities ideas and new perspectives. AMD&ART are determined to exchange the orange stains of a conflicted past for the clean water of a better future.

Brandon Ballengée
My work attempts to blur the already ambiguous boundaries between science and art. I use data obtained from biological field research as the basis for my ecological art. Since 1995, I have been studying declining populations and deformities in amphibians. These investigations have involved collaborations with numerous researchers throughout the United States. A recent project involves investigating wetlands in central Ohio with Dr. James Barron, Biologist at Ohio University, Lancaster. Dr. Barron and I are both field observers for the United States Geological Survey's North American Reporting Center for Amphibian Malformation (NARCAM). All aspects of the project are being documented and data obtained from our field work will be submitted to NARCAM. All deformed specimens will be collected and sent to Dr. Stanley Sessions, Developmental Biologist at Hartwick College, for further examination. Dr. Sessions has conducted extensive research on amphibian limb development and the abnormalities that can occur during cellular regeneration.
As a component to the Ecovention exhibition, at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, Dr. Sessions and I will web-cast an actual laboratory experiment involving mechanical disruption in developing amphibian limb buds. There is a significant amount of information not yet known about amphibian regeneration. Many of the malformations we have found in the wild can be induced through injuries caused by parasitic infestation. The intention of exhibiting our experiment is not to "shock" or "disgust" the viewer, but to inform viewers about the complex growth processes of other living organisms. We also hope to demonstrate the type of experiments necessary in order to understand what is happening in the environment around us.

Betty Beaumont
The first industrial revolution is now officially over, and another one is beginning to take form. It is in this space, this gap or cusp between these revolutions that my work has taken place over the past thirty-three years. It is in this new transformative space that I will continue to work. It is a political space that has the potential to align and integrate the ways we support life economically and ecologically. In order to imagine this space, it is vital to change our belief systems. I am suggesting a cultural transformation that will encourage our community to consider nature as a mainstay of the human value system.

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)
Creativity isn't the monopoly of artists. This is the crucial fact I've come to realize, and this broader concept of creativity is my concept of art. When I say everybody is an artist, I mean everybody can determine the content of life in his particular sphere, whether in painting, music, engineering, caring for the sick, the economy or whatever. All around us the fundamentals of life are crying out to be shaped or created. But our idea of culture is severely restricted because we've always applied it to art. The dilemma of museums and other cultural institutions stems from the fact that culture is such an isolated field, and that art is even more isolated: an ivory tower in the field of culture surrounded first by the whole complex of culture and education, and then by the media which are also part of culture. We have a restricted idea of culture which debases everything; and it is the debased concept of art that has forced museums into their present weak and isolated position. Our concept of art must be universal and have the interdisciplinary nature of a university, and there must be a university department with a new concept of art and science.

Jackie Brookner

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 for Land Use Interpretation is a research organization that examines the nature and extent of human interaction with the earth's surface. The Center embraces a multidisciplinary approach to fulfilling the stated mission, which is to "increase and diffuse knowledge about how the nation's lands are apportioned, utilized, and perceived." To these ends, the Center employs conventional research and information processing methodology as well as nontraditional interpretive tools. The Center collects, catalogues, interprets, and disseminates information about the contemporary landscape, through its archives and public programs that include exhibitions, publications, and tours.
The Center also exists to stimulate discussion, thought, and general interest in the contemporary landscape. Neither an environmental group nor an industry affiliated organization, the work of the Center can integrate the many approaches to land use – the many perspectives of the landscape– into a single view that emphasizes the shared, common ground.

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.

Tim Collins
As I read my way through the various disciplines which attend restoration ecology, it seems clear to me that the role of the artist, as cultural worker (and a participant in the emerging scientific and cultural effort to restore and steward nature), is to seek new relationships to experience, to seek the properties which will define the perception of systems, which provide the causal relationship in the experience of aesthetic diversity.

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-professional–a 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."

Betsy Damon
Water is life: African Proverb.
Where is your well, your source of water for your home? Who cares for and shares this source? What does your community need to know to protect and restore their water? Why is this information not common knowledge?

