Interviewsand Articles


Introduction to Newsletter #19: Environmental Art

by Richard Whittaker, Feb 23, 2011



    Issue #19 opens with an interview by Mary Stein with San Francisco composer, instrument maker and sound artist Cheryl Leonard. The two became friends through their practice of Aikido. Leonard recently returned from a trip to Antarctica where she was surprised to find a much livelier soundscape than she had imagined. She returned with field recordings of, among other things, Adelie Penguins, elephant seals, the sounds of ice clinking together in the moving sea and an iceberg fizzing underwater. As she puts it, "in high school I wrote music and played the guitar and wanted to be a rock star." At Mills College her horizons broadened. "I just kept on learning about new types of music that were more experimental. Here's Stravinsky! Wow! Where did this come from? And here's electronic music!" No doubt John Cage is one of her musical mentors. Sounds of all kinds, attentively listened to take on new meaning. And all kinds of objects can be utilized for creating music. Listen in to this interview. That's what I want to say, but in this case, you'll be listening in through text. 

     We do have an audio interview you can listen to, however. Sam Bower and Anne Veh of talk about the environmental art movement and art as service. Sam's persistent question is how, as artists, can we work with the natural world in new and effective ways? Can infrastructures be created that will make this possible? As Sam points out, right now the artworld is not designed for this. Can artwork be integrated into society in ways that are functional and actually serve? is dedicated to this vision of sustainability and is experimenting with a gift economy model where it's run entirely by volunteers. Is this really possible? It's a work in progress. But has been operating this way for over ten years. 
     The spirit of service at the root of is vividly represented here by two additional features. Let's start with Jeff and Linda Lohr's wildly improbably story of The Lohrs were getting email from an earnest African man looking for some help. Who wasn't getting such emails? For a while it seemed the scams were coming in daily. This emailer, Abu Abdulai, was persistent. He wanted to come to the U.S. and learn Jeff's woodworking skills in order to help Ghanaians. There was something about his halting requests that finally made Jeff and Linda stop and wonder. Maybe this was an exception. Finally Jeff responded. What happened is an amazing story.  
     That brings us to another amazing story - Joe Peace. As he describes it the date was April 23rd, 1991. It was a little after lunch when it came to him: "I thought, I want to make something from clay. I want to make something for peace and I want it to be connected--like a chain letter or a peace chain. That's it! A peace chain!" In that moment he knew: "I'll make it the rest of my life!" Twenty years later and counting Joe Peace is at 489,716 of his handmade, glazed, peace chain pendants. His peace chains are all over the world now. 
     This edition ends with another vision. "I had a dream," Reiko Fujii says, "of making a glass, ancestral kimono." Reiko Fujii is a filmmaker. I discovered her films as one of the producers of a festival of short films at the Berkeley Art Center. She made the glass kimono and that was just the beginning. Then came the film. Reiko described one moment during filming: "An eerie sound of wind chimes mixes musically with the gentle rolling surf. Two fishermen pause from attending their gear and stare out at the ghostly figure walking slowly on the distant concrete pier. The early morning sunrise colors the old men's weathered faces as they watch the light sparkle off the multitude of glass squares adorning this mysterious figure. Wearing her glass ancestral kimono, she stops to gaze at the houses near the shore. For over four hundred years, her father's ancestors lived and died in this small fishing village of Esumi, Japan."
     Welcome to another edition.

About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founder of works & conversations magazine.


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