Sustainability: Combining Art with Science

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At a school like St. Mary’s, sustainability is a concept that is emphasized in every sense of the word, from the green buildings to the recycling and composting bins put in place around campus. In many cases, science (e.g., physics or engineering) is combined with art to create something that is not only going to help the environment, but that is also visually appealing.

Starting on Jan. 23rd, and continuing until March 2nd, in an exhibition aptly named Remediate/Re-Vision: Public Artists Engaging in the Environment, 14 artists – including such notable names as Patricia Johanson, Jackie Brookner, and Natalie Jeremijenko – are displaying their work with the environment, from re-constructing and re-shaping wetlands to constructing floating islands. The artists are trained in a variety of fields, from basic drawing and painting to sculpture to architecture. A few artists are also trained in additional fields, including construction, environmental education, and theater.

Among the works presented are television screens, photographs, interviews, and, in a sense, short documentaries. In watching the interviews, any viewer can obtain a more in-depth sense of what the artists’ intentions were when undertaking their respective projects. Patricia Johanson, an artist trained in architecture and public art, used her knowledge of both science and art to design morning-glory-shaped wetlands to treat water by removing organic pollutants and dissolving metals. They also contain water for no longer than 45 days after rainfall and clean runoff from the neighboring parking lot. In Johanson’s view, science and art are parallel in the way they are explored, and one can be incorporated with the other to create an “artistic” way of making the environment a healthier place.

Several of the artists’ works are very similar to Johanson’s: creating something that will help with the water flow, in addition to looking artistic. An artist who was trained in theater, Lorna Jordan, created a large structure that has the form of a miniature watershed, as well as the vague form of a human torso. The structure looks like a type of Amphitheatre and is called the “Terraced Cascade,” in that the terraces direct water, improving the ecology for the desert plants. Yet another artist, Natalie Jeremijenko, placed large red Xs on sidewalks in New York City, building a new type of urban habitat. The purpose of the Xs is to allow storm water to enter the deep soil that is found under the sidewalks and recycle, replenishing soil for trees several yards away.

Many of the artists have collaborated with various corporations and environmental agencies along the way, and a few have collaborated with one another as well, creating joint projects. On Monday, Jan. 30th, from 4:45-6:00 p.m., and on Tuesday, Jan. 31st, at 7:00 p.m., there will be presentations regarding the exhibition, given by art experts from Wave Hill, NY; and Allegheny College. Jennifer McGregor, who will be presenting on Monday, is the director of arts at Wave Hill, NY; and Amara Geffen, also presenting on Monday, is an art professor at Allegheny College and the director of Allegheny’s Arts and Environmental Initiative, as well as director of the college’s Center for Economic and Environmental Development. In addition to presenting on Monday, Professor Geffen will be presenting again on Tuesday.

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