The ecoartspace blog will feature artist profiles and reviews of exhibitions, as well as writings on ecological systems. We are interested in presenting work that artists are making in collaboration with scientists, and poetics including spoken word, opera, and performative work. Painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography, drawing, and printmaking are all welcome media. Speculative architecture and public art are also encourage. Submissions for posts can be sent to We look forward to hearing from you!

You can access the previous ecoartspace blog HERE (2008-2019)

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  • Wednesday, August 18, 2021 10:32 AM | Anonymous

    Torkwase Dyson, Ramond (Water Table), 2017. In this series and others, Dyson transforms geologic cartographic systems into abstractions of earth's interconnected layers, exploring how natural and human-devised borders and structures impact Black bodies and psyches.

    Ecological Art and Black Americans’ Relationships to the Land

    A Review Essay by Mary Jo Aagerstoun, PhD

    Hood, Walter, and Grace Mitchell Tada, eds. Black Landscapes Matter. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2020. 200 pages. Color and black and white illustrations. $35 (paperback)

    Taylor, Dorceta E. Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility. New York: New York University Press, 2014. 342 pages. $25.45 (paperback)

    Ruffin, Kimberly N. Black on Earth: African American Ecoliterary Traditions. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2010. 212 pages. Black and white illustrations. $22.95 (paperback)

    Deming, Alison H. and Lauret E. Savoy, eds. Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2002, revised 2011. 337 pages. $22.00 (paperback)

    Savoy, Lauret E. Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2015. 225 pages. $16.95 (paperback)

    I am considering these texts as research for a book I am writing and to help advance my anti-white-supremacy self-education. In my research so far, I have found few Black (1) artists who engage with environmental and climate disruption issues in established, fully ecological art ways. I wanted to understand why.

    Works by artists of any ethnic and racial background that fit within the currently established definitions of ecological art are few. The number of Black artists’ projects that address environmental crises in the ways described by this definition is also small. Fewer still meet my (evolving) criteria for inclusion in my book. There are barriers responsible for these small numbers. As in many other US political, economic, and cultural arenas, these barriers become more formidable for Black artists and other artists of color.

    There have been several definitions of ecological art over the movement’s several-decade history. The most recent states, in part, that the practice:

    ...seeks to preserve, remediate and/or vitalize the life forms, resources and ecology of Earth, by applying the principles of ecosystems to living species and their habitats throughout the lithosphere, atmosphere, biosphere, and hydrosphere...involving functional ecological systems-restoration, as well as socially engaged, activist, community-based interventions.

    My criteria (so far) for inclusion of projects in the book are not limited to this definition, but include other measures which are in active development and interrogation as I continue my research. The ones that will likely endure (3) will assess projects concerning whether they:

    --directly address the destructive effects of the Anthropocene;
    --counter baked-in “de-futuring” which design theorist Tony Fry identifies as a key characteristic of our anthropocentricity;
    --contribute to the “Great Turning” envisioned by Buddhist eco-philosopher and activist Joanna Macy;
    --“stay with the trouble” as scientist-philosopher Donna Haraway has urged in her book of that title;  
    --follow the directions suggested by the indigenous poet-scientist Robin Kimmerer in several texts, lectures and interviews; and
    --foster “flourishing”–a concept defined by ecofeminist philosopher Chris Cuomo.

    The works by African American artists I have considered closely to date include:

    --The philosophically dense abstractions and performances of Torkwase Dyson that address natural and human-devised above- and underground structures as well as lines and borders, exploring their relationships to constriction and freedom for the Black body and psyche in motion;
    --The lyrical, often dream-like landscape-based photo-narratives of Allison Janae Hamilton that encourage viewers to interrogate their reactions to Black people in nonurban, often “wild” settings;
    --The community-embeddedness of LaToya Ruby Frazier’s documentary photographic projects, especially her 2016 Flint Is Family, which offers portraits of Black resilience in toxic landscapes;
    --Pope.L.’s Flint Water project and his other recent works about water;
    --Seitu Jones’s currently in-process intervention ARTARK on the Mississippi River near his home in Minnesota, that is part of his ongoing focus on igniting community engagement with Black justice issues.  ARTARK seeks to connect Black communities in St. Paul with the Mississippi River they often only see when crossing a bridge;
     --Calida Rawles’ portrayals of  black bodies immersed in water that is both menacing and cradling;
    --Jordan Weber’s gardens that heal soil and Black youth; and
    --Walter Hood’s significant public art that seeks to return visibility and dignity back to landscapes long-neglected precisely because they were where Black people have lived and died. 

    The works of these Black artists have taught me that the priorities expressed in them are often in dialogue with the long history of Black community-engaging environmental justice activism dating back to Emancipation. They have helped me understand it will be necessary to reconsider how the established criteria and definitions of ecological art, as well as my intent to sharpen and expand them, will resonate differently with Black populations’ lived experiences. I needed help to do this.

    Enter the five books I will discuss here:

    The 2017 Hood and Tada anthology Black Landscapes Matter offers “notes from the field” by Walter Hood and other Black landscape architects and urban planners. Hood makes clear in the Introduction how significant and wide-ranging in kind and location are the Black landscapes explored by his contributors:

    Black landscapes matter because they . . . bear the detritus of diverse origins: from the plantation landscape of slavery, to freedman villages and new towns, to agrarian indentured servitude . . . northern and western migrations . . . [and to] segregated urban landscapes . . . [Their] constant erasure is a call to arms.    

