Archive for the ‘sustainablity’ Category

Thanks to the wonderful presentations done by Mackenzie, Meaghan, Mary, Amanda and other I was able to come across a common theme that we have all agreed should be one of our pricipals during the presentations.  That was that it should be cheap, and fun.  What cheaper way to make art than to find garbage and to use that in art, or other found materials.  This not only promotes recycling and reusing, but to also look at our everyday lives in an artistic content.

The following presentations helped me come to this conclusion.

1. Mackenzie’s Inflatable

2. Meaghan’s Used books

and favorite artist Brian Dettmer

3. Amanda’s artist Vik Muniz

4. My own Japanese Stab book

5. And the artist Tara Donavan

other presentations that could be tied in are Song Dong, and the Wonder Cabinets.


Read Full Post »

One of my greatest interests is working with a specific material and using its characteristics, such as the objects popular associations, physical qualities, or structural integrates to help define a sculpture or installation.  While in my undergrad, I spend much time talking with my professor, Chris Lavery, and fellow students during critiques about how to use a material to your advantage.  In art making, especially sculpture and installation where you can use pretty much anything, the materials you choose can easily make or break your work.  In other words, the materials bring a lot of meaning that cannot go unconsidered because it greatly influences the meaning of your piece. With that said, this presentation is about looking at a specific material, the book, and exploring how this object can be worked with, against, and surprisingly transformed.

Working WITH a Material

artists:  Brian Dettmer, Maya Lin

organic chemistry

Organic Chemistry, 2008

This first image titled Organic Chemistry is the work by  Chicago born artist Brian Dettmer.  He currently lives and works in Atlanta and received his BA in Art and Design/Art History from Columbia College right here in Chicago.  Dettmer is known for working with objects that are slowly becoming less significant in our ever-evolving world.  He describes the used books and old cassette tapes he uses as artifacts of the pre-digital technology era, which gives us a glimpse into how these once popular objects are slowly moving into the background while digital technology continues to advance.  Many people refer to Dettmer as an archaeologist of contemporary objects, as a surgeon, or dissector of the disused and an excavator of objects near extinction.
Picture 2

title unknown

Others view Dettmer’s excavations as creating new relationships and meanings from the alteration of text and image, forcing us to respond with our own loaded impressions and interpretations of books.  Since he keeps the books recognizable, the viewer can respond from their own positions, and provoke feelings and memories they have with old  books.

Picture 3

Webster’s New Inter Diction

Dettmer uses xacto knives, tweezers, surgical clamps, needle-nose pliers, straight-edges and even pieces of metal that can bend into shapes while creating his sculptures.  Can you see why people are referring to him as a surgical master?  He also uses glue to help harden the outer surface enabling more concise and easier carving.  As he carves  deeper into a piece, he continues to add glue to preserve the work he has already done.  The process is rigorous and time-consuming, but produces a result that is well worth the time invested.

Dettmer’s objective while he is working on a piece  is to keep the inherent qualities of the items intact, while highlighting specific aspects of the book.  This can be seen in the first image, Organic chemistry, where he deliberately carves out certain areas to highlight the content of the book.  He often creates complex compositions and layers to help communicate what the books is all about.  To put it simply, he is working WITH the book.

Picture 4

Systematic Landscapes

Another artist that is a great example of working with the book is Maya Lin.   A trained artist and architect, she is most known for her Vietnam Veterans Memorial to built Washington, D.C. but has also created large installations, parks, monuments, and sculptures that explore  how the individual can become part of the landscape.  Above is an image  showing how she has used carving into a topographic book as research for her projects.  Lin has followed the contours of the topographic lines, transforming the 2D version of a mountain into the 3rd dimension. You  can check her out on the ART21 website.

Working AGAINST a Material?

When it comes to  sculpture, I often think about problem solving because the artist has the responsiblity to consider the materials being used and come up with ways to either enhance, hinder, or transform the material’s meaning with a purpose in mind.   Asking the question, What does it mean to work against a material? can be a fun excercise and challenge for students.  This question has the potential to open up the art making process and act as an oppurtunity to explore the possibilities of a material.  Below is another piece by Brian Dettmer.  I look at this piece and wonder about  his intentions.  The treatment of the books has led me to think about going against the properties of the book in order to create specific message.  What do you think?

