"We are storytellers. Our art is about direct engagement." Newton Harrison1
This section focuses on artists whose work has challenged people to consider problems and solutions that defy conventional thought and practice. Although several of the works included here have not been realized, per se, these artists disclose problems and often suggest solutions, so their works stand as a means to an end, unlike poetic practices that offer ritualistic acts of healing or consciousness raising and are conceived as ends in themselves. As suggested in the "Introduction," activism is a broad category, especially since any work of art that introduces an unfamiliar idea or alternative plan is indeed subversive, and therefore activist. This affirms the view that art is essentially political, precisely because interesting art challenges preconceptions and incidentally fulfills an activist role. By contrast, artists presented here have created intentionally activist works that often weave their way into the fabric of society to intervene in situations in unexpected ways.
Such interventionist schemes demonstrate the artist Joseph Beuys' (1921-1986) notion of "infiltration," which he likened to an oil stain spreading across a filter. "This is the other side of the filter: a new refined essence, the spreading of ideas to the different forcefields of human ability, a kind of inspiration that takes effect through a physical process of capillary absorption: psychological infiltration, or even the infiltration of institutions."2 While Beuys' oeuvre was wide-ranging, covering installation, performance, sculpture, drawing, lecturing, and political organizing, he was one of the first artists to employ performance art to articulate both the interconnection between human life and nature, and art's capacity to render radical social change.
To demonstrate his concern for bogs, Europe's most endangered eco-system, he carried out Eine Aktion im Moor (Bog Action) (1971), in which he jogged through a bog, bathed in the mud, and eventually swam through this swampy pit. Bogs were under threat of being drained to form low-lying land masses known as polders. Beuys described his interest in bogs as follows:
Even his mythologized Coyote. I Like America and America Likes Me (1974), for which he spent several weeks penned up with a coyote, explored ecological concerns. The unusually intelligent coyote, historically maligned by cattlemen who have viewed them as threats to livestock, symbolizes both its own endangerment and the extermination of native Americans, who consider it sacred.4 Best known for his lively blackboard lectures, Beuys traveled the United States articulating his Energy Plan for Western Man (New York, Chicago and Minneapolis, 1974), which introduced Americans to his theories about creativity's potential, man's relationship to nature, and his own mystical world view. During these performances, Beuys would draw, erase, and redraw throughout the event, diagramming his theory of social sculpture art's political, evolutionary and revolutionary power to free humankind from all oppression. These talks culminated in lively discussions, during which he invited audience members onstage to debate him. His vision of radical democracy required every person's participation in determining his or her own destiny, which necessitates thinking, feeling, willing, and protecting creative freedom.5
Concerned by Germany's rapid deforestation, Beuys first conducted a forest action in Düsseldorf in 1971 to call attention to the need for a progressive urban ecology. His contribution to the international art exhibition "Documenta 7" (1982), a plan to reforest Kassel, Germany with 7000 oaks, revisited this 1971 action. The oaks symbolize life's fragility and the mutually beneficial relationship between nature and humans. Anyone could participate by sponsoring a tree for $210. In return, each sponsor received a signed certificate stating "small oak trees grow and life continues."8 Students from the Free International University helped plant the trees.
Placed aside four-foot-tall, locally-quarried basalt columns, the relational proportions constantly change. Each stone marker's stasis contrasts with the living tree, growing beside it. In actuality, fifteen different types of trees were used and only 60% were oaks. When Beuys died in 1986, only 5500 trees had been planted, so his son, Wenzel, carried forth the plan and planted the 7000th tree at the opening of "Documenta 8."9
In 1981, Beuys declared An Appeal for an Alternative, which he directed to all people belonging to the European cultural sphere and civilization. It was reprinted in the "Documenta 7" catalog.
He named the ecological crisis as one of four symptoms of the crisis in late-capitalism. He wrote:
Grass Grows focused the audience's attention on an event that one typically takes for granted, while offering each viewer incredibly different experiences. For those who revisited the exhibition, watching winter rye grass grow became a memorable experience that undoubtedly changed their awareness of this everyday event.
