Interview with Lynne Hull
This was an interview conducted by Sam Bower via email in late November, 2001. Lynne Hull is a key figure in the environmental art movement. She helped pioneer the use of sculpture as wildlife habitat and has been a tireless advocate for art which helps humans "understand wildlife needs and shift attitudes toward our relationship with other species."
SB: You describe your work as "trans-species art". How do you balance art and your own sense of aesthetics with the need for functionality in your habitat sculptures?
LH: Since I began my art practice as a potter, I had no problem with functionality or designing around function. I start with the parameters of what science thinks a species needs, and design aesthetics around it. The degree the aesthetics are for humans balance with what I imagine are aesthetics for other species and that changes on a site-specific basis.
SB: How did your upbringing affect the art you do today?
LH: I was raised in a very strange and wonderful town that was an isolated science lab with no normal cultural connections to speak of-no extended families, no history, no local traditions. It was a very existential existence based in a powerful landscape, and my connection was to the landscape and the forest which raised me.
SB: Where was this research station and what were your parents doing out there?
LH: Los Alamos, where my dad was sent after being drafted into WWII. He thought the top secret Manhattan project would keep him close to his family on the east coast..He ended up as a career nuclear scientist.
SB: Has the environmental art movement changed since when you first began to do this work?
LH: Yes, enormously, as has public awareness of environmental issues. The first outdoor art I knew of was Mount Rushmore and the Earthworks-not very "E.C." today. Then there was a lot of studio art about environmental problems to raise awareness, and now we have a public largely aware and eager to find models and projects for making change, wanting to help turn things around. There are so many more artists working in this area now, putting out all sorts of great ideas! I think ecoart can be much more community and collaboratively oriented now, and there really is an audience for it, although the media and academia are generally way behind, not to mention the art market structure. greenmuseum.org will be an important resource!
SB: How do you select locations for your sculptures?
LH: Usually these days it selects me, when I'm invited into a place do work. My migratory bird project is a little different, since it's artist initiated. The mapable birds are helping set the locations to some degree, then it's a question of getting invited to work on a site within the flyway with criteria that it should be an "important bird area" where there is public to learn about migration issues. If you are asking on the micro level, how is a sculpture sited, I try to consult with the ecologists or biologists I'm working with-where would be most useful, where would increase the likelihood of it getting used? I'm not very good at remembering things like orienting it for photographs, but then I rarely remember to measure a piece, and I never think to sign them…
SB: Do you think people have to see images of your work or visit it for it to function as "art"? Would it still be "art" if it operated exclusively in the non-human world?
LH: Definitely still art. Many of the early pieces are on isolated sites on private land, and I promised landowners there would be no visitors. The aesthetic aspect has two sides-one is that it has to be "attractive" in the most basic sense of the word-it has to attract the species to use it. Also, I feel it should be aesthetically designed to honor the relationship between us, and the gifts I have been given by their presence in the world. They are the best hawk, or owl, or beaver, or pine marten they can be, so I should be the best artist I can be. And I still cling to the aesthetic object at some level. And we haven't talked about ecoatonement….
SB: What's that?
LH: Ecoatonement is my term for participating in habitat restoration as atonement for the damage we have done to the environment, the habitat lost to human use which has brought so many species to the brink. I think of my work as having this quality but didn't see a way to work it into the interview. Maybe "I formerly thought of my work as trans-species art, now I see it as ecoatonement..."
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