    In Hood’s own public art and place-making work, design aesthetic and amelioration intent merge with memorial gesture. They honor and bring to visibility Black landscapes that have been consistently devalued and erased of all references to the histories of African American habitation and use. A recent example is Hood’s landscape design for the International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, currently under construction at Gadsden’s Wharf. The location is stained by its connection to slavery.  For several years beginning in 1803, during a short hiatus in Congressional bans on the importation of Africans for enslavement, over forty thousand Africans were brought to the United States through Gadsden’s Wharf (4). Hood’s design seeks to elevate the infamous history of the site, transforming it into an opportunity to reflect upon and honor African American ancestors’ struggles, suffering, and contributions.

    Hood is committed to memorializing erased Black landscapes and reclaiming the Black “mundane.” Hood identifies this “mundane” as omnipresent objects in urban neighborhoods (like power boxes, light posts, street signs, curbs and gutters) that activates space in places important for generations of Black people. Hood’s projects are documented in twenty pages of color photographs, organized in sections labeled The Everyday and Mundane, Lifeways, and Commemoration.

    Beyond attention to Hood’s own work, the book offers points of view about specific Black landscapes across the United States, seeking to demonstrate their worth: that they “matter.” In prose both passionate and precise, Hood’s commentators reveal the pain, defeat, determination, and progress African American communities have experienced and instigated on rural land, in Black towns, in urban neighborhoods, and on historically Black college campuses. The book also details essential initiatives by Black planners and landscape architects in North and South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee, Detroit, the San Francisco Bay Area, Cleveland, Atlanta, and many more locations, marking the extent and depth of the Black Diaspora across diverse US landscapes and documenting efforts to bring them to visibility.

    In Hood’s anthology, and in the other texts discussed here, it becomes clear that the work of making Black landscapes matter to the American culture at large is never complete. The books describe how invisibility has too often overtaken brave, hard-won initiatives. The intent to honor the manifold experiences that inflect the spaces historically occupied by Black people has too often not been sustained, for many reasons. The invisibility that consistently overtakes these landscapes contributes to their ongoing devaluation and exploitation, and to the marginalization of the Black populations who have lived and are living on them.

    Dorceta E. Taylor’s (5) mammoth accomplishment, Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility documents this oscillation of Black landscapes from invisibility and erasure to vivid and instructive presence and back to invisibility again. Taylor, a sociologist and professor at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, offers readers an exhaustively researched, carefully categorized bibliographic essay of stunning force. 

    Written in terse and carefully chosen sociological language, the book’s presentation ranges widely—and tellingly—over tough questions: Why are people of color predominant in polluted, health-risky places? Who can leave such places, and why do so many Blacks and other minority groups stay in such situations? Which came first to these sites, pollution or people of color? Is it a coincidence that dirty and dangerous work is so often located in or near communities of color?

    Taylor offers decades of research on Black communities that continue to be affected by toxic industrial processes and waste. We see that courageous activism has at times successfully daylighted toxicity and its effects and even spawned some cleanup activity. However, these successes are too often momentary. Taylor’s narrative describes many positive moments as well as the too-frequent subsequent re-toxification and reemergence of declining health and economic woe.

    A 2015 review of Taylor’s book in the Natural Resources Journal concludes that:

    Toxic Communities is packed with valuable information that will appeal to professional lawyers, sociologists, political scientists, activists, community organizers, and others with a direct interest in environment and social justice. By focusing on facts, however, the stories of real people are at times lost. Much of the book may be difficult and less engaging for environmental justice novices. Those with a professional interest in the field, however, will likely embrace this book as a valuable resource, akin to an encyclopedia of environmental justice research. (6)

    Kimberly N. Ruffin’s Black on Earth: African American Ecoliterary Traditions explicates first-person accounts, fiction, and poetry providing the real-people stories missing in Taylor’s book. Ruffin’s strong argument is that the varied examples of Black eco-literature she has selected to analyze, ranging from enslavement to the current climate crises, demonstrate African Americans’ longstanding ambivalence toward land and nature.

    Ruffin contends that land has been experienced by Black people in the United States as both burden and beauty. She argues that the burden experience has resulted in the marginalization of Black people in relation to the environmental movement’s call to responsible action. She asserts that marginalized Black people are unlikely to address the damaged land and rapidly deteriorating biodiversity of areas beyond the places they inhabit because they “will have little interest in ecological duties and responsibilities if flaws in human ethics continue to go unaddressed.”

    Ruffin suggests that art interventions, like the eco-literature in her book, can be a bridge to an expanded human and land ethic, “set[ting] the stage for the ecological righting that needs to take place if the human race is to survive.” She argues that for Black people to become involved ecological citizens will require “difficult, indeed burdensome, discussions and decisions, [but] it also gives us a reason for egalitarian celebrations of our ecological embeddedness.” She calls for many ways to engage and activate community to this end. She asserts that confrontation will be necessary, but this must be joined by enjoyment and celebration. We must embrace both burden and beauty.

    Ruffin begins and ends her book with references to trees, emblems of her book’s theme of burden and beauty. In the opening paragraph, Ruffin notes: “For as long as Africans have been Americans, they have had no entitlement to speak for or about nature. Even in the twenty-first century, standing next to a tree has been difficult.” She follows this statement by describing a 2006 so-called “white tree” event on a high school campus in Jena, Louisiana. The tree had been a gathering place for white students. It was generally understood that Black students were not welcome to sit in the tree’s shade.

    When it became known that a Black student had asked permission from the school’s administration to sit under the tree, nooses appeared hanging from its branches. After a group of Black students beat a white student in the aftermath of the noose incident, five of the Black students involved were arrested and charged with attempted murder A mass demonstration ensued, protesting the charges.

    The school’s solution was to fell the tree. Ruffin argues that this decision was a “missed opportunity to make a once ‘white’ tree part of a new complex historical narrative, sophisticated enough to acknowledge an unjust past and to set the stage for a more just future.”

