Matthias Merkel Hess

Matthias Merkel Hess of Eco Art Blog has a New Project, looking for your help!

I haven’t been posting on the Eco Art Blog recently; as I’ve said before, others are doing a better job at that than I have the time for. Also, the end of grad school has piled on a lot of time-consuming activities, like mounting a thesis show.

But I am happy to announce a new project I’m working on at the 18th Streets Arts Center in Santa Monica, California. It’s called Fine Art 626-394-3963, and I’m inviting you to call or email me to talk about art and what you want from artists and the institutions that show art work.

The project really needs your participation, so I hope you’ll call or email. For more, visit the project blog at fineart6263943963.blogspot.com.

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Native Flags project in Miami


Miami-based artist Xavier Cortada will present his artwork Native Flags at the Verge Miami Art Fair Dec. 3–6. The goal of the project is reforestation and awareness of global warming and its impact on political jostling for control of the Northwest Passage. Cortada planted his green flag at the North Pole this past summer, essentially claiming the territory for reforestation rather than global shipping routes.

More about the project at the ecoartspace blog and xaviercortada.com.

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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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Mammut Magazine launch this Saturday at La Brea Tar Pits

320_7814733Please join me this Saturday, Nov. 14 for the Mammut Magazine launch.

We’ll have readings, sloth bear t-shirt drawings and other activities from 11 am til about 1 or 2 pm.We’ll be at the picnic tables in front of the Page Museum at 5801 Wilshire Blvd, 90036.

MAMMUT #3 is about megafauna—a term that loosely applies to large mammals including the namesake of the magazine, the extinct American mastodon. We asked contributors to offer a personal perspective on megafauna and how they are represented, used as symbols, or offer a way to understand our own lives.

WITH CONTRIBUTIONS BY:

Otis Bardwell, Kelley Brooks, Deena Capparelli, Colleen Corcoran,
Akina Cox, Christopher Smith, Nic Hess, Teira Johnson, Christine S.
Lee, Erica Love, Matthias Merkel Hess, Gerard Olson, David Prince,
Gundula Prinz, Jacob Tillman, Mathew Timmons, Alejandro Turell, Erica
Tyron and Claude Willey.

Cover Design by Andrew Zaozirny.

Mammut is edited by Matthias Merkel Hess and Roman Jaster.

RSVP to Release Event on Facebook.

Download the magazine PDF or order a printed copy at mammutmagazine.org

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More Malibu Beach Safaris

Just in from the LA Urban Rangers mailing list: More Malibu Beach Safaris this summer. I wrote about going on one of these safaris last year, and highly recommend it.

Here’s the info:

====================

The Los Angeles Urban Rangers announce:

MALIBU PUBLIC BEACHES SAFARIS–SUMMER 2009

Tired of Zuma and Surfrider? Want to find and use the other beaches in Malibu–The twenty miles that are lined with private development? These safaris show you how to find, park, walk, picnic, and sunbathe on a Malibu beach legally and safely. Each safari visits two different beaches. Skills-enhancing activities include sign watching, trailblazing the public-private boundary, a no-kill hunt for accessways, and a public easement potluck.

We are offering three safaris in east Malibu:

SUN Aug 2, 11:00am-2:30pm
SUN Aug 16, 9:00am-12:30pm
SAT Aug 22, 3:00pm-6:30pm

Safaris are free. Spaces are limited. To sign up, e-mail info@laurbanrangers.org w/name, # of people, and preferred date.

A downloadable “Malibu Public Beaches” guide is available at http://www.laurbanrangers.org/.

Hope to see you at the beach!
Los Angeles Urban Rangers
www.laurbanrangers.org

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OPEN CALL FOR MAMMUT MAGAZINE #3

Submission Deadline: August 15
Submit to: mammutmag@gmail.com
Anticipated release date: Mid-October, 2009

The first two issues of Mammut focused on various topics related to art and the environment. For our third issue we will focus on megafauna, one of the original inspirations for this magazine, which was named after the extinct American Mastodon or Mammut americanum.

We are looking for essays, artwork and other proposals about megafauna, such as how to co-exist, preserve or even how to define them. We welcome contributions from all fields, while keeping in mind the magazine’s general focus on art and the environment.

In addition, we are working with the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles to cosponsor Megafauna Awareness Day and a subsequent conference, to take place at some point in winter/spring 2010. The publication of this issue will most likely precede the conference and the date for Megafauna Awareness Day, which is yet to be determined.

BACKGROUND

At the end of the last ice age (about 11,000 years ago), humans shared the Americas with a wide variety of megafauna (very large mammals), including mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths, giant armadillos and the dire wolf. These animals all went extinct in a relatively short period of time and though the causes are still debated, many agree that human-caused habitat destruction along with hunting caused the extinctions. Now we are facing another wave of extinction caused by human development that affects flora and fauna of all sizes. Ours being the anthropocene (epoch of man) or homogenocene (epoch of diminished and similar ecosystems worldwide) the most likely reality is that we will share the planet with generalist species (like us) in a scenario science writer David Quammen has called “The Planet of the Weeds.” Megafauna—such as elephants, rhinos, hippos, moose, and whales—reproduce slowly and may not make it through the bottleneck of human development without our help.