Working with several architects on a 1968 plan for Brooklyn's Fort Greene Park, Haacke proposed to leave a portion of the park totally uncultivated. With Bowery Seeds (1970), he actually achieved this, as a small circular area of earth lay open awaiting airborne seeds. By leaving this area uncultivated, so that embedded and airborne seeds could vegetate wildly, this work resembled the spirit of Yoko Ono's proposition, Painting for the Wind (1961).
When Bonn's Federal Ministries invited him to propose a work for a new Ministries of Education, Science, and Justice building complex, Haacke proposed Vorschlag "Niemandsland" (Proposal "No Man's Land") (1973-1974). Though its form may have been similar to Bowery Seeds, its process, effect, and meaning would have been quite different given its location. Haacke proposed that a circular site, 25 meters in diameter, be carved into the pavement. A conveyor belt placed over the site would randomly deposit the soil on it. Unlike Ono's Painting for the Wind, Haacke's indeterminate project was not meant as a recipe, event-score, or proposition, but as a fluid alternative to the political system's rigid structure. He even requested the German government sign an internationally binding treaty that relinquished all rights in and to this territory, thus pledging to grant everyone access to this no-man's land.
Although this proposal was later rejected, it paved the way for the equally radical Der Bevölkerung (To the Population) (2000), whose process is very different, though similar in meaning and effect. Twenty-five years later, Haacke was once again invited to propose a public work for a German government building. Following the reunification of Germany, the capital moved from Bonn back to Berlin and the controversial Reichstag was chosen to house the Bundestag (German Parliament). His title Der Bevölkerung (To The Population) improves upon Dem Deutschen Volkes (To The German People), inscribed on the Reichstag's western portal in 1915. Haacke first noticed this troubling inscription in 1984. In order to express the sovereignty of German soil, as opposed to German blood, which could represent the population, Haacke requested each of the 639 Members of Parliament (MPs) to carry two 25-kilogram bags of soil from their home region. The soil was then spread around four-foot neon letters, which typographically match the original inscription's font, placed in a 21 foot x 68 foot trough in the Reichstag's northern courtyard.
Newly elected MPs contribute new soil, and when an MP's term expires, a portion of the soil, commensurate with his/her contribution, is removed. Plaques bearing all the names of the MPs and their respective districts are installed wherever Der Bevölkerung is visible. This new ecosystem mirrors the population's inherent diversity, while nature's tug-of-war symbolizes the democratic process. As Haacke observes:
Although projects proposed by the collaborative duo Helen Mayer (b. 1929) and Newton Harrison (b. 1932) have rarely been realized as proposed their influence can be measured by evaluating a particular project's implemented plan minus their proposed solution. They describe their working process and related contribution as a "conversational drift," since discussion is the starting point for many of their ideas, which are circulated by word of mouth.
Thirty years ago, however, their scale was much smaller. With Making Earth (1970), Newton romped in mud one year before Beuys' Bog Action. He gathered different kinds of manure, sewage sludge, sawdust, vegetable matter, clay, and sand to create seven piles of earth that he watered and worked until they smelled so rich that he could put the soil in his mouth. Invited to participate in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's landmark exhibition "Art and Technology" (1971), Newton worked with Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Richard Feynman to create Encapsulated Aurora. First exhibited in a darkened room in the American Pavilion at Expo'70 in Osaka, Japan, Encapsulated Aurora presented the glow discharge phenomenon associated with the Northern Lights in 12-foot tall, 18-inch diameter plastic tubes. This project became Survival Piece #1 and led to Newton's second project, Notations on the Ecosystem of the Western Salt Works (with the inclusion of Brine Shrimp), which was exhibited with Encapsulated Aurora in "Art & Technology." This led to the Harrisons' Survival Series (1970-1973), which introduced self-sufficient harvesting techniques. They thus transformed public exhibition spaces into portable fish farms, orchards, and fields. Catfish, pigs, berries, beans, cucumbers, oranges, and avocados were then harvested, prepared, and served to museum visitors in Fullerton, Brussels, London, Houston, and Boston.
