Patricia Watts Lecture: Art and Ecology

Photo Courtesy of ecoartspace blog

On Feb. 22, founder of Ecoartspace Patricia Watts gave a lecture entitled Art and Ecology: Some Kind of Nature at Cole Cinema on her work as a curator interested in the environment.

Watts has curated countless exhibitions, and is currently the Consulting Curator for the Marin Community Foundation in Northern California. Watts is also St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s current Artist House Curator-in-residence, and will stay on campus until the end of March.

Her interest in combining environmental issues with art started when she was asked to curate an outdoor exhibition. Instead of creating the typical sculpture garden, she wanted to reach further and create a garden that was, in itself, a work of art. She recalls thinking “There has to be something more interesting than doing a sculpture garden.” And it seems that she was right- this interest would become Ecoartspace, her nonprofit which has gained an impressive following since it was founded in 1999.

During her presentation, Watts focused on projects commissioned by other artists with the goal of promoting sustainability and ecological awareness. Such works included the Cloud House, a temporary installation in a Missouri park which aimed to illustrate the often forgotten impact humans have on the water system.

Another highlight of the presentation was an overview of Eve Mosher’s artistic project HighWaterLine, in which she used a baseball diamond line chalker to put on display the high water lines of floods that recur more and more frequently as humans contribute to climate change. This project was meant to start conversations about what could be done to prevent such disasters.

Watts turned Mosher’s project, along with other projects presented, into an action guide available online. Anyone can gather the supplies and recreate Mosher’s work. What matters is not that Mosher receives credit for her idea (although that is always appropriate), but that her message spreads and more people become aware of the material impacts of climate change.

The piece that inspired her summer class, Debris Fields, was an innovative idea by artists John Sabraw. Sabraw used mineral deposits from abandoned mine shafts that were polluting his local waterways to create pigments for paint, and then sold the paints (and the artworks made with them) to raise money for water restoration projects of the very same streams the pigments came from. This full circle project encapsulates what the connection between art and ecology should be like, and exemplifies the mission of Ecoartspace.

In an interview with Matthias Michael Hess for Mammut, Watts said of Ecoartspace “I usually find most critics misunderstand the work. They might be great writers, know art history or contemporary art theory, but do not understand the motivations of the artists or the science behind the work…” Watts then explains that although combining ecology with art may not be traditional, tradition is not crucial to the works the value. She continues “It is not aesthetic, it is not a sophisticated object that allows collectors to engage in the work. It is work that is being made for an audience at large.”

There will be a summer class offered with Watts from May 15 to June 2. The class, Art 333, is titled “Debris Fields: Aesthetic Solutions to Industrial Byproducts” and will focus on sustainability in art.