Patricia Johanson (b. 1940) first gained attention in 1968 for Stephen Long, a strip of color running 1600 feet along an abandoned railroad track that responded to changes in natural light. This first environmental sculpture of its kind led to a Vogue article, as well as a garden commission for House and Garden (H&G) magazine. The commission never came to fruition, mostly because H&G expected Johanson to design estate gardens, while she was more interested to close the gap between thriving habitats and human design.
Although the commission fell through, related research inspired this artist, who later took a degree in architecture, to write a series of essays and design hundreds of inventive sketches for environmental projects. In 1969, she originated plans for water gardens (made from flood basins, dams, reservoirs, and drainage systems), ecology gardens, ocean-water gardens, dew ponds, municipal water-garden lakes, and highway gardens, even though she had no particular clients in mind. "My idea was to take things that are engineered and built, and transform them into fountains and gardens."3This thinking paved the way for an entirely new approach to integrating nature and the urban infrastructure.
Moreover, some of the ideas that Johanson developed during this period influenced her organization of Cyrus Field (1970), which linked a geometric marble path to a redwood maze configuration to a concrete pattern. Created in the woods near her Buskirk, New York home, the forest's irregularity disrupted this work. Like Haacke's Grass Grows (1969) or Sonfist's Time Landscape (1965/1978-present), Cyrus Field inspired visitors to focus on ecology. Twenty years later, she discovered that several places were moss-covered and the redwood had buckled, as trees grew larger. "The traditional art object is based on the idea of perfection...Cyrus Field is alive. The piece grows and changes; it is in the process of becoming other things."4
In 1978, Harry Parker, then director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, got the idea to invite her to restore Leonhardt Lagoon, after seeing her Plant Drawings for Projects exhibition at the Rosa Esman Gallery. Parker hoped that an art museum exhibition would garner the publicity necessary to raise the funds to carry out Johanson's awe-inspiring design to remediate the lagoon he had loved since his youth. Working in tandem with the Dallas Museum of Natural History, she set out researching what various animals eat, since she wanted to create an ecosystem for a wide range of native plants and animals. The lagoon had died because its food web was out of balance. Aquatic insects, snails, some crustacean, and other middle food-web species were not present, largely due to the absence of a littoral zone, which is composed of vegetation and supports 75% of a pond's life.5 Her practical and aesthetic proposal, which sought to reshape a functioning aquatic community, was implemented in two phases, first ecological and then sculptural.
Her 1981 design, which seems like common practice today, was totally experimental back then. To reduce turbidity (clear up the water) and stabilize the shoreline, she suggested planting native emergent vegetation at selected points around the lagoon to act as a mat on top of the silt and to provide a buffer between water and shore. This also helped to eliminate the overpopulation of floating algae. She recommended they trap the problematic Asiatic Ducks and remove them to another location, and also stop fertilizing the strips of grass around the lagoon. Fortunately, this more "ecological" approach both reduced maintenance costs and provided a "living exhibit" for the Natural History Museum.6
Johanson even provided the park a complete list of recommended species for the restored ecosystem including: 1) fifteen bank and emergent plant species, 2) four kinds of floating plants, 3) three different submerged plants, 4) eleven fish species, 5) five types of turtles, and 6) several kinds of ducks. To reduce the number of sunfish, she suggested officials encourage fishing with the stipulation that the fisherman not throw the fish back! 7
While this was her first large-scale project, she has since begun or completed dozens of all-encompassing environments in San Francisco, Nairobi, Seoul, Salina, and Petaluma. San Francisco's Sunnydale Facilities, a pump station and holding tank for water and sewage used primarily during heavy rains, hosts Endangered Garden (1987-1996). This sewer facility as life-supporting work of art increases food and habitat for wildlife, while providing maximum access to San Francisco Bay.9 This garden's central feature is the giant twisting San Francisco Garter Snake, a half-mile-long baywalk winding its way through the park to anchor individual habitat gardens, such as butterfly habitats, bird baths, tide pools/tidal steps, and marshes.