Once they realized that farming under lights was too energy-expensive, they "began to think more directly about reclamation and restitution at whatever scale opportunity offered."18 First Lagoon (1972), a small simulated aquatic ecosystem, featured hardy creatures that could live under museum conditions. The Scripps Institute of Oceanography awarded them a grant and they created six more lagoons between 1972 and 1979. The original 360-foot Lagoon Cycle is in the National Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Center in Paris, France.
Several works from the 1980s led to environmental changes, though the Harrisons continued to emphasize conversational drift over direct action. Their Barrier Islands Drama: The Mangrove and the Pine (1982) project for the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida, was partly responsible for the banning of the so-called Australian pine from South Florida. Their proposal to restore a tributary of the Los Angeles River, the Arroyo Seco Release (1985) for California Institute of Technology's Baxter Gallery, was completed by others almost fifteen years later.
In anticipation of people needing 600,000 new homes by 2010, the Cultural Council of Southern Holland invited artists, architects, and urban planners to propose solutions for a vast tract of farmland at the center of a ring of cities. The pilot who founded KLM named it "the green heart of Holland" when he flew over it in the mid-1930s. While about thirty other participants' proposals were exhibited in the Architecture Museum in Rotterdam, the Harrison Studio's proposal, A Vision for the Green Heart of Holland (1995), was exhibited in a small chapel in Gouda. Nonetheless, most of the issues the Harrison Studio raised and the strategies they proposed were included in the Minister of the Environment's formal presentation eight months later. The Harrisons were successful, in part, because several Dutch ecologists and landscape architects were involved in its conception. The Cultural Council of Southern Holland sent out 3000 posters and organized several public discussions, including a television program. Their Gouda exhibition traveled to Delft and Zoetemeer.
The inventive feature of their proposal is its Bio-Diversity Ring, a multi-use park with housing on its perimeter that encircles the existing farmland and polders to form a protective eco-urban edge for the "Green Heart" and Randstat, a group of culturally diverse cities including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Den Haag, Haarlem, and Delft. The Harrisons value it as "the first Bio-Diversity Ring to be invented."20 If new homes could be built outside this one-to two- kilometer wide, 140-kilometer long Bio-Diversity Ring and its outreaching arms, then the Green Heart would both be preserved and the economic influx of 120 billion to build 600,000 homes would flow to the communities outside the ring, rather than be concentrated on the giant new city or cities within it.
Furthermore, a Bio-Diversity Ring could absorb 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide and make about 25,000,000 cubic meters of clean water available, thus eliminating the need to use polluted Rhine water in summer. Finally, its gradual implementation would shelter it from a sudden economic downturn or a decline in migration. The Harrison Studio's vision for Holland, the first "continuous corridor for bio-diversity in Continental Europe," exemplifies the balanced ecological-economic design that they have promoted for decades, echoing their earlier idea to create an eco-security system by taxing the gross national product 1%.21
Between 1977 and 1978, the Harrisons worked as community organizers to create Spoil's Pile. Three thousand dump trucks full of earth were dumped to transform one corner of Artpark's spoiled land into a twenty-acre meadow. This paved the way for Future Garden, Part 1: The Endangered Meadows of Europe (1996-1998), a continuously changing, living, 3600-square meter color field atop Bonn's Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland.
By transplanting a 400-year old meadow from the Eifel region to the museum's roof, they saved a section of an eco-system that was being destroyed to make room for a housing development. A wet meadow, a dry meadow, and a stone meadow were added to create diversity. In 1997, a portion of this meadow was moved and reconstructed along the Rhine in Bonn's Rheinauen Park (a site chosen by the Harrisons and several botanists). The meadow was called a future garden because they saw it as a model for a future forest, future estuary, or future lake, as well as a biologically diverse alternative to a monocultural Europe.