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
They serve as they go along
Like water they seek their own level
Loving living close to the earth
Living clear down in their hearts.
– Lao Tse

Agnes Denes
My work ranges between individual creation and social consciousness. It addresses the challenges of global survival and is often monumental in scale. I plant forests on abused land, grow fields of grain in the heart of megacities and create long range master plans for large spaces in need of restructuring.
These works restore and enhance natural environments and benefit future generations with a meaningful legacy. They allow nature to speak its own special language articulated through human intelligence. Rice/Tree/Burial was my first ecological site work in l968 that announced my commitment to environmental concerns, and the creation of a new aesthetic.

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.

Georg Dietzler
My artistic work follows two directions. Both are rooted in a sense of social and political responsibility. One direction started in 1981 with an exploration of different aspects of nature. The second began in 1991 in response to "Operation Desert Storm," the focal point being war, violence and destruction. My work is still a kind of exploration of art, nature and ecology. Developed from sculptural works, the interior works relate to architecture and site specific exteriors, and the environmental works to conceptual pieces, which include current interdisciplinary biotechnological environments and interactive sculptures.

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.

Tera Galanti
I feel somewhat self-conscious discussing the scope of the environmental problems that we face on the planet at this time. Hesitation comes from realizing that my own experience and the culture in which I live frame my point of view. If I lived in a so-called third world country or even in a similar condition in my own country, I would not have the privilege of addressing any issues outside of my own and my family's survival.

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.

Reiko Goto
My artistic subject matter is the life of nature. By contemplating nature, I seek to renew my own identity. When I was working on a permanent public art piece, Butterfly Garden at the Yerba Buena Gardens in downtown San Francisco between 1991-1993, the issue of native plants versus non-native plants was a very heated subject among plant and other environmental organizations. I was spending a lot of time investigating what butterflies were using what plants to get nectar and lay eggs in urban landscapes. I found that many city butterflies were using introduced species.

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)
For Peninsula Europe, we propose a new form, a stability domain. This would be based on the principles that were variously expressed in The Serpentine Lattice; The Shape of Turned Earth: A Brown Coal Park for Südraum Leipzig: The Mulde Einzugsgebiet; Breathing Space for the Sava River; A Vision for the Green Heart of Holland; Casting a Green Net: Can it be we are seeing a Dragon? As well as Future Garden Parts 1, 2 and 3 and inferred in The Sacramento Meditations; Tibet is the High Ground or The Lagoon Cycle and other works. These variously, sometimes only implicitly, proposed new ways of thinking about niches in the biosphere wherein cultural processes and forms can, over time, become nurturing and wastes can become either harmless or food for other lives.

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.

Lynne Hull
My sculpture and installations provide shelter, food, water, or space for wildlife, an eco-atonement for their loss of habitat to human encroachment. Research and consultation are essential to project success. I prefer direct collaboration with wildlife specialists, environmental interpreters, landscape architects, and local people for design integration. The artworks function in the temporal gap between the time reclamation of a damaged site begins and the time nature recovers. The impact of natural, economic, and political events on wildlife continuously becomes more evident. Working with two Nairobi artists in Kenya, a country with fabulous large-scale biodiversity, I could see the coming impact of a human population boom. In Northern Ireland, we created spawning pools for salmon reintroduced when downstream cleanup made their survival possible, but we lost otter habitat structures to British army explosives.

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
I listen closely to the languages spoken along my shores as I flow toward the sea. My body is small, only a tiny moist molecule. Millions of years I have journeyed as a rivulet, creek, and stream, while wild tributaries, gaining in speed and strength, flow into me. Along the way, I supply recreation for bears, zebras, dogs, people, garter snakes, and flamingos; habitat for otters, platypus, crocodiles and salmon; drinking water for cities and falcons. Continuing past the estuary, I am greeted by dolphin, phosphorescent plankton, whales, jellyfish and seaweed.

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 ancient–older 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.

Patricia Johanson
Ulsan Park combines ecological restoration with art, culture, public infrastructure, recreation, and education. The challenge for this 912-acre site in Korea's leading industrial city was to create an island of sustainable nature while serving the needs of a million people. The Ulsan Park program required museums, playgrounds, shuttle-buses, and an Imax Theater, so my design needed to interweave major structures with restored ecosystems–marsh, pond, intermittent creek, floodplain, meadows, upland forest–using "art" to access and interpret nature. Because Koreans traditionally loved and worshipped nature, images for my design are based on animals, fish, and insects from Korea's myths, "Minhwa" folk tales, and living landscape. Thus cultural history is linked to ecological restorations within Ulsan Park, protecting and transmitting genetic information to the future.