An 1869 U.S. Coastal map shows the presence of sheltered coves, lagoons, tidal marshes, and longshore barrier spits along San Francisco Bay's shorelineall restored by Johanson. Like Alan Sonfist's use of pre-colonial flora, Johanson opts for local landforms that pre-date modern man's influence. When the tide rises twice daily, the marshes are flooded and various images appear or disappear, so this time-based work constantly changes with nature's ebb and flow.
Just before Johanson got involved in the Nairobi River Park, newly introduced, Japanese-constructed sewage treatment lagoons had mysteriously dried up Lake Nakura, eliminating its world famous wildlife. For Survival Sculpture (Water Purification) (1995-present) in the Nairobi River Park, she worked with local workers to reclaim a public resource (previously polluted by human/animal waste and industrial effluents) that also sustains wildlife, urban food plots, and safe water. By diverting a 4000-foot-long meandering channel of river water through wetlands of thickly planted aquatic vegetation and micro-organisms, which decompose pollutants, the river is affordably cleansed before re-entering the main source. This improved habitat attracts birds, butterflies, waterfowl, baboons, and monkeys, providing a wildlife core so central to Nairobi's eco-tourist trade.12
For Seoul's 912-acre Ulsan Park (1996-2002), Johanson preserved important cultural icons by including those animals, insects, and plants found in Korean "Minhwa" paintings in gardens that actually support these species. In this respect, Ulsan Park not only reflects cultural history, but protects and transmits genetic information to the future. "Haitai" and dragons (both mythical figures) are depicted in imagery, while carp, grasshoppers, forests, and tigers are present in abundance. The "haitai" are mythological guardians that ward off evil. To teach children about biodiversity and sustainability, children can experiment with pumps, waterwheels, and sluices; experience tigers first hand in the Tiger Valley; and learn about the tiger's extinction in the Sanshin-Dang (shrine building), due to deforestation and habitat loss.14
Ulsan Park is not Johanson's only project for Seoul. In 1999, the Seoul Development Institute assembled a team of international experts to design a blueprint for the sustainable development of Nanjido, a dump site, adjacent to the 2002 World Cup Soccer Stadium, slated to become Millennium Park (1999-present). Sited on Nanji Island over the Nanji Stream in the middle of the Han River, Nanjido opened in 1978, but was closed off in 1990 when the dump reached nearly 300 feet high. It is also located on Seoul's major growth access, along the major highway between Kimpo International Airport and City Hall. The care of this site is particularly urgent, given its prime location and the fact that during heavy rainfalls industrial pollutants leach into the already-polluted Nanji Stream and Han River.
The "haitai" mythological guardian, whose patterning resembles rice-paddy farming, is also used in Millennium Park to ward off evil. To stabilize this ominous man-made landform, its slopes have been terraced like the historical "haitai" form to encourage smaller microhabitats and provide hiking trails, overlooks, and vehicular access to the twin summits. "Its reclamation offers the possibility of both serving the public, and re-establishing and protecting native plants and animals within the urban landscape."15
Johanson is also designing Enhancement Wetlands and Treatment Wetlands, public facilities in a 170-acre water recycling facility (formerly called sewage treatment plants) for the City of Petaluma, California (2000-present). Johanson notes that this ecologically innovative sewer treatment plant's proximity to a Sheraton Hotel, marina, and major park offers "an unparalleled opportunity for recreation and education within the context of urban infrastructure, environmental stewardship, and economic benefit."16
The restored habitats will attract birds, Western Pond Turtles, Black Rails, the Salt-Marsh Harvest Mouse, and California Red-Legged Frogs. The vehicular access road offers close-up views of various wetland ecosystems (littoral zone, storage ponds for recycled water, habitat islands, tidal marsh, and mudflat). An interpretive center places the treatment center within the larger context of the Petaluma watershed. One trail provides close-up views of river traffic and reveals the intricacies of the tidal cycle.