    At the end of the book, Ruffin returns to a tree, this time to an ancient oak conjured as metaphor by Black New Orleanian writer and Xavier University professor Ahmos Zu-Bolton II. The poet offers readers an opportunity to “sit under a figurative ‘black tree’” as the poem’s granny interlocutor speaks. Her ownership of the land that supports the tree represents her family’s resilience and belonging and the persistence of the life force streaming through the African American experience of burden and beauty:

    [. . . the tree] was born during slavery times
    it’s free now
    And as long as it’s standing on
    my land, it can shake its leaves
    and spread its wings
    anyway it damn well please . . .

    Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World (2002, revised 2011) could be a companion to Ruffin’s detailed explication of the history of Black eco-literary production since slavery, though Colors appeared over a decade earlier. Colors is an anthology edited by Euro-American poet Allison H. Deming, professor of English at the University of Arizona, and Lauret E. Savoy, professor of environmental studies and geology at Mount Holyoke College who self-identifies as of mixed heritage: African American, Native American, and Euro-American. Many of the entries were commissioned from eminent authors of color specifically for this book; none of the entries was pulled from deep history as were some of the pieces included in Ruffin’s text.

    Colors’ editors say their book was instigated by a troubling, recurring question: “Why is there so little recognized ‘nature writing’ by people of color?” They argue that the question requires interrogation because the definition of nature writing has been limited for more than a century to European or Euro-American explorations of nature as “wilderness.” It is past time, they say, to consider seriously those writings that address the far more diverse nature people of color have inhabited: rural and urban, “indigenous, indentured, exiled, (im)migrant, [and/or] toxic.”

    Deming and Savoy’s selections were not written exclusively by the descendants of enslaved Africans; one-third of the entries are by African American writers. Readers are offered several dozen recent poems, essays, reports, and short fiction by American authors of a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds who, in the editors’ words, “creatively present how identity and place, human history and ‘natural’ history, power and silence, social injustice and environmental degradation are fundamentally linked.”

    All five books I consider in this essay address the themes of silence and invisibility. And, for the books’ authors, silence is not golden. As Colors co-editor Lauret Savoy notes in her afterword: “silence and denial have kept too many Americans from knowing who ‘we the people’ really are.” She expresses the hope that Colors can help “bring into dialogue what has been ignored or silenced, what has been disconnected or dismembered.”

    Savoy’s memoir, Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape, extends Colors’ purpose of bringing what has been ignored or avoided into dialogue. Savoy explores the dismemberments and disconnections of her own family history, poetically entangling them with the geological and human history-inflected landscapes in which her family’s complex relationships, histories, dramas, and denials have been enacted over extended periods.

    Savoy is a professional geologist, so her text offers insights that are both scientifically based and poetically expressed. Through skillful blendings, Savoy conjures how Earth’s layered histories in rock and soil merge with the dramatic, often tragic, human events enacted over long time on a variety of landscapes inhabited and traversed by Savoy’s family. She helps us, as she is helping herself, see clearly the connections and relevance these landscapes have to her excavations of the puzzling silences and voids in her own mixed-heritage family history.

    In one section of the book, Savoy describes eventful weeks she spent examining the deeply historied environs of Fort Huachuca in Arizona, fifteen miles from the US-Mexico border (7). Her mother, an Army nurse, had been stationed there at the end of World War II. Her mother did not understand what motivated her daughter’s wish to experience the landscape first hand:

    “Why do you want to go there?” I couldn’t answer my mother’s question when she was alive [but . . .] my reasons . . . became far-reaching. [I found a place where] frontiers collided, where consequences still unfold . . . Gloria Anzaldua called a borderland “a vague and undermined place created by the emotional residue of the unnatural boundary . . . in a constant state of transition [where] the prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants.”

    Savoy intended to visit the fort to know if experiencing its physical location, together with her excavation of the region’s human histories, could tell her more about her mother. Her initial intent was to learn when, how, and why African Americans came to this remote Arizona desert location. What she learned was far deeper, spanning centuries:

    So many dividing lines have criss crossed this valley . . . [While] visitors to the . . . Aravaipa Canyon can believe they’re hiking in pristine nature, they [probably do not know anything] of the landscape’s tragic unnatural history and burden of violence.

    She continues, describing examples of violence enacted in this landscape over many years, as in this passage:

    Over a century ago, an American entrepreneur owned copper mines at the San Pedro’s headwaters in Cananea, Sonora [Mexico]. A strike there helped kindle the Mexican Revolution. Today, Cananea hosts one of the largest open-pit copper mines in the world, owned and operated by a corporation in which American interests are key.

    The landscape’s relationship to colonial occupation and contemporary extraction, the fort’s often unsavory military activities for more than a century, and the impact these uses had on land and indigenous people come together in another poignant passage. Savoy recalls a moment when, while caressing an old photograph of her mother in uniform, suddenly time and the excavated histories that informed her visits to the Arizona borderland seem to collapse:

    Vivian Reeves is fully alive in the shutter-clicked moment . . . Touching this image I try to imagine innumerable present moments in this borderland. An afternoon like this day, but in 1542, In April 1871. April 1945. Tomorrow.

    At the end of her book, Savoy considers the meaning of her title:

    [Trace is] active search. Path taken. Track or vestige of what once was. Both life marks and home. From twisted terrain within the San Andreas Fault to “indian territory,” from Point Sublime to burial grounds, from a South Carolina plantation to the US Mexico border and the US Capital. Their confluence . . . helps me both join together and give clearer expression to the unvoiced past in my life . . . Home indeed lies among the ruins and shards that surround us all.


