University Of New Mexico

New MFA in Art and Ecology at the University of New Mexico

The new MFA program in Art and Ecology at the University of New Mexico is an interdisciplinary, research-based program engaging contemporary art practices. Students develop ecological and cultural literacy with a conceptual foundation and a wide range of production skills, including sculpture, social practice, and digital media. Students in Art and Ecology have the opportunity to work on various collaborative and interdisciplinary projects with departments across UNM and on comprehensive thesis projects integrating community and ecological research. Coursework includes the Land Arts of the American West program, a semester-long travel and place-based arts pedagogy.

PARTNERS

Sustainability Studies at UNM
Landscape Architecture at UNM
SEV, Long Term Ecological Research at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge
Centro Artistico y Cultural, El Paso, TX
The Center for Land Use Interpretation, Wendover, UT
Art + Environment Center, Nevada Art Museum, Reno, NV
The UNM Center for Advanced Research Computing (CARC)
Fodder Project: A Collaborative Research Farm
The American Society for Acoustic Ecology

CURRENT AND PAST PROJECTS

Paseo del Bosque Ecological Restoration

A design partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers on an ecologically-degraded section of the Rio Grande Bosque creating a design to engage art, access, and restoration of the bosque ecosystem.

Open Source/Open Culture

A learning community in collaboration with the Depatment of Theatre and Dance, the Department of Engineering, the Department of Art and Art History, and other programs at UNM, offering students and faculty an opportunity to develop virtual infrastructure and open source technologies.

ISEA2012 Machine Wilderness: The International Symposium for Electronic Art

A wide-ranging series of public events highlighting art, technology and environment in conjunction with the prestigious International ISEA Symposium  (www.isea2012.org) and created in partnership with 516 ARTS, The Albuquerque Museum, The City of Albuquerque Public Art Program, Creative Albuquerque and others.

USDA FoodShed Field Study

A summer UNM field program involving Art and Ecology, Sustainability Studies, the Department of Communications and Journalism, the Department of Geography, and the Department of Civil Engineering.

Barrio Buena Vista

A long-term project in the Buena Vista neighborhood in El Paso, Texas, working with the Centro Artistico y Cultural and the City of El Paso on wetland restoration, a mural series, and an urban pocket park.

Clean Livin’

A collaboration with Simparch and the Center for Land Use Interpretation on an experimental sustainability project at an abandoned military Quonset in Wendover, UT.

Bosque Environmental Monitoring Project

Engagement in the monitoring of local bat species and the creation of habitat-promoting sculpture through a coordinated program of volunteer citizen and student groups who gather long-term data on the forest ecosystem located along the Middle Rio Grande.

Albuquerque Metropolitan Area Flood Control Agency

A series of proposals and implemented projects addressing flood control structures, including detention ponds and wetland trash settlement areas, through art intervention.

For more information:
http://ae.unm.edu/

To apply:
http://art.unm.edu/academics/graduate_programs.html

New Mexico Art & Ecology BFA and MFA program

An installation being constructed by the University of New Mexico art and ecology students.

The University of New Mexico has a BFA and MFA program in art and ecology. I’m not sure when it started, but from their website, it seems that the program builds on previous eco-art classes and the university’s Land Arts of the American West program.

Read all about it at art.unm.edu/ecology.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to me is that if you go to the UNM Art and Art History homepage, the genres listed are:

  • painting and drawing
  • photography
  • ceramics
  • sculpture
  • art history
  • printmaking
  • electronic arts
  • art and ecology

I have to say that I’m surprised (and sort of enjoy) that this is an area or genre of study now. But I hope that it doesn’t result in other students thinking less about how ecology and environmentalism might play a role in their work.

From my experience, dividing students into specific genres has it’s positives and negatives. I’m thankful that I’ve studied in schools that are relatively open to interdisciplinary work while also engaging the medium-specific skills and information, if a young artist needs that in their work.

To a certain extent, any genre or “area” serves the needs of an academic institution, but I’ve always thought of eco-related art as spanning existing genres and would be hesitant to define it as its own medium. While eco-art may have its own concerns, I’ve been noticing that many young artists today—regardless of genre—think a lot about the environment and how artists can make work about it. As a result, much of the art that interests me isn’t overtly or obviously tied to environmentalism, but I believe it is there as an undercurrent.

Here’s hoping that this new program can help students find new and interesting ways to think about art and the environment, and that the “art and ecology” area adds to UNM’s other areas of study.