Johanson's latest project transforms three miles of drainage medians along U.S. 81 in Salina, Kansas (2001-present) into "a public landscape, art, [and] habitat, adding recreational trails and biodiversity to the drainage infrastructure and Wal-Mart."17
Betty Beaumont's experience testing equipment for James Bond movies, as a diver for the Underwater Motion Picture Society, inspired her "fascination with the ocean, its physical beauty and the dream state it induces."18 While a graduate student in environmental design at the University of California, Berkeley, Beaumont documented the use of high-pressure hoses that eject steam to remove oil from the shore (since proven to cause even more ecological damage), during the clean up of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, the worst in U.S. history. As Barbara Matilsky has observed, her images of this ecological devastation "transcend their status as documentation of a specific oil spill and serve to remind us of the continued assault on ocean life around the world."19
Beaumont has since inserted five environmental works into the landscape, one of which, Cable Piece (1977), also provided an ecological benefit. She used 4000 feet of iron cable, which she obtained from a military surplus list, to create a 100-foot diameter ring by looping the cable twelve times. This iron ring, which hastens grass growth, is sited on a Macomb, Illinois farm, and references the circular neutron-accelerator track of the nearby Fermi Laboratories.
Inspired by a team of marine scientists, who had been experimenting to stabilize fly ash, a coal by-product, in water, Beaumont proposed to merge their findings with a type of reef building used in Japanese fish harvesting. In 1978, she initiated Ocean Landmark, an artificial coral reef for fish formed from thousands of fly-ash blocks submerged 70 feet beneath the ocean's surface, three miles off the coast of Fire Island. This reef was intended to counter the damage caused by overfishing, waste dumping, and the destruction of coastal wetlands (see Aviva Rahmani's research in this area). Of equal relevance, her Ocean Landmark could help to revitalize the Long Island fishing industry by providing a spawning habitat for fish. Not only did she raise $3 million for the project, she also studied a test site for a year, and researched possible block sizes and scales. To simplify casting, she chose the dimensions of a typical cinder block. After years of preparation, 17,000 8 x 8 x 16-inch blocks, fabricated from 500 tons of recycled fly ash were slowly and selectively dumped along the Atlantic Continental Shelf to construct the artificial coral reef.20
This enormous endeavor entailed collaborating with scuba divers, biologists, chemists, oceanographers, and engineers from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Columbia University, and New Jersey's Bell Laboratories. Her past filmmaking experience came in handy for this massive undertaking, which required years of "pre-production" researching details, writing proposals, raising funds, scouting locations, and meeting with her collaborators.21 All of this effort culminated in a one-day installation event. While installing it, she was careful to record underwater sounds using a special hydrophone system. During the launch, technicians in a separate boat obtained echogram images of the installation on the ocean floor and sonic recordings of the fish. These sounds have been used to measure the ecosystem's growth, which is monitored every five years.
Although Beaumont likes the idea of an invisible sculpture, which one grasps either by imagining it or by studying the fish population, she recently received another grant to model the process of dropping blocks to create the reef by using VRML software.
Beaumont, who regularly reads Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports, discovered a report describing dozens of examples of fish exhibiting mutations as a result of the presence of radioactive World War II waste stored in drums deep beneath the ocean's surface. She later realized that another branch of the EPA had designated this same site as the best place to dump New York City sludge, a slushy remnant of sewer treatment. Fortunately, the same man who lent her a helicopter for Ocean Landmark still worked at the EPA. She contacted him to tell him of this egregious error. Although he was unaware of the EPA's fish report, her intervention prevented this site from becoming even more contaminated. Ocean dumping has since become illegal.