Picture 5

Brian Dettmer, title unknown


Transforming a found object can be a difficult task since the goal is to surpass the objects original meaning in order to create something completely new.  I have not been able to accomplish this endeavor myself and have seen many artists successfully and unsuccessfully work with transforming everyday objects.  I have great appreciation for pieces that have moved beyond its original form and have come to possess a certain level of mystery.  I love to approach an art piece to be engaged in its story instead of being distracted by what it was made out of.  Below are some works that in my view are some great examples of transformation.  Enjoy.

Picture 6Brian Dettmer, Mound 1, 2008

Picture 7

Brian Dettmer, title unknown

Picture 8

Georgia Russell, title unknown

Georgia Russell is a Scottish artist who also uses a xacto knife to create her works. She cuts into books, music scores, maps, newspapers, currency, and photographs to create her incredibly intricate pieces.  They are often encased into plastic or glass containers, bringing a hint of scientific inquiry to her work.  Her work has also been perceived as an exploration of the relationship between the right and left hemisphere of the brain or how time often causes the dissipation of memories.  I look forward to learning more about his artist.

Picture 9

The Story of Art iii 2009

Below are two more images I want to show as examples of transforming an object.  These last two pieces by Brian Dettmer, the featured artist in this presentation, are not made out of books, but of old cassette tapes.  I may have chosen these pieces due to my recent fascination with antler and animal skulls, but I also believe these works to be great examples of using an object’s physical characteristics over its original form.  He has cleverly used a symbol of retro, pop culture art for his own purposes.  The cassette tape’s charged meaning does not over take the fact that this piece is inherently an animal skull.  The choice of materials and form are appropriate for each other, creating a solid piece with many layers of meaning.  I think Brian Dettmer is my new hero.

Picture 10

Ram skull, 2007, altered cassette tapes

Picture 11

title unknown

Read Full Post »

For architect Samuel Mockbee (1944-2001), place-based education was a the center of his life and work as an artist.


Mockbee’s work is often referred to as the Architecture of Decency, where he believes that smart, avant-garde architectural design should not be something reserved for the upper echalons of New York or L.A., but instead should be used to better the lives of the American population who need it most.

"Butterfly House," Image by Timothey Hursley

"Butterfly House," Image by Timothey Hursley

Because of his strong belief in the social importance and implications of architecture, he believed that an architecture student cannot learn about the complexity of their social role unless they leave the abstract classroom and learn about how their practice works in the fibers of the larger community. As a professor at Auburn University, in 1993 Mockbee created the Rural Studio, an off-campus study opportunity for Sophmore Architecture and Thesis students as a way to show how good architecture can be used to impact and change the local community, rather than merely being reserved for the elite.

The Mission Statement of the Rural Studio program is:

To enable each participating student to cross the threshold of misconceived opinions to create/design/build and to allow students to put their educational values to work as citizens of a community. The Rural Studio seeks solutions to the needs of the community within the community’s own context, not from outside it. Abstract ideas based upon knowledge and study are transformed into workable solutions forged by real human contact, personal realization, and a gained appreciation for the culture.

With this in mind, in this program sophomore architecture students from Auburn University spend  the semester away from campus living in Hale County, and other rural and impoverished parts of the state of Alabama. Working with other community organizations in the area, Mockbee, and now his team, identifies families in need of housing, and it becomes the work of the students to build houses around the needs and aesthetic desires of the family, for the smallest amount of money as possible. Under these conditions, students are immersed in the community and collaborate directly with their clients, come up with strong, innovative designs with very low cost materials, and are then responsible for carrying out all of the construction work that is usually only an abstract concept for many architecture students. Each year the undergraduate students involved in the program design and construct a house, while Thesis students work on community focused structures including chapels, Boys and Girls clubs, community centers etc. To date the Rural Studio has completed over 80 projects in Western Alabama.