Some of the earliest art—cave paintings—depicted bison, horses and aurochs, illustrating the interrelated history of humans and other large animals. What can artists and those in creative fields do today about megafauna and the associated habitats they represent? It is our belief that artists have plenty to contribute to this discussion and by working with scientists and politicians, we can all help prevent further habitat destruction and preserve species.

Megafauna Awareness Day, initially proposed by scientist Paul S. Martin in his 2005 book, Twilight of the Mammoths, is necessary because every schoolkid knows about the long-extinct dinosaurs, but not about animals that lived until very recently. To support the inauguration of the Megafauna Awareness Day, we plan on launching a website and hosting a conference in Los Angeles to bring together artists, scientists, museums workers and others interested in the topic of megafauna.

Finally, we acknowledge that it is not just megafauna that are worth preserving. But like the spotted owl controversy in the Pacific Northwest, megafauna are often charismatic emblems of the habitat they  populate. Preserve the megafauna and we preserve the habitat for all.

Wildflower Works followup

I’ve received a few emails alerting me that I had information wrong in my previous post on Chapman Kelley’s piece, Chicago Wildflower Works.

Here’s a shot from 1992, taken well before the park was altered by the city of Chicago. The image was provided by the artist.
And the shot I used in my previous post was taken after the piece was altered in 2004.
In addition, here’s a watercolor proposal for the piece done in 1984.
And a photo of the park with Frank Gehry’s concert pavilion in the foreground. A curving pedestrian bridge connects that pavilion to the altered garden by Chapman Kelley.

Although I was a bit confused on this originally, seeing all these images has greatly helped me understand Chapman Kelley’s federal appeal that his site-specific installation is original art under the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act. In September 2008, a Chicago Federal District Court said the park piece did not meet the definition of original art, and this spring, Kelley appealed that decision. More than half of the wildflowers were removed and as you can see in the photos, the ovals were altered to a long rectangle with one oval in the middle.

For really good reaction and analysis of this court case, there have been two excellent posts on the Arts and Ecology Blog here and here. Also, there’s a good post from 2007 on the Aesthetic Grounds blog.

As an artist and gardener, my heart is definitely with Chapman Kelley on this appeal. How terrible to see a garden that you designed and helped maintain for decades get ripped up? The main thing seems to be managing expectations—something the city did horribly by not working with the artist when deciding to alter his work.

Some might say this is simply landscaping but somewhere in there (and I guess this is the point of the court issue) there’s the line between art and landscaping, artist rights and the rights of the city or whichever institution manages site-specific art.

If anything, I’m glad some of the wildflower park is still there and maybe a compromise can be reached to expand or do the best to return the Wildflower Works to it’s original proposed format.

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Artist’s Wildflower Park is not Art

{Chapman Kelley’s wildflower park in Chicago. I think this is a before shot?}

…or at least the courts say so.

I’m having a bit of trouble figuring out what is going on here, mostly because I haven’t seen before and after shots, but artist Chapman Kelley is appealing a court decision stating that his 1.5 acre wildflower park is not “original art.” The city of Chicago altered the park in 2004, removing half of his installation, and Kelley subsequently sued the city for $825,000.

Here’s a bit more from artinfo.com:

Kelley is asking the federal appeals court in Chicago to overturn a ruling that his 1.5-acre wildflower piece, in which the flowers are planted in the shape of an ellipse, was not original enough to warrant protection under U.S. copyright law. The City of Chicago reduced the work by over half in 2004, to the dismay of the artist. Kelley says the destroyed wildflowers were valued at $825,000, and he wants the city to pay him for the damages.

There’s also this story from April ’09.

As I mentioned before…some photos of the park now would really help me figure out what’s going on. It is interesting to follow and see if gardens will or will not be considered something that can be copyrighted.

> More work at chapmankelley.com.

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Which -cene Are We In?

Are we heading into an era of a homogonized plant and animal communities, brought on by our global economy that moves everything around, whether it is goods, animals or bacteria and fungus?

In an article titled The Sixth Extinction in the May 25, 2009 issue of The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert writes about the mysterious disappearance of tree frogs from Panama and Costa Rica, which scientists now believe is caused by a fungus that we’ve unknowingly helped jump continents. In the article, I was struck by a term used to refer to the epoch we live in: the homogenocene.

Last year, I made a post about the anthropocene or geological epoch defined by humans. The homogenocene is also all about us and refers to the declining biodiversity and diminishing ecosystems left in the wake of human development. When talking about the natural world, what’s important is to realize that every living thing on earth will have to go through the bottleneck of human development. The assumption now is that many species will die out, leaving us with a diminished natural world David Quamman has called the Planet of the Weeds.

{New York Weed (Longspine sandbur), ink on paper, 30 x 22 inches, 2005 by Katie Holten.}

Whatever we call it (my vote is for homogenocene, although it seems that both terms have an extra syllable that makes it hard to pronounce) this is a topic artists have been working with recently, such as the Katie Holten drawing above.

What role can artists take as scientists report on this undergoing mass extinction? One route might be helping understand how to live in this increasingly homogenized natural world, or how to begin carving out localized economies and ways of living. Or making sense of and helping communicate about what is lost.

I have to be honest though, reading about mass extinction makes me feel that almost all artistic effort and work is futile in the face of these global problems. Humans are already the ultimate weed and the planet is simply becoming one giant self-portrait. And rather then tending it like a scruffy garden or arboretum, I’m afraid we might end up with one big lawn.

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