Using research gathered a decade earlier, she created Fish Tales (1991), a series of flash cards illustrating the dozens of species mutated by their exposure to nuclear waste. Beaumont's image and text flash cards are based on information gathered by scientists working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Created as an edition to be sold to the general public, such cards warn of the horrific evolutionary changes that human beings are triggering.23
Since 1985, Lynne Hull, the inventor of trans-species art (art created for animals), has worked with state wildlife departments, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Parks Service to place over thirty ecologically beneficial works throughout Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming. She has implemented similar projects in England, Kenya, Mexico, and Northern Ireland. She collaborates with wildlife specialists, environmental interpreters, landscape architects, and local community members to create sculptures and installations that "provide shelter, food, water or space for wildlife, as eco-atonement for their loss of habitat to human encroachment."26
Trans-species art doesn't alter the environment. It often foregrounds its location, but it must also fit in with the surrounding ecology. Some trans-species works withstand the elements to make lasting contributions to the lives of the animals they support. Some last only as long as it takes for restoration to begin and for nature to take over again.27 Others enter the natural cycle rather quickly. Once works are installed, Hull depends on wildlife biologists and zoologists to evaluate their impact. Five summers in a row, a specialist observed young Ferruginous hawks, a threatened species, nesting in Hull's Lightning Raptor Roost (1990) (see accompanying case study). This led him to deem the project a success on scientific terms.
For Hydroglyph 1 (1983), Hull carved spiral hydroglyphs into rocks, so that rain or snow could be caught and stored for desert wildlife in Wyoming. She considers Hydroglyph 1 the first example of trans-species art. It is the inverse of Smithson's Spiral Jetty, in that water resides in stones, rather than stones occupy water. By contrast, Stones for Salmon (1993) entailed placing etched boulders in Northern Ireland's Colin Glen River to provide spawning pools for salmon. Hull has built marten havens, enabling pine martens, which depend on old growth forests, to survive in younger forests or on the edges of clearcuts.29 The Raptor Roosts, for which Hull first became known, offer eagles and hawks of the high plains an alternative to perching and nesting on potentially deadly utility poles. As she learns about different eco-zones, she explores the needs of local wildlife in order to devise appropriate structures. Most of her works are designed with "biofeedback loops," which is to say that the support of one species leads to the support of another species, and this leads to greater biodiversity.30
Texas Text (2000), an environmental sculpture in a playa lake on the grounds of the Texas Tech Research Farm in New Deal, Texas, attempts to restore declining species native to the Texas Panhandle and migratory birds passing through. This sculpture could assist recent arrivals, species whose presence the human-revised landscape makes possible. Working in collaboration with established groups such as university scientists, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Pacific Power and Light may not sound subversive, but the fact that Hull works with non-art agencies, personnel, resources, and equipment to create art to support wildlife, makes her smile inside.
Like Leibovitz Steinman's massive public works, some of Hull's smaller scale projects offer economic benefits in addition to ecological ones. They often provide short-term jobs, teach new skills, or build the infrastructure by creating eco-tourist attractions, thereby warding off undesirable industries. For instance, she used a U.S.-Mexico Fund for Culture grant to work with ProNatura, a Mexican environmentalist group, and local Mayans to build four art projects that benefited both the people and animals. By constructing a playground in the Moxviquil Reserve, San Cristobal de las Casas, in the state of Chiapas, they provided children a safe play area. The playground's design mimics animal habitats, leading children to play-act at animal behavior, thus creating an awareness of the presence of local fauna. They created houses in the Huitapec Reserve (also in San Cristobal de las Casas) for cavity-nesting owls, whose nests have been threatened by illegal woodcutting. In Punta Laguna, in the state of Quintano Roo, they suspended a bridge to help resident spider monkeys, living in a community nature preserve, cross the road without being frightened by cars, people, and dogs. Using tree branches, they marked out a canoe trail in the Punta Laguna, where an abundance of turtles, waterfowl, and other tropical species make it a popular eco-tourist attraction. All the workers were paid a sum on a sliding scale reflecting the job's potential danger, such as climbing a tree to hang the monkey bridge. Owls and monkeys not only optimize biodiversity, but they attract tourists, whose presence can ultimately prevent further deforestation.34†
Henrik Håkansson first gained international attention with Z.O.N.E. (Zoological Optimized Nocturnal Ecstasy) for Frogs (1996), included in the landmark exhibition NOWHERE, at Denmark's Louisiana Museum. This was his second work to feature the musical talents of frogs. Håkansson and percussionist and DJ Jean Louis Huhta played techno and trance music to inspire a polyrhythmic croaking chorus. His Monsters of Rock Tour (1996) carried the sound of thousands of live crickets chirping together across a public address system. Wall of Voodoo's rather prescient 1996 title forecast an ominous curse. The survival of a colony of Peruvian fern stick insects depended upon their man-made ecosystem's computer-controlled heat, light, and moisture levels. Some insects died from eating pesticide-coated plants and then the wall structure accidentally collapsed. The bio-techno zone's creator's absence raised some eyebrows. But, this was not his first brush with moral turpitude: for Growing Up in Public (1994), Congo beetles depended on viewers to provide them their daily supply of bananas and water.