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 marsh–and 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 grove–each filled with sculptural park-features and living communities.

A "Tiger-Paw" spillway–incorporating bridge, seating, "Tiger-Claw" climbing structure, and ponds for flood control– reconnects the renewed "reservoir" to its natural flow–a 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.

Laurie Lundquist
I live and work in metropolitan Phoenix, one of the fastest growing regions in the country. The control of water is an essential feature in this Southwestern desert, where large aqueducts channel millions of gallons of water into Central Arizona everyday. It seems pretty clear that the place I call home is accruing ecological debt on a grand scale. As a resident and a consumer, I am keenly aware that I am part of the problem. As an artist, I am always on the lookout for ways to affect change. Ecological concerns began surfacing in my studio work shortly after I moved to Arizona. The ironies and contradictions evident in the desert cityscape provided good targets for critique. Then I encountered the work of artists like Helen and Newton Harrison, Buster Simpson and Mierle Laderman Ukeles. The integrity and persistence of their inquiry really raised the bar for me. I was no longer satisfied with a theoretical critique that did not offer solutions.

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.

Kathryn Miller
Since I can't decide which is more important–art or ecology–I incorporate both into my work. Artists can bridge the gap between science and technology to help interpret nature in a more user-friendly way. In the best-case scenario artists can educate, entertain, provoke thought and offer new ways of looking at things.

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.
While my projects are a less-than-flattering critique of our actions, they are usually coated in humor. This helps engage people in a dialog. We can laugh at ourselves and then fix things. It is clear though, that whatever we do to our water, soil, air, oceans and bio-diversity, we do to ourselves because there is no separation. We are all connected and interdependent.

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.

Viet Ngo
Water, water, water everywhere! What a drag to be wet all the time. Yes, water is quite an important element in the life of an average Vietnamese such as me. I never questioned up until now whether this subconscious background has anything to do with my passion for slippery things.

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).

Ocean Earth
Ocean Earth Development Corporation (OEDC), as a for-profit company, is not an "Artist"–at least not in the usual sense of an individual who makes paintings, drawings, or sculptures to express his or her personal vision. Rather, it's a vehicle, created in the late 20th century, for realizing in our world, in our cityscape, landscape and media-scape, what has been recently envisioned by Artists. In prior centuries, this vehicle was provided by the Monarch. He or she would hire Architects to arrange the cityscape, landscape and media-scape using, of course, what were considered to be the best Artists. In our times, however, a profession called Art History has arisen, reducing the work of Artists to their individual expressions as manifested in publications and exhibitions, almost solely in the context of High Art. The natural function of Art is lost. That function appears in a review of original art, so-called cave art. Then, the artists produced wall drawings or sand paintings, sometimes just diagrams of surrounding terrain, meant to assure success in the hunt and forage. If there were no success, and if the tribesmen returned to their cave empty-handed, then, well, the artists would be replaced. In recent centuries, coincidental with the rise of Art History, there's been such a forgetting of Nature that the entirety of civilization threatens to ruin the planet, creating such deserts in the seas and on the land that nowhere can hunters and foragers come back home with enough.

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, remains–as in 1980, when we started–the No. 1 task of the Architect today. As Spenser wrote, "Art is that by which Nature makes more Nature." Well?

Aviva Rahmani
My ecological art focuses on the healing environmental effect of cumulative, triggering individual actions. My work is predicated on a commitment to a restorationist ethic in which the beauty of nature segues naturally into human created works, seamlessly blending and balancing human and wildland needs. In these areas, the light, sound, and other "formal" and sensory effects become performative manifestations of a spiritual practice. My particular interest and expertise is in coastal ecologies, which represent not only the meeting of waters but are emblematic of fertility and promise. In public art installations, small interventionist strategies function as wildlife corridors as well as aesthetic strategies. In creating public art, my goal is not merely to make a visual statement but to look at the entire landscape, find a critical trigger point that could affect the whole, and then develop something that focuses that healing energy. In areas that have been previously filled or disrupted, the local coastal geomorphology and vegetation can be day-lighted and focused to become a serene extension of a contemplative park for local families, tourists, and other visitors.

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.

Buster Simpson
I prefer working in public domains. The complexity of any site is its asset, to build upon, to distill, to reveal its layers of meaning. Process becomes part and parcel. Site conditions, social and political realities, history, existing phenomena, and ecology are the armature. The challenge is to navigate along the edge between provocateur and pedestrian, art as gift and poetic utility.