    The Black artists I have investigated so far engage across some (but not all) of the characteristics of ecological art practice. Their works express priorities, including keeping vibrantly visible the specific issues Black people have faced in the many  “natures” where they have lived. These five books have guided me during this phase of my active search, my path taken toward deeper understanding. I am, as a result, more aware than ever that my book research is far from complete and must be ongoing.

    Studying these books has encouraged me to interrogate how the barriers to ecological art practice may affect Black artists differently. Their personal accounts, works of imagination, and research have enlightened me about African Americans’ fraught experience with the American landscape, inhabited and wild. They have helped me understand why it may be that Black artists’ projects that address environmental issues emphasize certain aspects of ecological art practice and not others.

    Dr. Kimberly Ruffin warns that difficult, burdensome discussions and decisions will be necessary before Blacks will engage fully with ecological citizenship. These discussions and decisions will be necessary bridges across profound chasms that separate Americans from each other and prevent serious attention both to our relationships to the land and all those—human and more-than-human—who co-inhabit it.

    That I have failed so far to find African American artists whose projects fit neatly into existing--or proposed-- definitions of ecological art may mean that, like the long-standing definition of nature writing critiqued by Deming and Savoy, the definition of ecological art must be reinterpreted and transformed. It also means that how Black artists’ works relate to the land—and to the experience of burden and beauty so many generations of Black people have experienced on it—will require much more specific attention from curators and art historians, Black and otherwise.  

    These five books offer significant insights by African American writers, researchers, and activists about Black connection to and alienation from the land. These authors demonstrate how to recognize and reveal the environmental injustices baked into the economic and political system in which we live. They also model the importance of acknowledging and celebrating the many times these injustices have been righted, if only partially and temporarily, and always because of the care and activism of the Black community members most directly affected.

    I am grateful to these eloquent and knowledgeable Black writers and researchers and to African American artists’ pioneering engagement with environmental issues on their terms and with their priorities. I have benefited immensely from their expertise, wisdom, and creative imagination. Now it is up to me to work productively with all this, in my own life and practice, and in the book I am currently writing and beyond.

    Mary Jo Aagerstoun, PhD, (she, her) is an environmental activist and art historian living in West Palm Beach, Florida, on land of the Jeaga people (8) where Jim Crow-defined Black landscapes persist with little public acknowledgment of their meanings. (9) She founded EcoArt South Florida (2007-2014), a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to expanding ecological art practice in South Florida, and Artists for Climate Action (2015-present), an international platform on Facebook for artists interested in bringing their skills and imagination into action on climate disruption and crises. She is currently working on a book featuring a selection of ecological art projects that contribute to “The Great Turning” by modeling how to “stay with the trouble” and foster flourishing in damaged landscapes, current and future.


    1. When I refer to Black artists whose  works I am researching for inclusion in my book, I mean artists of full or partial African heritage who are American citizens and live predominantly in the United States of America. Occasionally I will use the term “African American” as well. I have not investigated the ecological art practice of African artists nor of artists of the African Diaspora elsewhere.

    2. There have been several definitions of ecological art over its multi-decade history. This is the most recent. It was crafted in the early 2010s by members of the EcoArt Network, an international, invitational network of ecological artists; environmental scientists who work with these artists; curators and writers who write about the movement, etc. See full definition at: Ecological art. The network’s website is:

    3. Tony Fry. Defuturing: A New Design Philosophy. London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2020; see for origin of Macy’s Great Turning concept; Donna Haraway. Staying with the Trouble. Experimental Futures. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016.; Robin Kimmerer. Braiding Sweetgrass. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Milkweed Editions, 2013; Chris Cuomo. Feminism and Ecological Communities: An Ethic of Flourishing. London: Routledge, 1998. 

    4. See Downloaded 6/29/2021.

    5. Taylor is one of the pioneering giants of the Environmental Justice Movement. Her work follows in the path of another famous environmental justice pioneer, sociologist Robert Bullard, (see Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality (Boulder, CO, Westview Press, 1990 a landmark publication which reviewed the environmental justice struggles of several African American communities); the stories underscored the importance of race as a factor in the siting of unwanted toxins-producing facilities. In 1991, at the first National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., Taylor was key in developing the "Principles of Environmental Justice," a seventeen-point document that has guided the movement’s vision and actions for nearly thirty years. She is on the faculty at the University of Michigan.

    6. Book review: Alan Barton, “Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility by Dorceta E. Taylor,” Nat. Resources Journal 55 (2015): 236. Downloaded 6/10/2021.

    7.  Among its many uses, Fort Huachuca had from 1913 to 1933 served as the base for the African American “buffalo soldiers.” It was also the first Army base to be commanded by an African American general. 

    8. Regarding the Jeaga people, of whom there has been found no trace for two hundred years in what is now known as Palm Beach County, Florida, see:

     9. The Palm Beach County History website begins its history of African Americans in the area now known as West Palm Beach with the 1929 ordinance that made “official the blacks-only section of the city that had been ‘generally in force under an agreement of many years’ standing.’” See For an authoritative history of Blacks in the area now known as Florida, see: David R. Colburn and Jane Landers, eds., The African American Heritage of Florida (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, reissued 2017). PDF downloaded 7/5/2021.

  • Monday, August 16, 2021 9:40 AM | Anonymous


    AUGUST 16, 2021

    This week we recognize the work of artist Mimi Graminski.

    "The majority of materials in these works are inspired by and derived from plant-based sources, all of which stem from the process of photosynthesis – creating energy, nourishment and growth from light. In my work I am using materials that were all born from this process - logs from trees, (drawings of) leaves from plants, and paper made from cotton and rice. After their growth process and harvest, the materials find renewed life in their cross pollination incorporated into these site-specific installations.”