Incorporated in 1980 as the Ocean Earth Construction and Development Corporation (Ocean Earth), it changed its official name to Ocean Earth Development Corporation in 1994, so as to avoid confusion with the Paris-based agency OECD. Basically an artist-run, yet incorporated, research and development think tank, Ocean Earth aspires to create necessary, useable, marketable, and therefore saleable technology. It was:
While several eco-artists regularly use satellite imagery to gain a bigger picture of the destruction or of nature to study the interrelationships of topographical forms, Ocean Earth was the first to use them as a powerful information tool. Ocean Earth gained notoriety when news sources like CNN, NBC, CBS, several European television stations, and international newspapers like the International Herald Tribune started purchasing their Space Force group's satellite imagery, produced using Landsat civil-satellite data. Space Force could process satellite data because member Bill Dolson had worked on the software for Landsat, and they hired LogEtronics, a state-of-the-art satellite data processor. Using revenues from their television sales, Space Force purchased the data from satellite ground stations, so they controlled the the data's application and owned the related images. Space Force's specialty was selecting the site/date and frame of the data. 26
According to Ocean Earth's résumé, their satellite survey maps of basins and sub-basins were instrumental in anticipating, providing evidence for or explaining many news-breaking stories during the 1980s. Ocean Earth imagery provided crucial information about attack routes in the Falklands (1982) and Beirut (1982), explanations for Chernobyl's melt-down (1986), the motivations behind Swedish prime minister Olof Palme's assassination (1986), Russian submarine bases (1986), Pakistan's nuclear facility (1987), and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. At the same time, they provided news services ecologically-sensitive information, but there were far fewer media outlets for eco-related stories. Nonetheless, they sold a story about the Amazon basin and its impact on the Caribbean Sea to Turner Broadcasting and the Cousteau Society (1983).27
What is most significant is the way Ocean Earth's ecologically-driven pursuits have incidentally identified sensitive military maneuvers of global import. For example, their 1984 decision to study Iraq's Basra marsh frame, rather than its Majnun marsh, revealed that the Russians had dug twenty narrow, parallel channels to penetrate Iran's Karun River with enough force to divert about 100 miles of the Tigris River (hence, the epithet "River Rifle"), potentially altering Iran's boundaries. Artist Peter Fend's familiarity with artist Dennis Oppenheim's never-built Dead Furrow (1968), channels designed to alter a river's flow, enabled this veteran Ocean Earth participant to identify the purpose of these channels, which incidentally also provide ecological advantages for water-stressed regions.28 In the end, a UN contact secretly transferred Ocean Earth-collected photographs, charts, maps and videotapes to Iranian officials, who used the information to locate and destroy Iraq's "River Rifle."
As if to remedy this misuse of Ocean Earth's findings and to prove the group's apolitical position, Fend met with Iraqi officials in their Paris embassy in 1990. Fend proposed that Iraq rebuild the destroyed Earthworks, whose positive environmental applications include de-desertification and river-restoration.29 In 1988, Ocean Earth had developed a massive de-desertification plan to green the deserts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and various emirates, which they later hoped the military forces of Desert Storm would construct. That same year, the precocious Ocean Earth group released a one-kilometer resolution satellite overview to Danish, German, and Swedish media. This image indicated a toxic algal bloom in the North Sea that had spread from a small area near Sweden to the entire ocean body around Denmark in just one day.