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)
Public monuments traditionally have celebrated events in human history– acts of heroism important to the human community. Increasingly, as we come to understand our dependence on nature, the concept of community expands to include non-human elements. Civic monuments, then, should honor and celebrate the life and acts of the total community, the ecosystem, including natural phenomena. Especially within the city, public monuments should recapture and revitalize the history of the natural environment of that location. As in war monuments that record the life and death of soldiers, the life and death of natural phenomena such as rivers, springs, and natural outcroppings need to be remembered. Historical documents preserve observations of New York City's natural past. When the first European settlers arrived, they saw the natural paradise of the Native Americans.
In a city, public art can be a reminder that the city was once a forest or a marsh. Just as some trees are named after trees, street names could be extended to other plants, animals, and birds. Areas of the city could be renamed after the predominant natural phenomena that existed there.

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.
Other projects can reveal the historical geology or terrain. Submerged outcroppings that still exist in the city can be exposed. Glacial rocks can be saved as monuments to a dramatic natural past. The sounds, controlled by the local community, change according to the natural pattern of the animals and the rhythmic sounds return to the city. Natural scents can evoke the past as well...Public monuments embody shared values.

Susan Leibovitz Steinman
My commitment is to employ my art skills in the service of community health and empowerment, urban greening, and environmental education. I am most interested in public art projects where art functions as an integral breathing part of daily community life. I believe communities are best served when stakeholders participate (at varying levels, according to time, interest, abilities) in both the decision making and the art making.

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.
Over the last 12+ years, the large scale outdoor projects have matured into clear visual symbols of ecological regeneration and restoration, positively reinforcing the use of indigenous plants and recycled materials in public urban venues.

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. Collaborations–with public school students, community action groups, community college horticulture students, public infrastructure staff, and other artists–are 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 technology is appropriate if it gains acceptance. So far, biogas plants have attracted little support. The simple biogas plants available up to now have presumably been inappropriate. Bicycles are appropriate: when someone buys a bicycle, one is proud. It is a sign of advancement, of personal progress...If one gets on the bicycle and falls off because one does not know how to ride it, it is not appropriate to one's abilities. One will then learn to ride it, and thus adapt to one's cherished bicycle...If the bicycle breaks down, and one has no money to spare to have it mended, one saves on other expenditures, because the bicycle is important for one's pride and convenience.

...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.

John Stephens
The summer after completing my law studies, I bicycled from New York to San Francisco to appreciate the culture and nature of our country. Among the nuances and beauties of our diverse landscape, I viewed the efforts communities were making to reconnect with their natural resources at the close of the industrial age. Towns large and small were building trails, riverfront parks, and urban forests to create attractive communities.

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
What time frame are we talking about here in art with/for/of the "environment"? With the consecutive civil rights/human rights/planet rights movements of the '60s, I thought we'd fix things, one after the other, until the world was healed. My children cannot believe that I was so naïve. Now I realize we were full of hubris, because we wanted things fixed NOW, i.e. in my lifetime.
Penetration and Transparency: Morphed, my 6-channel video installation opening this week at Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island, captures 21 "pathfinders" describing their typical path through Fresh Kills Landfill. This installation demonstrates that there are many ways to see this site, poised at a cusp of transformation. This installation is the result of Phase I of a Percent for Art commission for the Fresh Kills Landfill, a site as big as 2.5 Central Parks. I've already worked for a year on the video with videomakers Kathy Brew and Roberto Guerra. Five more Phases, at least, are still to come over the next 8 years.

This installation encapsulates optimism about transformation–what 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)
In my quests for visual expressions which would bring man and the environment closer together, I have conceived of a reclamation plan which operates concurrently on the physical level –cleansing the stream, and on the social and spiritual level – healing people from their environmental indifference.
The quarry workers, welders, concrete bridge builders, cement-mixer drivers, foreign workers, Bedouins, moshav members, Palestinians, as well as the quarry and factory owners all took part in the artistic creation, whether knowingly or unknowingly. I believe that transforming them into "fleeting artists" makes it possible to put issues they have never addressed before on the agenda, thus inspiring a changed state of mind, and consequently, a higher level of awareness.

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.

>>back to top<<

 

Home section 1 section2 section 3 section 4 section 5 section 6 section 7 section 8 section 9 section 10 section 11