    "During these past spring and summer months at home I have found myself drawn to the forests, and with my interest in materials, I have found a huge resource in the natural environment. In my study of leaves (found and cultivated) I have been examining light, shadow and color by using pencil, watercolor and video. I celebrate the differences and commonalities that the leaves all share."

    Above is an image from Graminski's installation Post Photosynthesis at Window on Hudson in Hudson, New York.

    "Trees felled in a storm gave me an abundance of raw material. I use the cut logs and combine them with cotton lace, collected from many sources, to create an installation that honors both the trees and the lace makers. I pay tribute to the lace makers, their labor and the energy they imbued into each stitch. I wonder about their lives and under what circumstances did they create this work? Was it a labor of love or necessity? Their lace has outlived them just as the logs will outlast the intricate stenciled patterns on them. I honor the fleeting and enduring quality of both women's labor and the natural environment."

    Pictured above is a work from Graminski's series Angle of Repose; Dawn to Dusk. In this series, the artist begins with locust trees, which were felled due to old age. She places the 12 foot logs so that from a distance, they appear to be randomly stacked, but are carefully balanced upon each other so the ends face east and west. Upon closer inspection they present an unexpected surprise as their cut ends are covered in gold leaf and crocheted wire which are alternately illuminated by the rising and setting sun.

    Mimi Czajka Graminski is a multi-disciplinary artist working in a variety of media - sculpture, installation, drawing, painting, photography and video. Her work is wide-ranging, and is consistently based in the exploration of materials, light, and color. Most recently, she has exhibited at Smallbany Gallery in Albany, New York, at Window on Hudson in Hudson, New York, and will participate in the 2021-2022 Fresh Winds International Art Biennale Residency in Iceland.

    Featured Images: ©Mimi GraminskiPost Photosynthesis, Outdoor Interventions, and Angle of Repose; Dawn to Dusk

    Above: Mimi Graminski/Photo: Eleanor Zelek

  • Wednesday, August 11, 2021 8:52 AM | Anonymous

    It is with great sadness we share that pioneering ecological artist Bonnie Ora Sherk passed away on Sunday, August 8, 2021, in California (USA). Sherk will be laid to rest on Wednesday, August 11 at Noon at the Mendocino Jewish Cemetery, near where her parents are buried.

    Bonnie Ora Sherk         was an American landscape planner, educator and international artist, and founder of Crossroads Community, known as The Farm, and A Living Library. She’s well-known for her environmental performance work in the early 1970s, including Public Lunch, where Sherk ate her lunch in a cage next to tiger and lion cages in the Lion House of the San Francisco Zoo. The performance took place on a Saturday at 2pm, during normal feeding time and prime spectator attendance, highlighting a human being fed and watched like the other animals.

    Public Lunch (1971). San Francisco Zoo Lion House. © 1971 Bonnie Ora Sherk.

    In 2012, Patricia Watts conducted a two-hour interview with Bonnie Ora Sherk for the ecoartspace archive. Excerpts from the interview are located on our website under Exhibits, Performative Ecologies, an exhibition curated by Watts in 2020, including Public Lunch at 826 Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Watts additionally interviewed Sherk with SITE Santa Fe last summer for their My Life in Art series here.

    Former ecoartspace curator Amy Lipton too worked with Sherk, including documentation of her Roosevelt Island Living Library & Think Park in FOODshed: Art and Agriculture in Action at Smack Mellon in Brooklyn, New York, in 2014. 

    The artist coined the term Funcshuional Art in 2003 to describe a new genre of art that combines the functionalism of the west with the sensitivity toward ecological alignment, natural systems and spirituality of the East. Her goal was that this concept would embrace the diversity of cultures from all directions. 

    Bonnie Ora Sherk's early groundbreaking performative work and fifty-year career focused on ecological issues with The Farm and A Living Library have been incredibly inspirational.

    She will be missed and remembered. 

    Her Instagram account is a_livinglibrary.

    Sitting Still I (1970). Army Street/101 Freeway Interchange Construction Zone, San Francisco. © Bonnie Ora Sherk.

  • Monday, August 09, 2021 9:39 AM | Anonymous


    AUGUST 9, 2021

    This week we recognize the work of artist Jenny Kendler.

    Featured is her project Amber Archive, utilizing created amber and ethically-sourced biological material from species threatened by human activities.

    The Amber Archive is an in-progress project — a genetic ark or "deep archive" of our planet's bio-genetic wealth.

    Each created amber nodule contains a fragment of a species threatened by humankind’s transformation of Earth’s ecosystems, preserving a single species's DNA for millennia to come.

    Fur, scale, leaf, bone, feather, insect wing — each carries a genetic code which might be used by scientists at the appropriate time — in some far future when habitats and resources are available for de-extinction of potentially lost species.

    The Archive is a biodiversity time capsule for a world generations hence, and a potent reminder to us today of what we stand to lose in the Sixth Extinction.

    Though a number of fantastic cryobanks at research institutions exist with similar goals, their high tech deep freezers rely on large amounts of electricity. Were a climate event, pandemic or major conflict to disrupt the electrical grid for a long period of time, these DNA samples would be irrevocably lost.

    The Amber Archive seeks a more analog and more ancient method of preservation — one that could survive the potential collapse of Western Civilization and carry these genetic treasures into the far future where there may be a culture willing to, once again, make space on our planet for these marvelous others.

    Jenny Kendler is an interdisciplinary artist, environmental activist, naturalist and wild forager who lives in Chicago and various forests. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2006) and a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art (2002, summa cum laude). Kendler is a co-founder of the artist website platform OtherPeoplesPixels, and created the OPPfund, which gives grants to arts, environmental and social justice organizations, and awards the MAKER Grant each year to two socially or environmentally engaged artists in partnership with Chicago Artists' Coalition. Kendler was also named one of Chicago's Top 50 Artists by Newcity in their biennial list in 2018 and 2020.