Like Johanson's habitats or Beuys' Coyote performance, most of Henrik Håkansson's current work places nature's secrets center stage. To do so, he opts to penetrate them with a camcorder's lens. Håkansson's parasitic works focus on nature, but they rarely address biodiversity or contribute to conservation, though they thrive on it. Because animals make his works, he depends on biodiversity for the continued health of his artistic project, almost as much as his "non-sites" require galleries and museums. For this reason, this provocative artist is one of today's most exhibited eco-artists. In the absence of diversity and unpredictability, his works wouldn't hold interest for long.
Håkansson's point is nearly this simple. Real feelings for nature require the right equipment to discern its intricacy. By fanning the flame with supposedly dispassionate instruments, viewers spy on nature's behalf. While too many artists display live animals to capture their audiences' immediate attention, Håkansson pairs living things with live-feed video versions to reveal a splitting, as viewers glean more from the screen than the real thing. Recent works like Untitled (Production Set) and Prototype (Funnel Trap) (both 2000) are actually high-tech stage sets designed to lure insects and to record their activities from multiple perspectives. These sets facilitated two intimate filmic encounters, Lure and The Tunnel (both 2000), respectively. Accompanied by sound tracks reflecting each trap's distorting echos, they were broadcast larger than life on gallery walls.
By contrast, projects like Out of the Black Into the Blue (1997), Park Life (Birdhouse Project no. 3)(2000), and A Thousand Leaves (2000) affirm biodiversity's significance. For Out of the Black Into the Blue, Håkannson built an open-air sanctuary for butterflies and moths (once indigenous to Italy, but now extinct) in the Nordic Pavilion at the "Venice Biennale." Audiences witnessed moths and butterflies undergo metamorphosis either firsthand or on monitors. Feeding was an especially popular event.
For A Thousand Leaves, pen-size cameras were focused on aspects of a 90-foot-long meadow, built along an excavated property adjacent to a beach. Visitors observed the plants' and insects' real-time progress on flat screens attached to the meadow's fence. In contrast to other eco-artists' literature, this reconstructed meadow's content is never discussed. As it turns out, the meadow contained a European flower known as the thrift, which is endangered in Finland due to habitat loss. The site was selected for its proximity to a section of Helsinki where the exhibition's other projects were sited. Basically dismantled after the exhibition ended, a fraction of the meadow remains, since some of the local people who helped create it still look after it.37
Given the role of video in monitoring animal behavior, Håkansson's fascination with surveillance isn't so far off base. Håkansson's project explores this odd relationship further. "Scientific observation can create order and focus. But what sort of order? Focus on what?"38 Despite the issues of control associated with surveillance, Håkansson's use of surveillance liberates nature from neglect.
For Tomorrow and Tonight (1999) at Kunsthalle Basel, video images of an outdoor roof garden's activities were interrupted by surprise images of spectators experiencing the exhibition, enabling the now objectified/subjugated /violated/spied-upon spectator to momentarily exchange roles with nature. The roof garden was built in collaboration with the University of Basel's Institute of Geography's Urban Ecology Research Group. The experimental roof garden, where the drama actually unfolds would ordinarily be the focus of a typical eco-artist's work, but here it plays second fiddle to the power and seduction of images obtained via surveillance.
