Monday, August 11, 2008

The EnvironMENTAL Paradigm

María Adela Díaz
Video Performance
Still, photo: Miguel Morales

Talking green is in. The matter at hand is discerning whether we are talking about the environment or the color of money. Words such as sustainability have become cliché. Corporate media has seized an ecological issue and commercialized it for a profit. The EnvironMENTAL Paradigm exhibition explores models of expression in contemporary environmental art. The works in this exhibit include installation, photography, sculpture, and video performance.

Environmental art takes us back to Land Art’s movement of the late 1960's. From using a bulldozer to build the Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson, to embalming a shark in a fish tank by Damien Hirst in the1990’s, both artists utilized environmental elements as a medium for art’s sake.*

The question still remains as to what constitutes environmental art in the twenty first-century. How do artists tackle ecological art when we seem oblivious to the urgency of ecological implosion. Flora and fauna species are at the brink of extinction. Natural resources have become so tainted that these are endangering our own existence.

What kind of an environmental model is there to follow? The direction environmental art has taken is one of concern for ecological issues. Unlike the above artists, in this show, the artists’ approach is one of responsibility for the kind of materials that they use. This distinction allows artists to create inspiring works; not only because the materials serve as a medium, but they are also the end in itself.

Kin Li: Light sinks into the earth and is veiled nonetheless it shines forth. I Ching, 36 by Ana Labastida presents a light box with an image of a green, maple leaf in front a car in a Mexico’s City freeway. By juxtaposing the hovering leaf against the car, she calls attention to the contradiction between the use energy and the production of smog. Also, the leaf serves a symbol of hope to a city where one breathes an asphyxiating vapor. To name her piece, Labastida inspired herself in the I-Ching, or Books of Changes to reminds us that change is inevitable.

Blossom is a video performance created by Maria Adela Díaz. Dressed in yellow, she springs herself up from a trampoline in the middle of a flowering, wild radish field. Yellow, wild radish is an invasive species growing along Californian roads. This playful exercise is no child’s play. Díaz immerses herself into a serious act drawing attention to humans to be proactive towards the environment.

Artist Julie Poitras Santos in collaboration with marine scientist Jessica Muhlin, and photographer Pauline Angione created in suspension / a poetry of chance. To gather data on marine flora, numbered oranges are dispersed to study currents’ movement in the coast of Maine. Fluctuating between art and science, this interdisciplinary approach helps us appreciate nature in a deeper manner.

Jessica Resmond’s Grass Billboards show digital images of green lawns from Dolores Park on billboards in San Francisco. By displaying grass on advertisement boards, Resmond conflates ideas about green and urban context while subverting the use of corporate space. In a symbolic way, she cultivates land in urbanized sites.

In Fabricated, a work of spotty antlers, Paz de la Calzada made an artwork that can be interpreted as tree branches. In this manner, the artist contrasts aspects of nature and culture. By placing this work at a juncture between animal and botanical realm, de la Calzada alludes to the interdependence between fauna and flora.

Spilt Milk by Patricia Tinajero is a sculpture made of recycled milk cartons, and bamboo sticks. Using a quilt, and collage technique, she layers material to create a sculpture resembling a camera over a tripod. Like Labastida, Tinajero refers to transformation by painting a butterfly on its surface. By reusing materials that otherwise would end up in a landfill, she also comments on environmental activism.

In Greener Pastures, Hrafnhildur Sigurðardóttir depicts a cluster of islands forming an archipelago. Like Tinajero, Sigurðardóttir utilizes fabric as a recycled material. By stacking up pieces of clothing to shape forms, the artist juxtaposes images of idyllic islands against green algae. Sigurðardóttir refers to an environmental problem that arises from polluted waters surrounding these islands. This is a result from the impact of mass tourism.

Crónica del Naufragio (Chronicle of a Shipwreck), a film by Cristina Ferrández, presents a group of eight women building a boat’s frame on the foggy beach of Quebrantos, in Asturias, Spain. With the ocean as a backdrop, the film is a metaphor to the demise of our own existence. By using the allegory of a sinking ship, Ferrández alludes to our diluvial fate. This meditative piece is also a reference to global warming.

The works presented in The EnvironMENTAL Paradigm exhibit bring a sense of hope with the artists’ approach to art making. As innovators artists take the lead on creating art concerned with ideas pertaining to their milieu. Artists make a contribution playing a role as ecological activists. Concerned with ecological issues, they appeal to us to take a stance as active participants in conservation. They urge us to avoid actions that are in detriment of a nature we depend upon -- in an effort to save ourselves from annihilation. Artists, scientists, and the public just need to put their mind to it.

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