“The ecological art practices of today were born from the confluence of feminism and environmentalism in the 1970s.” Today, more than ever, it is crucial to search holistically for ways to address the climate crisis. One way of thinking is not enough and the culture of science, though effective for scientists, often falls short in communicating with the larger populace of non-scientists the importance of the issues we are all facing. I believe the methodology of art-based research and social practice presented to us by the mothers of the ecofeminist art movement is a valuable approach to creating a bridging and inclusive culture to adapt to a world in crisis. 99% of scientists now believe in human caused climate change and the world is reeling from the repercussions of years of drought, enormous forest and bush fires wiping out entire towns, atmospheric rivers causing endless winter storm damage and unheard of phenomena like Texas freezing over. These conditions are ramping up in an unprecedented manner and it comes with great cost. According to the psychiatrist Daniel Hochman, natural disasters equate to economic losses, psychological trauma, and other negative fall outs which can contribute to depression and increased suicide risk. Living in California for the past ten years I can attest to the psychological repercussion from relentless natural disasters, fires, floods and earthquakes, especially where the cost of living is so high to begin with. In the USA the belief and desire to mitigate the crisis is stymied by socio-political divide and a huge lack of belief and will to affect positive changes by much of the country. I am interested in how artists can intersect with climate science and social needs to facilitate public engagement for mitigating damage control for people and for the natural world. How can we utilize the problem solving nature of artistic thinking and the creative process to engage others on deeper levels where science fails to? How can art be employed for healing? I believe as artists working in this environment, we have responsibility to advocate, educate, inspire, facilitate and build community resiliency together. Art is a powerful vehicle for all of that. One of the key tenets of ecofeminism is the ability to create solutions working in the framework of interconnectivity with nature. We must be willing to be inclusive, to think differently and to learn from indigenous cultures who have passed down embodied practices through thousands of years of culture, in caring for each other and the earth. Centering the earth as a mother consciousness is a part of much indigenous wisdom. The practice of reverence that cultivates interconnection within the web of life and ideally a strong connection with the natural world, means co-creating a culture which values nature beyond the resource extractive perspective and enhances guardianship. So how can art making factor in? Thankfully there has been a trend recently by both male and female artists to bring our attention to critical environmental issues. Green artists such as Olafur Eliasson, David Maisel and Neziha Mestaoui have been carrying the baton through the vehicles of land art, photography and new technologies, bringing the issues to the international stage, connecting with a broader public audience and bending the boundaries of art at the same time. Pieces of melted icebergs in a refrigerated room for viewing in a gallery setting (Eliasson), art-sci collaboration for toxic waste remediation in “Revival Fields” (Mel Chin), beautiful yet haunting aerial photographs of pit mines exposing our extractive economies and values (Maisel) and “One Heart One Tree” (Mestaoui), a spectacular event to network audience participation for reforestation projects. By animating the Eiffel Tower with visual projections of trees growing in sync with human heartbeats of a paying audience linked to individual sensors, projects were funded by participants who could see a projected visualization of a tree growing with their name attached to it to feel part of a solution to climate change. Brilliant. These are just some of the contemporary artists bridging science, art and technology to inspire and awaken us to the necessary shifts that we need to see enacted by governmental action and policy worldwide. They are environmental art interventions. They stand on the shoulders of predecessors of artists like Agnes Denes and Betsy Damon for their groundbreaking agency in activism. They all add to the growing conversation of ecofeminist art which is garnering more attention again. “Agnes Denes: Absolutes and Intermediates” was a recent yet well-past due retrospective of her life’s work in The Shed in New York City. The artist was 88 years old. She is known for spearheading eco art projects including the largest human made forest art installation. Commissioned by the Finnish government and announced on World Environment Day in 1992, Tree Mountain continues to provide habitat for animals and a natural filter for groundwater. Planted by 11,000 people from all over the world, the trees grow in a mathematically derived swirling pattern. Denes also chose a variety of pine for the project that can live up to 400 years. Her hope is that the forest will act as a witness to future generations, telling them we were a society that cared for the environment. Denes herself wrote that Tree Mountain; “is designed to unite the human intellect with the majesty of nature.” and “the process of bioremediation restores the land from resource extraction use to one in harmony with nature, in this case, the creation of a virgin forest.” Perhaps some of the power of Denes’ work lies in the fact that;
"The work makes us look again, to become more curious and aware. At the same time, we join with the artist in the complexity and celebration of the mystery of life. Such reaction to her work may seem poetic, but Agnes Denes is a visionary.”
Since the 1960s, she has participated in more than 6000 exhibitions at galleries and museums throughout the world;
“A pioneer of several art movements, she is difficult to categorize. Investigating science, philosophy, linguistics, psychology, poetry, history, and music, Denes' artistic practice is distinctive in terms of its aesthetics and engagement with socio-political issues.”
Now the world is starting to catch up.
My understanding of ecofeminist thinking partly stems from the second wave feminist artist Betsy Damon. Damon’s legacy with her ongoing eco art installation, Living Water Garden, models ecofeminist practice in its unifying approach of environmentalism and feminist thinking. As Damon says in her book Water Talks, “nothing is worth saying unless it acknowledges interconnectivity” (p 5 ) Damon’s practice provides a model of the ideal trifecta that I personally aspire to; inspiring advocacy, strong personal aesthetic with a dedicated practice and practical applications for environmental and community resiliences.
“Applying feminist strategies of collaboration, consciousness-raising, and activism honed through her early career in the Feminist Art Movement, artist Betsy Damon addresses human caused water scarcity through art as social practice.”
Betsy Damon’s legacy is her art practice centered in living water systems and founding Keepers of the Waters, a nonprofit focused on ecological planning, advocacy and education. Damon was a semi-finalist for the Buckminster Fuller Award and a finalist for the Stockholm Water Prize. Damon has lectured widely in the U.S, Europe and China. She’s been a visiting artist at countless colleges and universities.
“Her prints, performances, installations, and eco art works made since 1991, including The Living Water Garden and Living Waters of Larimer convey the importance of restoring sustainable systems, which, she believes, requires communities to take control of their water. She approaches the problem from the position of eco-justice, arguing that the privatization of natural resources is incompatible with the universal right of all life to clean water. In these projects and in her current project with the Lakota, Damon continues to implement strategies of consciousness-raising and community-building inspired by feminism, using principles of connection learned from water.”
With these examples of environmental art interventions, especially those based in inclusive feminist thinking, we can see how important art can be in developing different approaches about our water, land and communities in a solution focused way.
"Water has taught me critical lessons about myself as a human being sharing this planet. These are lessons about inherent connections, collaboration, and relationships." --Betsy Damon
This brings me to the motivation for my “artivist” social practice; inspired by the words of art critic Eleanor Heartney; “as the climate crisis deepens and we look for answers, this (ecofeminist art) may be the art that matters most.” The exploration of ecofeminist artists informs the direction of my own work for my own mental health and desire to participate in solutions. Currently I am working on a project called Coralizing which seeks to engage people with climate and human impacted, endangered coral reefs. Following the ecofeminist trail, I am exploring how to express human interconnectivity within the web of life whilst highlighting the fragility of coral reefs in crisis with my ceramic and glass sculptures. My exploration will also lead me into collaboration with coral regeneration groups, the research and fabrication of practical applications for ceramic sculpture in coral fragging projects and how to analyze the effectiveness of art installations for advocacy. The goal of my MFA final thesis work is to realize my vision for an immersive art experience called Ocean INSIDE which will be the culmination of the next couple of years of my art-based research. Stay tuned...
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Holistic art practitioner