In the past, environmental artists have created sculptures and other works of art for the sake of expressing themselves creatively. Some artists wanted to establish a harmonious connection with the environment, and other artists created environmental art to rebel against the established rules and commercialism that gallery art represented. However, some artists, such as David T. Hanson, Mel Chin, and Lorna Jordan, believed that their artworks should convey a deeper message about the environment. These artists, along with many others, were part of a continuing movement known as “The Greening of Art”, and their art expressed the needed urgency to save the planet from the destruction of humans. Hanson, Chin, and Jordan all followed a new pathway while creating their art, a form of art that took an activist approach by bringing attention to and curing the damage society has thrust against nature.
The destruction of nature by humans can clearly be seen in David T. Hanson’s photography. He took an intense activist approach to bring attention to the ineffective forms of waste management that are being used throughout the United States. His project was entitled Waste Land, and the piece consisted of various photographs of waste sites along with topographical maps and in-depth descriptions of the sites. The photographs are very harsh, distressing and terrible, and the descriptions are references to EPA documents, which tell the historical and social realities of these “landscapes,” the environmental hazards they pose and the types of action taken to attempt to deal with the problems. However, Hanson’s piece proves that the government has not paid much attention to the environmental concerns surrounding waste sites. Many of the chemical substances dumped at these sites are too expensive to clean up or impossible to clean up, and through the photographs of Hanson, the public can finally see how humans are destroying the environment. When it comes to the environment, Hanson realizes that education is the first step towards inspiring adequate change, and he hopes that Waste Land will change the way people think about chemical and nuclear wastes that are dumped in the environment.
Along with Hanson, an artist by the name of Mel Chin decided that he also wanted to improve the environment, but instead of simply commenting on horrendous landfills, he decided to cure the problem as well by creating Revival Field. To get rid of the hazardous metals in a Saint Paul landfill, Chin teamed up with Dr. Rufus Chaney, an expert in hyperaccumulators. Hyperaccumulators are plants that are able to absorb metallic substances from toxic soil, and by planting these plants on a landfill, Chin hoped to rid the soil of toxins and return the land back to its natural state. However, the project was not completely successful, and John Beardsley expresses Chin’s incomplete success when he writes, “At the end of a three-year growing period it was determined that they were indeed removing contaminants from the soil, although not fast enough to achieve significant cleansing.” Although the area was not completely cleansed of toxins, Mel Chin’s activist piece, Revival Field, opened the possibility of helping the earth through natural means. In the future, the earth may finally be restored with the help of hyperaccumulators and artists that are willing to make a difference.
Another artist that wanted to make an active difference to improve the environment was Lorna Jordan. She made it her mission to cleanse the runoff water in Renton, Washington in an aesthetically pleasing way. Jordan’s finished piece was entitled Waterworks Garden, and its goal was to “purify oil-laced and silty storm-water runoff… In the absence of Jordan’s project, the water would have been treated along with sewage. Or it would have been collected and filtered in bland detention ponds” (another quote by John Beardsley). Instead, the water filtration system, Waterworks Garden, is a public attraction with artistic flower, seed, and leaf patterns that tell a story about the power of natural systems to cleanse themselves. The polluted waste is allowed to settle, and the pollutants then flow to a stream where plants naturally filter out the hazardous materials, much like the plants in Revival Field. Similar to Chin, Lorna Jordan used nature to cleanse the earth that humans have destroyed, and by doing so, she made an activist statement that reiterated the fact that we need to take responsibility for the damage we have caused against nature.
In recent decades, artists such as David T. Hanson, Mel Chin, and Lorna Jordan have realized that they can truly make an active difference to improve the environment as opposed to casually voicing their concerns. They all helped to form a new pathway of thinking in the art world. Their artworks have brought attention to the damage humans introduced to nature, and they have tried to cure the earth as well. As Stephen Jay Gould stated, “The planet will recover from nuclear holocaust, but we will be killed and maimed by the billions, and our cultures will perish.” Although the world itself may survive global warming or even a nuclear war, changes must be made for the sake of humanity, and the new environmental artists will hopefully improve the current damaging beliefs while curing nature in the process.