In 1985, the Algerian ambassador to France had asked how Ocean Earth could help the Algerian army restore Algeria's desert to savannah. Inspired by this query, Ocean Earth finally answered him with a proposal for a bird path extending from the Algerian mountains to the Black Sea basin. Exhibited in 1994 for "Startbahn Österreich" at Galerie Metropol, Vienna, Austria, their proposal called for migratory species like birds and insects to provide nutrients that enable vegetation to take hold and spread, creating an appropriate habitat for larger mammals.30
While much of Ocean Earth's early work has centered on saltwater basin mapping and providing "Motile-Media Site Monitoring," their most ecologically relevant projects involve their "architectural components," such as GASCAR (Green Algae System-Clean Air Rig/Carbon Absorption Rig/Cities Architecture Rudiment). This giant algae system rig was first introduced in 1993 at the "Venice Biennale Aperto Exhibition" and traveled throughout France from 1993 to 1996. GASCAR, a structure that is submersed up to 40 meters, facilitates the growth and harvesting of marine or freshwater algae (plants like hyacinths, or fuel-rich microorganisms that grow on the water's surface). Other Ocean Earth-designed non-polluting, energy-harvesting structures include Large Algae Systems, Medium Algae Systems, Wateroogster (Freshwater Algae Harvester) and the OUW (Ocean Earth Undershot Water Wheel). Ocean Earth is currently dedicated to creating a highly efficient water wheel, inspired by Poncelet's theories and named for this 19th Century French inventor. 32
Although the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI) is a non-profit organization, it resembles Ocean Earth, since its endeavors are often associated with a key individual, yet they really involve team members' efforts. Since its 1994 inception, CLUI's "corps" has included John Alvarez, Lisa Boulanger, Eric Carver, Ellen Coolidge, Matthew Coolidge, Miles Coolidge, Walter Cotton, Kelly Coyne, Mark Curtin, Diana Drake, Damon Farragut, John Fitchen, Jennifer Gabrys, Jon Hartzog, Sebastian Hassinger, Chris Kahle, Michael Kassner, Camille Kirk, Erik Knutzen, Carrie Lincourt, Angela Loughry, Lucy Lin, Suzanna Mast, Sabrina Merlo, Lize Mogel, Steve Parker, Rex Ravanelle, John Reed, Shelby Roberts, Steve Rowell, Amy Russell, Sarah Simons, Melinda Stone, Dave Vamos, Igor Vamos, and Diana Wilson, among others.
CLUI's website declares its dedication "to the increase and diffusion of information about how the world's lands are apportioned, utilized, and perceived."33 One could say that "anthropogeomorphology," the study of land forms created by man, is CLUI's primary field of inquiry. In this respect, CLUI has inherited Robert Smithson's fascination with post-industrial sites, but its purview is much broader than his, and even includes classic Earthworks such as his Spiral Jetty. Despite its resemblance to a dry government manual, The Nevada Test Site: A Guide to America's Nuclear Proving Ground, which was CLUI's first publication, introduced mostly original research and created an instant buzz, targeted as it was to a general audience.
Wildly prolific, CLUI maintains an on-line database of "unusual and exemplary land-use sites;" manages a research center in Los Angeles, California (facilitates processing, archiving, and exhibiting information); sponsors the Land Use Museum Complex (encompasses CLUI-identified land forms, Wendover Exhibit Hall in Wendover, Utah, and other, often temporary, multimedia activities); operates the Desert Research Center in Hinkley, California; regularly exhibits in other museums; organizes and distributes its exhibition catalogs; leads site visits and bus tours (led by CLUI guides and accompanied by onboard videos), and publishes the quarterly Lay of the Land newsletter.
The website alone is an incredibly useful tool. A visitor can index a site by entering a key word, state, site name, or land-use category, such as cultural, industrial, military, mining, nuclear/radioactive, research and development, transportation, waste, and water. She or he can even explore sites of interest by cross-matching a category and a locale. For each entry, the visitor can access the site's description, its brief history (recounting its evolution from a natural state to its present form), current status and future plans. In several cases, photographs and site maps are available.34
To CLUI's credit, most projects proposed in their September 1996 Site Extrapolation Projects pamphlet actually came to fruition. Its Site Extrapolation Division examines the particulars of specific landscapes and sites, using photography, video, and sculpture to "enhance the legibility of the site and the issues it raises."35 Like Ocean Earth, CLUI has experienced a greater demand for information of military and industrial consequence. When asked whether this reflects a particular CLUI fascination, Matt Coolidge explains:
Most CLUI museum exhibitions are accompanied by bus tours to nearby sites of interest. These enable all sorts of people to experience first-hand dozens of "unusual and exemplary" man-made landforms. Once the local exhibitions or tours are over, interested viewers can take a self-guided tour using information provided by CLUI's detailed exhibition catalogs or tour vicariously through the Lay of the Land newsletter and their fascinating website. Several popular guidebooks like Route 58, 5th Avenue Peninsula Tour (Oakland), Points of Interest in the California Desert Region, Around Wendover, and Subterranean Renovations: The Unique Architectural Spaces of Show Caves were created without an accompanying museum exhibition.