Ballengée has either instigated or participated in numerous wetland surveys throughout North America. Since 1996, he has worked with biologist Dr. Stanley Sessions of Hartwick College to develop and test various hypotheses that explain the recent increase in the population of malformed frogs. A November 1999 survey in Franklin County, Ohio, revealed a deformity rate of 1% at some sites, but a June 2001 survey of 1000 individual specimens in the same region yielded a deformity rate of greater than 5%.40
At first glance, Ballengée's recent project, The Ever Changing Tide: The Ecological Dynamics of the Earth's Oceans as Exemplified through the Biodiversity of the Queens Seafood Markets (2000-2001), resembles artist Mark Dion's 1992 effort to identify and log the varieties of fish found in New York City's Canal Street fish stands. By contrast, Ballengée visited various fish markets in Flushing, New York, over a period of a year to amass around 450-500 species of seafood from all over the world. Taking the act of collecting and the process of identifying one step further, Ballengée conducted a phylogenic examinationpreserving, photographing, and digitally recording each specimen. Todd Gardiner of Hofstra University's Marine Biology Department and Peter Warny, Associate Researcher at the New York State Museum, helped him preserve and identify each sample's precise taxonomic placement. He worked with Mercedes Lee of the National Audubon Society's Living Ocean Program to discern each species' ecological status. Classified and sorted according to family, genus, and class, (some remain unidentified), the collection of Iris prints are arranged to form a large geometric wall installation that visualizes their evolutionary interrelationships. Finally, the actual specimens entered the ichthyology study collections of the American Natural History Museum, The New York State Museum, and the Peabody Museum at Yale University.43
Scientists have narrowed the cause of red bloom or brown tide to four hypotheses: increased levels of nitrogen due to fertilizers flowing through the watershed to the ocean, water temperature fluctuation due to global climate changes, the introduction of exotic species via international shipping, and decreased exchanges with ocean water. In 2000, Ballengée began to culture red and brown algae, and field collect a variety of harmful and innocuous microscopic algae, from fresh and marine sources throughout the United States. He then photo-documented all of these specimens and others sent by Harmful Algal Bloom researchers stationed at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Some images include cyanobacteria (formerly known as blue-green algae), unidentified bacteria, and a fungi that contaminated a number of his earlier cultures. Ballengée's The Red Bloom and Brown Tide: A Visual Survey of Toxic Microalgae was exhibited at the Hillwood Art Museum, Long Island University's C. W. Post Campus in Brookville, New York.
Like Brandon Ballengée's project to regenerate a nearly obsolete species, Tera Galanti (b.1960) has been breeding flightless silkmoths backwards since 1997 to create flying silkmoths. Immobilized by man, silkmoths have been bred so that their bodies are disproportionately larger than their wings. Wild moths fly away upon emerging from their cocoons, but weak-winged silkmoths remain close to their cocoons, awaiting human help. In silk production, silkmoths never emerge from the cocoon, since they're steamed to death during the process.
By chance, Galanti noticed some silkmoths attempting flight, and chose to explore whether it was possible to breed them to fly, thereby facilitating their return to a wild state of being. Silkworm farmers only allow weak-winged silkworms to reproduce. Galanti's project reverses this strategy by favoring strong-winged silkmoths. Male silkmoths are more likely to fly since their wings are proportionately larger.
Galanti's interest in silkworms developed from a childhood fear of flying moths and an adult fascination with the concept of domesticating animals. Her devotion to their well-being ultimately overcame her original fear. She links her childhood fear of flying moths to the more general fear of "wild" things, provoked by humankind's loss of control over the environment. The need to control nature underlies most of society's civilizing solutions, such as re-orienting rivers, culverting creeks, or eliminating pests. By forcing order to perfect their world, humans have thwarted biodiversity, wreaking havoc on nature.45