Posted on Jun 02, 2020

EcoEducation: Art and the Environment

Such an interesting topic!  EcoClub member Stuart D. is pursuing his PhD in Art History and shared with us philosophy behind representation of nature/environment in art as well as how this has changed throughout history.  Environmental Art traditionally depicts the relationship between humans and the environment. More recently it is more concerned with changing the relationship to a more just and sustainable one.   Traditionally artistically and philosophically we have prioritized culture over nature and artists/thinkers/philosophers are seeking to blur this line.  
Stuart brought us through a fascinating timeline of Environmental Art which shows the changing perspective.  Beginning with Stonehenge and the Serpent Effigy Mound where the art clearly connects with solar patterns of sunrise and equinox, we see there was a time where culture and nature were viewed more equally and entwined.  Stuart then introduced us to Bierstadt, a romantic painter, and his painting of St. Anthony Falls here in Minnesota.  The romantic view is that there was an idea of perfect nature - pristine.  Interestingly, Bierstadt did not see the falls in person.  
Stuart also introduced us to works that are site specific and won't provide the same meaning without its surroundings.  Spiral Jetty   built in the Great Salt Lake from basalt rock, mud and the reddish/pinkish salt crystals of that part of the lake.  Rival Field in St. Paul is built on a hazardous waste landfill and uses specific plants to extract heavy metals from the soil.  The Lightning Field  in New Mexico is a 1 mile by 1 kilometer area that is dotted with 400 stainless steel poles.  Despite the undulating ground, the tops of the poles are exactly level.  Visitors gain access only by committing to stay overnight.  The piece is intended to be viewed in isolation or a very small group.  It is a way to spend time in the environment and reflect.  
Recently there have been more art pieces that aim to call attention to environmental concerns.  Rhinewater Purification Plant makes visible the parts of our modern society that we don't want to see.  In this installation, the artist bring in the discharge from the water purification plant - officially cleaned enough to go back into the Rhine - and pumps it through additional filtration.  
Revival Field in St. Paul -  Artist Mel Chin
Photo - David Schneider