In 1996, Bern-based artist George Steinmann initiated the Forum for Sustainability, a research center in the Priluzsky region of Komi Republic, Russia. This center has a mission similar to CLUI's Wendover Camp and Desert Research Center. Located on the western slope of the Ural Mountains in Russia's extreme northeast Komi Republic, the boreal Taiga forest is significant because it is one of Europe's last remaining pristine, uncultivated forests. It demonstrates what the forests of Western Europe and Canada's northern territories were like 1000 years ago. Rich in mushrooms, berries, and medicinal plants, this forest is nevertheless at risk of environmental degradation, because it is rich in exploitable natural resources. Russia's second largest energy reserves are located in Komi, which is also Russia's prime resource for metals like bauxite, titanium, chromium, manganese, and barium. The dominant industries in the region are coal mining, petroleum and natural gas, timber, pulp, and paper industries.39
Addressed to and involving the people in Komi, the forum's activities will "especially through the infrastructures of the international art world, create attention to the issues of pristine forest conservation."40 By educating the local people about their environment's ecological significance, Steinmann hopes that Voj-Vozh (a growing sculpture) can be preserved as a place to study boreal forest conservation, sustainable forest management, and biodiversity. Recent research has already unearthed very interesting scientific data regarding lichens. Of particular interest is the Komi healers' knowledge of medicinal plants. Steinmann is working with a pharmacist to prepare the essences of plants, berries, and herbs for future use as phytotherapeuticals.
"Growing step-by-step, Voj-Vozh [Komi language for "in the North/in the forest"] is a transdisciplinary network, a model for sustainability through art."41 Steinmann is responsible for developing Voj-Vozh (a growing sculpture) in its entirety. Specific advisers are the people of the Prilusky region (including foresters, guides, shamans, and healers); The Swiss Federal Forest Agency, Bern, Switzerland; Professor Dr. Yrjö Haila, Department of Environmental Policy, the University of Tampere, Finland; and The Institute of Biology, Komi Scientific Center, Ural branch of the Russian Academy of Science.
A wooden building designed by acclaimed Helsinki-based Heikkinen-Komonen Architects, the Forum for Sustainability facility accommodates ten to twelve people and offers a room for studies and education, a community room with cooking facilities, and a banja (sauna). Design priority was given to ecological sustainability, environmental protection, and the use of local materials. Future forums will assemble local and foreign students, scientists, foresters, ecologists, and artists, in order to build "positive energy and through that, create help for self-help."42 Falling under the auspices of the Komi branch of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) International, a nongovernmental agency under mandate of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the forum is run by the Administration of the Municipal Union for the Priluzsky region.