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Isolation is the essence of Land Art (WDM)


It has been over 20 years since I was in New Mexico. When I considered why this was, I realized that most of the places I’ve traveled to for art events in the US have been where CAA, AAM, or AFTA conferences usually take place, like Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Atlanta, and New York City. I guess a city needs to have at least 1,500 contiguous hotel rooms adjacent to a conference center to host a large conference, which Albuquerque does not have (yet). In general, most people travel to Santa Fe to see the opera, go to galleries and in the last decade to visit Site Santa Fe, an international contemporary art biennial that began in 1995. This is a town that boasts over 250 galleries with under 150,000 residents! With so much focus on the arts, it seems like there should be more of an “art world” presence. Even Lucy Lippard, Nancy Holt, and Bruce Nauman call New Mexico home (out of approximately 1 million people in the entire state). And, it is the home to Walter De Maria’s The Lightening Field.

Last spring I was invited to give a lecture in November at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque by Bill Gilbert, artist, professor and founder of The Land Arts of the American West program (2000). I had seen a call for artists for a LAND/ART New Mexico project in fall 2008 and was curious who all was involved. When the program was formally announced and I saw that they had organized multiple events, exhibitions, site-specific installations, lectures, and plans for a publication, I was very impressed with the scale and proud to be included. The program began in May and will wrap up in November. Over 25 organizations in New Mexico have participated with 516 Arts, Suzanne Barge – Project Coordinator, taking the lead. Formally titled Land Art: Art Nature Community, a collaborative exploration of land-based art in New Mexico, the program has exhibited work by international artists including the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Patrick Dougherty, Andrea Polli (the new Director of the Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media (IFDM) Program at UNM), Eve Andrée Laramée, Erika Blumenfeld and important art and ecology artists from New Mexico including Basia Irland, William Gilbert, and Catherine Harris (recently appointed Art & Ecology professor at UNM). The list of guest speakers included Rebecca Solnit, Nancy Holt, David Abrams, and a performance and discussion with Laurie Anderson, just to name a few. The program was a herculean effort and is to be commended. I would highly suggest getting a copy of the culminating LAND/ART New Mexico book due out in December including an essay by Lucy Lippard. And, add to that list the recently published book Land Arts of the American West documenting the program of the same name by William Gilbert and Chris Taylor.


One of the highlights of my trip was going to The Lightening Field (TLF). It was on my list of things to do for many years and seemed the right time to do it being in New Mexico for the Land Art program. When I arrived into Albuquerque Airport there was a fresh layer of snow on the ground. Driving to TLF from Albuquerque takes about three hours, south and west towards the Arizona border. In the small town of Quemado you sign in at the DIA Foundation office. Here you leave your car and Robert Weathers, TLF manager, drives you out into the middle of nowhere to a WPA era cabin about 45 minutes away. After checking out the rustic chic accommodations (great sheets/towels and Hudson Bay blankets), and getting to know my cabin mates (Stevie Famulari, Assistant Professor at NDSU and environmental artists, and Paul Socolow, a Bay Area de-employed Land Art aficionado), we three ventured out into the field to take a look. This was Stevie’s second trip to TLF and she was well versed how to experience the work. About an hour before sunset she prompted us to get outside (it was around 30 degrees, expecting to drop below 20 at night). As we walked out into the poles the sunlight was shining bright on the stainless steel tips which were not as tall as I had imagine and lighter and more flexible than I would have thought. The rounded tips looked so sculptural and rocketship like. It took a while to get it, but walking inside of the field of poles is when you feel like it is an artwork, not looking at it from the distance like it is an object. It expands the longer you walk inside the poles, it seems to gain another row and another row as the darkness sets in and the setting sun reflects on the poles. We were walking in mud and snow, which was building up on our shoes while noticing rabbit holes and horses hoof prints along the way. It was a full moon, the sky was clear, although hard to see the poles after the sun had set. In the morning as the sun comes up the poles to the west are most visible, in reverse of last night where the eastern portion of the field was most visible at sunset. TLF was installed September – October in 1977. In fact October 31st, the next morning after staying over night was the 32nd anniversary of TLF and the last day of the season for staying over night until next April.