    Featured Images: ©Jenny Kendler, Amber Archive, 2018-2021

    Above: Jenny Kendler/Photo: Nathan Keay for Newcity's "Chicago's Top 50 Artists," 2020

  • Friday, August 06, 2021 9:31 PM | Anonymous

    RIVERS FEED THE TREES #469, 13.5” x 17” – Acrylagouache on old topo maps, mounted on wood panel, 2021 Meredith Nemirov

    Artist/Traveler Interview - Meredith Nemirov

    July 31, 2021, Amy Guion Clay

    Meredith Nemirov is a lover of trees. She grew up in the “the space between these trees and I feel their presence and carry them with me.” She has made it her artist work to focus on trees, from her part time homes in Colorado and also in Spain. Her travels, particularly to Spain and Portugal, have been a critical part of her creative development.

    Please tell us about your background - where did you grow up, did you go to art school and where are you based now?

    I was born and raised in New York City where I studied at The Art Student’s League and received a BFA from Parson’s School of Design. I moved to SW Colorado in 1988 and have maintained a studio there and part time in Spain. 

    When did you first realize you were an artist and how did that define your life choices to follow? Were you encouraged by your family/teachers to pursue art?

    Both of my parents were artists and very encouraging so I knew at a very young age that I wanted to spend my life as an artist. I limited my involvement in other activities that would take a lot of my time and devoted myself to drawing and painting. 

    Entangled Two, 2020, watercolor, gouache and ink, 11” x 28” Meredith Nemirov

    Tell us about the work you do and how it has evolved to this point. What is your medium etc.

    I was a figurative artist in NYC. After I moved to the Rocky Mountains I felt compelled to focus on the landscape. I painted the mountains but was looking for a figure and found it in the form of the aspen tree. For twelve years after we moved West we had a gallery that specialized in the prints, maps and books about the exploration of the American west. I was drawn to the topographical maps in the Haydn Survey and USGS Surveys because of their abstract quality, the linear and patterned aspects of them. These lines and various patterns made their way into the work and onto the images of the trees. This led to a recent series title RIVERS FEED THE TREES in which I am painting the trees onto the old maps using Acrylagouache. 

    Why travel as an artist? How does it shape your work and lifestyle?

    The Black Paintings by Goya at El Prado in Madrid, Agnes Martin and Hilma Af Klint at the Guggenheim and Cezanne’s drawings at MOMA in New York City, this is a big reason I travel to cities, to look at the work of artists I have admired and to discover and learn about ones whose work I am not that familiar with. If I cannot go I will buy the catalog of the exhibition.

    To continue reading this interview go HERE

  • Tuesday, August 03, 2021 7:21 PM | Anonymous

    Meet Virginia Katz | Visual Artist

    July 22, 2021 SHOUTOUTLA

    We had the good fortune of connecting with Virginia Katz and we’ve shared our conversation below.

    Hi Virginia, how does your business help the community?
    Social Impact: how does your business help the community or the world?

    The intent behind my art work is to communicate our deep connection to the environment through association. Through a range of painting media, I hope to achieve in the viewer a heightened awareness and response to the environment that elicits a more nurturing view toward it. I believe that a reevaluation of our relationship to our shared landscape is one of the most important considerations of our time.

    I work with a range of painting media, technique, and imagery to create metaphorical relationships between natural events and scenes in the environment and our lives. Since we are entirely dependent on the landscape for our survival, we share in its state of well-being whatever that condition may be.

    Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
    “Please tell us more about your art. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about?”

    My approach to painting is conceptually-driven and process based. Using specific methods and materials that are closely related to the content of the work, I investigated landscape “form” from the invisible, such as wind and decay, to the tangible through painting and drawing. Currently, I am focused on three bodies of paintings: Relief paintings and Interventions, Mixed Media Prints, and transparent Watercolors. All address natural form through painting in characteristic ways.

    The relief paintings bring actual three-dimensional form that is our world to a painted scene. By working with the drying time of the paint and building up inches-thick, hand-formed acrylic paint, these forms mimic those found in the landscape, such as leaves, vines, flowers rocks and earth. After the forms have been created in the studio, I implant them into the landscape during Interventions, when I allow them to mingle with the environment. After a time, all of the paint forms are retrieved and readapted into paintings on panel or other supports.

    In the prints, I use found natural materials in the making process and their forms become embedded into the paper called “debossing.”

    The transparent watercolors represent the natural form found in the landscape that is ephemeral or on the verge of materialization or dissipation.

    These replicas of land formations and plant life in paint are meant to imply our entanglement with the environment through integration and cycles of decay and regeneration. Paint “becomes” the landscape itself and landscape painting is united with its source. Another way to experience the landscape may be through the lens of painting.

    Continue reading on SHOUTOUTLA HERE

  • Monday, August 02, 2021 10:48 AM | Anonymous


    AUGUST 1, 2021

    This week we recognize the work of artist Jean Brennan based in Beacon, New York.

    “As an interdisciplinary thinker, I work at the intersection between ecology, language, alchemy, and the body. Recurring themes include a fascination with atmospheric forces, plants, phenomenology, and color. Using the lyrical essay as method, I loosely assemble scientific research, historical and pop culture references with personal reflection, to explore our relationship to the natural world, interspecies dependency, and models of resiliency. I use design to publish, archive, and visually score projects that may include installation, video, sculpture and performance."