Projects created by the Rural Studio must organically arise out of what the community itself identifies as needs, and the must students work to bring these projects about. Working with a limited budget, students must rely on community resources and often uses salvaged materials such as street signs, pipes, hay bales, cardboard, and even car windshields to complete structures. The intended result is to create culturally appropriate, socially and environmentally conscious buildings to benefit these rural communities.

The Rural Studios website explains:

“Mockbee once said that ‘Everybody wants the same thing, rich or poor … not only a warm, dry room, but a shelter for the soul’. The Rural Studio epitomizes that aspiration. Working from this ideal, students enrolled in the Rural Studio are exposed to the concept of ‘context based learning’ where they actually live in and become a part of the community in which they are working. It is through this process that they learn the critical skills of planning, design, and building in a socially responsible manner.”


The NPR Program “Speaking of Faith” ran a piece about the work of the Rural Studio. The show’s website includes great information about the Rural Studio including slide shows, audio, video clips of various projects, and interviews. To view the “Speaking of Faith” site click here.

Lesson Connections:

It is interesting to consider the model of the Rural Studio as a way to develop similar kinds of learning experiences for students in the urban art classroom.

  • How can we create “real world” art making experiences for our students so that it becomes more meaningful?
  • How can we encourage our student’s to view art making as something that could help to directly strengthen the community?
  • In the way that Mockbee believes that his students benefit from having to complete the entire construction process of their projects, how can we use technical skills to empower our students?
  • How can we create opportunities for students to leave their geographic comfort zone and have the chance to collaborate with people different from them?

Additional Resources:

Oppenheimer Dean, Andrea. Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture of Decency. New York : Princeton Architectural Press, c2002 (Book)

Moos, David. Trechsel, Gail. Samuel Mockbee and the Rural Studio: Community Architecture. Birmingham, Ala. : New York, NY : Birmingham Museum of Art ; D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, c2003. (Book)

Documentary on the Rural Studio: Rural Studio Film, http://www.ruralstudiofilm.com/launch.html

Interview with Samuel Mockbee, from BOMB Magazine: http://www.bombsite.com/issues/75/articles/2380

Gallery Images from flickr user Samuelmockbeedotcom: http://www.flickr.com/photos/samuelmockbeedotcom/

Read Full Post »

Chicago Guerrilla Gardens:

Guerrilla Gardening:

PHILOSOPHIES AND OBJECTIVES – political gardening, a form of direct action, primarily practiced by environmentalists. Neglected public spaces are reclaimed and maintained by the people. It is rooted in land rights, land reform, and permaculture.

DESIGN: relatively low maintenance, self-sustaining, perennial flora and crops


Milwaukee / Oakley
near Odd Obsession and the teacher supply store
what to look for: wild flowers and greens

Evanston central Stop
exit train. walk one block east. make a right. walk along the train to the end of the cul-de-sac.
look for: peonies, lily pond, vines, rose gardens, small twiggy fences


City Farm is a sustainable vegetable farm bordering two very diverse Chicago neighborhoods: Cabrini-Green and the Gold Coast. The farm boasts thirty varieties of tomatoes as well as beets, carrots, potatoes, gourmet lettuces, herbs and melons. All produce is grown in composted soil generated from various sources, such as restaurant trimmings from some of the city’s finest kitchens.

CITY FARM in all its summer glory


The Farm has a compost deposit for the local residents, produce, flowers, and plants used in paper making.  Paper making demos and Art Installations too.  It brought life beauty and information to the logan square community.


work exchange program for organic farms around the world! Room and board, not to mention training in organic farming.  Knowledge and experience in exchange for labor… sounds like an ideal trade off

Read Full Post »

I can go on and on about Tony Capellan.  I especially love a popular piece of his called Mar Caribe.  He’s from the Dominican Republic, and much of his work connects with the sea and the historical, social, political climate of the DR.

Mar Caribe by Tony Capellan

Mar Caribe by Tony Capellan

This outstanding site is for a group show of Caribbean artists, Island Thresholds, but you can click on WHO and his face to hear audio from him (with English  translation)!  This site is in English, Spanish, and French (Moncton-friendly).

Click below for images from my presentation on the artist to the class.  It is hard to find images of his work!

Tony Capellan Presentation

Read Full Post »