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Featured image: Thneeds Reseeds by Deanna Pindell

By Karin Bolender (University of New South Wales) & Deanna Pindell  (University of Washington Tacoma)

The key defining feature of ecological art may be the striking diversity of creative interventions its practitioners engage to draw attention and aesthetic interest toward complex problems of earthly well-being.  Ecoart practices involve what critic Linda Weintraub calls an “ecocentric” focus (in contrast to “egocentric” or “anthropocentric”). Contemporary forms of ecoart also share common Western art-historical roots in land art and activist (especially feminist) performance practices that emerged alongside growing awareness of environmental woes in the 1960s and 70s. Pioneer artists like Mierle Ukeles, Joseph Beuys, Agnes Denes, Helen Mayer and Newton Harrison, Hans Haacke, Jackie Brookner, and many others have engaged various modes of durational and direct remediative action. Diverse forms, styles, content, and materials of their seminal works reflect and model the complexity of ecological thinking. Embodying what Suzi Gablik calls “connective aesthetics,” early ecoart works laid the groundwork for a contemporary flowering of ecologically-minded and socially-engaged artforms.

Ecologically-focused sciences inform the work of the artist-practitioners in this field, and interdisciplinary art-science collaborations are common. Scientific grounding gives the work an authenticity and functionality toward addressing relevant challenges in this increasingly damaged world. In the keystone art-science collaboration titled Revival Field (1991-ongoing), artist Mel Chin and scientist Dr. Rufus Chaney undertook the remediation of a Superfund site by testing the ability of hyper-accumulator plants to uptake the heavy metals from the soil. Funding arrived from sources conventionally supporting science and the National Endowment for the Arts.  Chin argued for the aesthetic potential of living plants as an art medium and restoration as an artistic process. Successful as a melding of science and art, Revival Field and other collaborations that draw insights from multiple disciplines over time have heralded a shift toward broader acceptance of ecoart’s interdisciplinary terrain.

Artists have applied ecoart principles to intervene in practically every environmental arena: from agriculture and food production, water quality, habitat restoration in land and sea, nuclear radioactivity, and decontamination of toxic soils to alternative energy production and redirection of waste-streams. The scale of works range from palm-of-your-hand interventions (such as Seedbombs by Kathryn Miller) to the long-term restoration of entire watersheds (like many projects by The Harrison Studio). Ecoart projects often work to articulate connections between diverse agents, as they challenge and expand conventional ideas about the role of creative imagination in political, social, and — most importantly — environmental change.


Further Reading

Carruthers, Beth. Mapping the Terrain of Contemporary EcoART Practice and Collaboration. April 27. 2006. Research Report, Print, Web.

Kirksey, Eben (2014) “Multispecies Communities” in The Multispecies Salon, Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 145-153.

Spaid, Sue (2002) Ecoventions: Current Art to Transform Ecologies., The Contemporary Art Center, ecoartspace.

Weintraub, Linda (2012) To Life: Ecoart in Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Suggested Links

Each of the artists named in this page can easily be researched online. Here are a few suggested online collections of eco-art and eco-artists, each including more links and resources.

Curating Cities
University of New South Wales

EcoArt South Florida
Mary Jo Aagerstoun (Director)

Amy Lipton & Patricia Watts (Curators and Directors)

Deanna Pindell (Curator)

Green Museum
Sam Bower (Director)

Women Environmental Artists Directory
Susan Leibowitz Steinman (Director)

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a companion to the book