    Featured Images: ©Jean Brennan, Performing vowels in the note of blue, 2020, outdoor installation and video (49:14 mins)

    Performing vowels in the note of blue is a score for nondiscursive communication with(in) a grove of red pines somewhere in the Catskills. Planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, this stand possesses the uncanny quality of a single species plantation gone wild. Five women (a,e,i,o,u) perform the vowels through the use of semaphore flags—a signaling system that augments the body to communicate across distances of land and sea. The movements—like language, like the forest—slip between structure and improvisation. Together, we consider how meaning is constructed in human and nonhuman worlds and imagine a space for communication between. Risograph-printed broadsheet acts as a choreographic score and was provided as a takeaway for viewers during the exhibit.

    Watch Performing Vowels here.

    Jean Brennan is a Professor in the Graduate Communications Design Department at Pratt Institute with teaching appointments in Transformation Design, Emerging Practices, Technology, Sustainability & Design, Thesis, and Design Research. With her students, she investigates making as a form of research, community engagement, and horizontal structures for learning and collaboration.

  • Sunday, August 01, 2021 9:07 AM | Anonymous

    The ecoartspace August 2021 e-Newsletter is HERE

  • Saturday, July 31, 2021 1:28 PM | Anonymous
    Artist Luciana Abait Image: Courtesy of Vecc photography

    Luciana Abait’s exhibition ‘A Letter to the Future’ is a call to save the planet earth

    Hyperreal iceberg series by the Los Angeles-based artist, Luciana Abait, part of the exhibition A Letter to the Future, talks about the fragile state of environment.

    by Dilpreet Bhullar

    Published on : Jul 29, 2021 on stir world

    The sky betrays its blue colour to appear pink and green in the hyperreal photo-digital collages by the Los Angeles-based photographer, Luciana Abait. The shift in the hues of the sky indicates climate change, the theme which has remained consistent in the works of Abait, who migrated from the place of her birth in Argentina to the US in the 1990s. The latest installation of the iceberg series at the exhibition A Letter to the Future by Abiat, in the Los Angeles International Airport, Terminal 7, talks about the alienation and dispersal, a corollary of human-led disturbance in the environment.

    Wheel by Luciana Abait Image: Luciana Abait

    The plaque with the label A Letter to the Future, written by Iceland’s acclaimed writer, Andri Snaer Magnason, when the majestic glacier Okjokull in Iceland melted in 2014, inspires the title of the exhibition. This episode coincided with the time when Abait was preparing for the iceberg series, displayed at the current exhibition. Furthermore, her tryst with the environment and nature could be traced to the times when she was living in Miami. The pristine blue of both sky and water triggered her interest to develop works that would epitomise nature in its purest forms. Later, when she settled in Los Angeles, its rich diversity of landscape and vegetation prompted her to critique the human interventions that have turned the environment into a state of fragility. 

    Installation view of Day Image: Luciana Abait

    In an interview with STIR, Abait mentions, “I am strongly committed to creating art that celebrates nature while raising awareness of environmental and social issues. California’s strong commitment to the environment has impacted me significantly since I moved to Los Angeles 15 years ago and started developing a series of works to address climate change in a very direct manner. My artworks have always been inspired by the natural world that surrounds me. My work imagines alternate (or perhaps future) realities marked by adaptation, assimilation and hope. Through manipulated photographic landscapes, installations and photo-sculptures, natural landscapes and human-made objects are impossibly adapted to new roles where they coexist in a magical reality.”

    Continue reading here

  • Thursday, July 29, 2021 5:21 PM | Anonymous

    (Naxilandia, Sarah Lewison, 2008)

    The Complex Interrelationships of Tending the Land: An Interview with Sarah Augusta Lewison

    Olivia Ann Carye Hallstein

    Sarah Augusta Lewison is an activist and creator who documents, researches, and builds platforms for the often-underrepresented farming communities worldwide. Her work speaks to both the social and environmental consequences of monocultural industrialized agriculture, emphasizing heightened indigenous and affected community representation. Her work has brought her throughout the United States to Yunnan, China, Mexico, and Argentina and her Center for Subsistence Research acts as a connecting space for artists, crafters, farmers, and researchers alike. In our interview, Sarah speaks about her work and experiences and her conclusions surrounding the state of agriculture today.

    I am consumed with documenting and working within a real world, so I look for ways to draw attention to possibility, love, and connection.

    (Melt with Us: An Essay About the Seed Bomb, Sarah Lewison, pub. Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, 2015)

    Hi Sarah, thank you so much for speaking with EcoArtSpace today! Let’s jump right in: you describe your work as a semi non-fiction medium that integrates storytelling and narrative into real-world documentation. How did you decide to use semi non-fiction mediums?

    I started out doing documentary videos but felt dissatisfied with the endings; I wanted something more hopeful and interesting than simple narrative closure. But I am consumed with documenting and working within the real world, so I look for ways to draw attention to possibility, love, and connection. For example, in the Monsanto Hearings, we overturn conventions of legal procedure to allow non-human animals to testify and collectivize claims of harm in a way that would never ordinarily take place.

    Layering the speculative onto the document is also informed by the research and practice of my collaborator and son, Duskin Drum. Duskin drew my attention to crudely photoshopped scenes under climate change, such as Studio Lindfor’s Aqualta (2009) of rice growing on 42nd St in NYC, and his domed subsistence village in Yunnan, China, which protected people from the state and development more than weather. Imagination is so important – for all of us. We can productively consider Jameson’s famous conjecture that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. 

    (Chicken Tenders, Sarah Lewison, Feb-March 2021)

    There seems to be a strong connection between the environment and people living within these environments in your work. It reminds me of your most recent project, “The Brownfield Between Us,” where you are documenting a clean energy initiative on a piece of land with an industrial and racially discriminatory past. Many people criticize green initiatives of social-historical denialism because they do not offer social support. What have you noticed on the ground where you are?