Like other artists in this section, Basia Irland makes interdisciplinary and participatory works, so their influence extends well beyond the art world. She gained a lot of attention for A Gathering of Waters: Rio Grande, Source to Sea (1995-2000), a participatory performance staged along the world's third most endangered river, the 1885-mile Rio Grande/Río Bravo basin, which rises in Colorado, passes through New Mexico, extends along the Mexican border, and flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Hundreds of artists, government agencies, private water users, farmers, ranchers, Native American leaders, and ordinary people collected small river water samples in a canteen and logged their experiences in a field book. The canteen and log book, which were voluntarily passed hand-to-hand, community-to-community, traveled by "boat, raft, canoe, hot-air balloon, car, van, horseback, truck, bicycle, mail, and by foot,"43 tying diverse communities to a common interest. In 1999, Irland completed a documentary on this extraordinary event, that only she could imagine wouldn't result in losing the lone canteen. This grass-roots activity explored the rich diversity of the upper and lower river basins and contributed to the public's awareness of the river's relationship to the cultural and environmental issues of its adjacent communities.44
With one recent group of portable sculptures, Irland juxtaposed "the human impulse to chart whether U.S. Geological Survey Maps, aerial photographs, or archeoastronomy drawings from ancient cultures with the power of water to inscribe itself on the rocks beneath a glacier or in the marks of the tide."45 Poetic trip kits like Kit for Paddling through Stars Floating on a Lake (2000) or Of Pelicans and Palapas (1999) hold maps, charts, photographs, books, objects, and videos, providing both the necessities for a water journey and repositories for a record of the trip.
When invited to create a fountain for the Albuquerque Museum, Irland took advantage of an opportunity to enlighten people about the preciousness of water in the Albuquerque desert environment. Like a desert arroyo, Desert Fountain depends on the harvesting of rain or snow. When full, its 50-gallon storage tank enables the fountain to flow for 30 hours over three pair of bronze arms with etched, cupped hands. In the summer of 1999, she was rewarded for her thoughtfulness when a severe drought forced the state to temporarily turn off all public fountains. An unexpected shower made Desert Fountain the only flowing fountain in the state, and created the public stir necessary to raise awareness about this arid region's need for water conservation.
Dedicated to archiving the use and abuse of water sources, Irland is the founder and director of the International Water Institute and is often the only artist to address international conferences on water and environmental policies. Her recognized expertise in harvesting precipitation has led to her involvement in massive rainwater collection and recirculation schemes. In 1998, the California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo invited her to discuss the possibility of harvesting and recirculating rainwater to make its campus self-sufficient. Irland is currently constructing two rainwater harvesting demonstration projects, one for the University of New Mexico and another for Pueblo of Isleta, New Mexico.
Since 1992, Kathryn Miller (b. 1953), an artist also educated as a biologist, has distributed Seed Bombs (1992-2001) to re-vegetate degraded, physically abused or barren landscapes with native plants. When local seed bombs are exhibited as part of a museum exhibition, museum visitors may take one and toss it locally, wherever they feel native plants are needed. Similar in concept and impact to Ono's Painting for the Wind (1961), Haacke's Bowery Seeds (1970), Sonfist's Seed Catcher (1973), and conceptualist Rob Pruitt's Art Idea No. 20: Slash Open a Bag of Potting Soil, Sprinkle Plant Seeds in the Wound and Watch them Grow (1999), Miller's Seed Bombing the Landscape is less a proposal and more a call for real action, which results in plants randomly sprouting wherever seeds take root. A work entitled Subdivision (1992-present) entailed building small soil houses as containers for sprouting plants. The plants in turn provide nectar for butterfly species, whose disappearance reflected food shortages. Meant to draw attention to the way subdivisions replace local ecologies with buildings, asphalt, concrete, and non-native plantings, Miller's soil and seed homes dissolved over time to become part of a neglected Isla Vista Park's landscape.
Like Irland and Ocean Earth, Miller is particularly concerned by the region's aridity. In collaboration with Michael Honer, Miller began the Desert Lawn series in 1994. Dressed in scrubs like doctors from the tele-drama ER, they raced between deserts, chemical plants, and rivers with a plot of grass on a gurney, hooked up to an intravenous drip. For Lawns in the Desert (1995), they displayed related photo-text panels and Desert Lawn's props next to 35 eight-gallon bottles of water the amount of water this small plot consumes annually to illuminate the absurdity of artificially sustained lawns. Like CLUI, Miller's ecologically sensitive discoveries have been compiled into nine artist's books to date.