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Return to: Ann T. Rosenthal

Artist Statement


Over the last decade, I have committed my art to exploring the "nature/culture boundary." While living in the Northwest (1985-95), I became active in a local Green alliance where I was introduced to social ecology, bioregionalism, and ecofeminism. From these beginnings, I have continued to articulate an activist art practice that contests Western constructions of nature and proposes alternatives.

Since the 1960s, artists have developed two central strategies to address their environmental concerns. In the catalog, Fragile Ecologies, curator Barbara Matilsky describes these as (1) "proposing or creating ecological artworks that provide solutions to the problems facing natural and urban ecosystems"; and (2) "interpreting or framing [environmental] problems through a variety of media-photography, painting, sculpture, multimedia installations, performances." The first approach, often called "reclamation art," is an important practice within the environmental art movement. However, this strategy risks reinscribing the causes of the environmental damage it seeks to correct, as artist Robert Morris cautioned, "The most significant implication of art as land reclamation is that art can and should be used to wipe away technological guilt."

I have chosen to focus on the second, or "interpretive," approach. While reclamation art is a critical model for working across disciplines, it is equally important for artists to address the root causes of our environmental "dis-ease." Informed by discourses that combine cultural theory and environmental studies, my work explores how nature has been "produced" throughout history, and how current developments in technology and bio-engineering are rewriting the territories of nature and culture.

As my work has broadened in content and media, I have increasingly turned to collaboration as a strategy. Infinity City is a 10-year collaboration with artist Stephen Moore, which we initiated to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the detonation of the first atomic bomb (1945-1995). Our first installation, subtitled Anniversary, underscored the enormity of the Trinity experiment, the subsequent decision to deploy The Bomb, and the legacy of nuclear waste that was left behind. Our second installation, Shadow, examined the aftermath of 50 years of nuclear development and was commissioned as part of the exhibition, "Nuclear Cities" at the Bellevue Art Museum in February 1997. The Museum funded a web site (www.infcty.net) that offered a forum for those impacted by Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where 50 years of nuclear waste threatens the Columbia River, human health and livelihoods. Infinity City 2001 marked 10-year anniversaries in our nuclear heritage through email announcements that were posted to our web site. In the aftermath of 9/11, the nuclear question has gained new significance as we struggle with our dependence on the oil-rich Middle East, tensions between the nuclear powers of India and Pakistan, and the use of nuclear materials by terrorists.

A recent collaboration between myself, video artist Steffi Domike, and landscape architect Suzy Meyer was produced for the exhibition, "Unbound Ground," as one of several environmental art exhibitions and a one-day "ecoart" symposium. These events were co-produced by myself and Ms. Domike in conjunction with the environmental policy summit, "Women Assessing the State of the Environment," at Chatham College in November. Our collaborative installation, Toxic Vernacular, makes visible the toxic residues pervading Pittsburgh waterways and employs digitally manipulated postcards to parody our penchant for romanticizing the landscape as we poison it. Both Infinity City and Toxic Vernacular will be shown at Lycoming College Art Gallery in March 2002.

Over the last five years, electronic media has become an integral part of my practice. With layering, time-based, and interactive capabilities, programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Director allow me to juxtapose diverse images and analyses within an installation. By using electronic media to engage issues of nature and culture, I am questioning the impact of technology on human and non-human systems. I am interested in an embodied interactivity that contests the separation of mind and body. Future Natures is a triptych of tableaus that questions the category of nature itself and asks: "Can we experience or know nature or our bodies without the intervention of technology?" Future Natures was designed to accommodate a range of venues, and has been shown in various formations this last year in Pittsburgh, Arizona, Washington state, and San Francisco.

In addition to my studio practice, my ongoing research is in multidisciplinary activist and academic environmental discourses and how they can inform a critical environmental art. I am committed to contributing to the field of "ecoart" through developing its theoretical foundation, and by educating the public and art community about this vital practice. To this end, I have developed a comprehensive web resource on environmental art with Mo Dawley, Carnegie Mellon Art and Drama Librarian (greenarts.org). I am a founding member of ARCC (Arts + Rivers + Communities + Connections), a working group of artists and arts advocates who seek to restore relationships between people and the river ecosystems in Pittsburgh through community-integrated arts practices. With Mano Tohei, we recently launched a web-based, cross-cultural dialogue between Japan and America addressing the question, "What is Nature Now?" I am currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at University of Maryland Baltimore County in Imaging and Digital Media.

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