    Your question describes precisely the situation in Carbondale. Our documentary attempts to lay out the multiple different frameworks of knowledge and experience that inform peoples’ reactions to the city’s flirtation with a solar development on a contaminated site adjacent to a black neighborhood. The debate reveals how perceptions of safety or risk are tied to privilege in a situation where there is uncertainty.  Some neighborhood residents fiercely and repeatedly raise this uncertainty to the point that the city government and some lighter-skinned residents living at a distance treat it as irrational. The activists’ questions are not seen as valid by all, but isn’t it worthwhile to consider whether citizens should trust the EPA after what has happened in Flint? Should we have faith in the EPA’s system for evaluating contamination based on “acceptable levels” of chemical traces and on the presumption that toxins decay into innocent elements within the matrix of the soil?

    Not everyone, but some people say, exhilaratingly, “Just leave the land alone!”

    A tragedy continues to haunt the neighborhood: many people succumbed to death from the same kind of cancer. There is also a living memory of dust and foul odors from the creosote plant. For years the residents demanded more comprehensive soil testing and were refused by the city, the EPA, and the landowners. In this project, I wonder if there can ever be enough testing to satisfy a hunger for information that may never be retrieved. The metaphoric – or real ghosts – who perished from their labor or familial associations with the tie rod plant are hungry.

    Another argument against the greenfield lurks as an anti-capitalist, decolonial subtext for some, the opportunistic profiteering of the “greenfield” solar company to the erstwhile extraction of value from humans in the form of enslaved labor, denigration, and diminishment under Jim Crow. The overall expectation of the landowners is that they will be able to continue extracting value from the land itself. Not everyone, but some people say, exhilaratingly, “Just leave the land alone!” 

    (Still from Naxilandia, Sarah Lewison, 2008)

    They bring out the complexity of subsistence life and the vast kinds of knowledge held by the farmers that allows them to make so many small decisions; about the weather, when to plant and harvest, what to cultivate for market etc.

    It seems these topics are globally present: not just in the USA, your work in China speaks to social disparity as well. I have noticed that the flow of your films, such as “Naxilandia,” offers impressions of the “agricultural modernization to the nation’s indigenous highland homes” in Yunnan Province of China, allowing viewers to draw their own conclusions. What strategies do you use to create this work?

    Although I was inspired by how artists such as Burtynsky have used scale, especially in China, to telegraphically reveal the destructive impact of human activities on the landscape, I only had a small camera and a variable lens, and myself. I aimed instead for intimacy and the temporality of the everyday.  Sometimes I videotaped for the entire period it took to seed or harvest a field, wash wheat, or wait out a rainstorm before returning to the field. I ended up with a lot of footage to sift through and used many of these long sequences in the installation, consisting of 3 or 4 videos playing synchronously. They bring out the complexity of subsistence life and the vast kinds of knowledge held by the farmers that allows them to make so many small decisions; about the weather, when to plant and harvest, what to cultivate for market etc. There is also an element of meditation to the tasks.

    I contrasted this hand / physical work to paid labor and the appearance in the landscape of more and bigger machines for moving earth and controlling water, and managing people. These become more predominant over the duration of the film, finally appearing on all screens. There is also a video channel with text that narrates the historical and technical context.

    They are forming cultural collectives that are re-energizing the use of indigenous language and cultural practices. They also are learning, through practice and research, a combination of agroecological, permacultural and traditional approaches to cultivating, foraging, and preserving.

    (Still from Naxilandia, Sarah Lewison, 2008)

    You mention the “complexity of subsistence life” revealed to you while creating “Naxilandia.” Can you speak more to the farmer’s experiences with which you were working? How much restorative agriculture is already practiced in the Yunnan Province, and is there information to uphold the environmental balance through agriculture in the face of “reforming and opening up”?

    The farming communes under the Maoist period were encouraged to use “modern” farming techniques, so there is not necessarily a consistent change in farming approaches due to the reforms. Some subsistence farmers we met in Yunnan use organic cultivation for home consumption, reserving the use of manufactured fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides for their market crops. The coolest holdover we observed from the commune period is that people still communize their labor, especially the women, who will help each other with large jobs such as getting an entire field picked and loaded on a truck.    

    In 2008, I visited a marvelous organic farm and eco-resort in Yunnan, experimenting with agroecological techniques. I had heard about a few others near Beijing, but they were struggling with a lack of market demand for organic food. To make a more significant environmental impact, they will need to out-pace the state policy drives to industrialize and off-shore farming. It’s depressing.  

    In 2019, we met indigenous youth returning with their children to NW Yunnan villages. They are forming cultural collectives that are re-energizing the use of indigenous language and cultural practices. Through practice and research, they also learn a combination of agroecological, permacultural, and traditional approaches to cultivating, foraging and preserving. In the limited engagement I’ve had with farmers in China at this level, I’ve learned that they take their job of growing food for their families and communities very seriously. The imperative is to get bigger or consolidate as being pressed by the state is difficult to resist.

    In rural areas in the United States, municipalities and counties now spray the roadsides with Roundup. Organic growers need to put up “no-spray” signs. Wherever the spray is applied, usually from an airplane, people are exposed to drift. It is a considerable problem in Argentina and Paraguay, a geographic area that artist Eduard Molinari calls “the Republic of Soy,” where children in nearby towns are directly hit and sickened from the exposure. It’s a terrible crisis on top of all the other crises; I’m not aware it has changed, although there have been a couple of successful lawsuits against the technology. And in the United States, these technologies and the big commodity farmers continue to win the greatest share of federal money, leaving the small farmers who grow real food to struggle along. 

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