Factoids:

Stainless steel tubing

400 poles, 220 feet apart

5,280 East/West & 3,303 feet North/South

Tallest pole is 26.72 feet, average height is 20.62 feet

A few of the tallest poles have been replaced due to high winds

Each mile long row contains 25 poles

Total weight 38,000 lbs

In 1974 there was a test field in Northern Arizona (later owned by Virginia Dwan and donated to Dia unassembled in 1996). There were 35 stainless tell poles with pointed tips each 18 feet tall and 200 feet apart. The land was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Burton Tremaine. It resided there from 1974-76, then was moved.

Robert Weathers has been the caretaker since 1980

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Report from CAA 2009, Los Angeles

This was my fourth College Art Association conference over a ten year period. My first being in Los Angeles in 1999. Not only did I attend that year because I lived in LA at the time, I was also interested to attend a studio session entitled Off the Mainstream, Into The Mainstream. The session included three chairs and nine artists presenting the state of environmental art from the 1990s, including mostly artists from California. This was the panel that set me on course to participate in an ecoart dialogue listerve online for the last ten years.

Ten years later, CAA 2009, was once again in LA, although this time there were several panels that crossed over into the realm of science or ecology including:
Proof: Art Illuminating Science with artists Lillian Ball and Aviva Rahmani; Green Foundations: Curricular and Environmental Sustainability with Linda Weintraub; Place Markers: Artists, Technology, and Landscape; The Ecological Imagination: From Land Art to BioArt; and Land Use in Contemporary Art, Part I & II.

Since I lived in Los Angeles for more than twenty years, I decided this CAA to propose a paper for the Land Art panel to present examples of artists working outdoors in Southern California from 1999-2008. I focused on work that was least invasive and noted a progression of a land ethic by artists who were in the following exhibitions: Malibu Art Ranch 1997; SaFARi at the Old LA Zoo 1998; Escondido Phoenix 1999; Newtown Trail Markers 2001; Earthworks NOW Biennial 2003/5; HDTS 2001-2008; and MOISTURE 2001-2008. Other panelists included Kimberly Paice from University of Cincinnati who gave a talk “On Wheat” that mostly focused on Agnes Denes’ Wheatfield: A Confrontation. She also presented Dennis Oppenheim’s’ field work “Cancelled Crop” and “Directed Seeding” both from 1969. Chris Taylor, co-creator of Land Arts of the American West, a program operating from Texas and University of New Mexico, presented a visual diary of a caravan road trip he took with students to cultural sites and earth/land art sites in the desert Southwest over a two month period in one semester. They create ephemeral work on the land and return to the campus to create work for a gallery exhibition. Ann Wolfe with the Nevada Museum of Art gave a paper on Chris Drury and his Mushroom work they recently comissioned him to do. The Museum sponsored the Art+Environment conference in Reno last fall where Ann also gave a presentation. Her emphasis was that the Museum in Reno is the first of its kind to make Art+Environment its curatorial thematic. She also announced that the Director of the program, William Fox, has begun to create an archive of ephemera related to projects created in and near Nevada in the desert (Heizer/deMaria).

Land Art is a term that mostly refers to a movement from the 1970s, large-scale or monumental earth art, meant to be seen from far away. You often hear this term from Europe, particularly from the UK, to describe earth art, smaller works in the landscape, even ephemeral. However, after this panel, I believe there was some consensus that Land Art is a historical term referring to work created in the desert Southwest and does not define the type of work being done today. Panel Chair Kirsten Swenson referred to this new work as a Land-based Art Practice. And, from there, the medium is the message. As we know, there is still plop art happening (even at High Desert Test Sites). And, much of the art that is created outdoors is simply using nature as a gallery or cheap studio space. The real trick is to work with the land but not impact it, thus the title of my talk
Land Ethics:Post Land Art. Some better examples of this would include audio tour projects like Invisible 5 & Jack Rabbit Homestead by Kim Stringfellow, or more urban/rural dialogic/relational mapping/tour projects like Fallen Fruit or LA Urban Rangers.

Or, how about Bruce Nauman’s proposal for a sky writing in 1969 entitled “Leave the Land Alone.” This is a work I only found out about in the inaugural issue of Mammut magazine (Fall 2008), in an article with the same title written by Andrew Bernardini. He stated that this was Nauman’s response written in a letter to a gallery who invited him to participate in an earth art exhibition. The work was never realized and the letter has not been found. This sounds like a perfect project for the Center for Land Use (CLUI) to execute with Nauman, in the clear blue skies of Nevada?

 

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