We are approaching the thirteenth annual Hudson Valley Artists (HVA) 2012 exhibition at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz – a major art event in the mid-Hudson Valley and your author is thrilled to be among those whose work is included. This year the exhibition is being organized by guest curator Linda Weintraub, a longtime proponent of “Eco Art,” so the title of the exhibition, “Dear Mother Nature,” is apt. Ms. Weintraub invited artists to send something to Mother Nature that might express their relationship to her and their feelings about her, positive or negative. Given the concerns about global warming on the macro level, fears about sustainability and hydraulic fracturing on the micro or local level, and the beatings this and other parts of the world have taken from hurricanes and tsunamis in recent years, it can feel like mankind and nature are locked in a battle of wits. This is a timely theme.
Linda Weintraub is the definition of a Renaissance woman. Her professional biography is extensive and daunting: she served as the first director of the Edith C. Blum Art Institute at Bard College where she originated fifty exhibitions; she is an educator who has taught art history and studio art – she continues to lecture on contemporary art and its intersection with ecology at colleges and universities across the continent; and she is the author of numerous essays, catalogues, and books on contemporary art including a forthcoming volume, TO LIFE! Eco Art in Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet. She previously published Avant-Guardians: Textlets in Ecology and Art, a series of mini-textbooks designed to demonstrate how art connects to the planet’s wellbeing; she is the founder of the eco-minded Artnow Publications. Since leaving Bard College Ms. Weintraub’s curating credits include a nationally touring exhibition, “IS IT ART?” and an internationally touring exhibition, “Animal. Anima. Animus,” the latter co-curated with Marketta Sepalla.
Ms. Weintraub’s interest in ecology, sustainability and conservation isn’t just academic; her home near Rhinebeck, New York, is made from recycled cars – she transformed a pre-fabricated industrial structure, a Quonset building, into a super-efficient home that is heated geothermally. She raises farm animals and cultivates herb and vegetable gardens which grow in soil created through intense composting. And to all of this she has applied her artistic sensibility – even the fences look like sculptures with sticks and small branches woven through wire. The HVA 2012 artists had the chance to experience this spectacular environment on a gorgeous Sunday in April when Ms. Weintraub invited us to her home for a “meet & greet” brunch – a generous and thoughtful idea through which we all, I am sure, made new connections. It was also a unique opportunity to see the extent to which this woman is not an arm-chair activist, so I was delighted that she agreed to submit to some questions on curating this exhibition.
CL: Were there many submissions for the exhibition?
LW: Over 200 artists submitted proposals.
CL: What did you look for in the works submitted?
LW: The selection was based on three criteria:
Providing the audience with richly diversified offerings to Mother Nature; the exhibition includes expressions of appreciation, sympathy, honor, consolation, etc.
Presenting a diversity of aesthetic approaches; some works are visually delightful while others are intentionally disturbing.
Representing a wide variety of artistic media; the artists’ offerings take the form of painting, drawings, photographs, performances, videos, installations, and sculptures made of ceramics, paper, wood, stone, fabric, and plastic.
CL: I know you have a concern about the preciousness with which art is treated and the amount of energy consumption that goes into the archival aspects of works of art, for example: UV filtering glass, climate controlled storage, waterproof crates and white glove protocols. Should we have moved beyond the idea of preserving art as artifacts for posterity?
LW: The principles of sustainable management of materials that environmentalists advocate apply to all forms of human production, including the production of art. Lavish use of materials and wasteful procedures in art are as damaging to the environment as any other kind of material manipulation. As such, sustainability challenges the assumption that art merits expenditures of resources and energy while it is being produced, while it is being exhibited, and while it is being stored.
CL: A lot of artists would say their work is about the environment – can you elucidate the difference between work about the environment and eco art?
LW: Contemporary eco art is not simply ‘about’ the environment. In all instances it is created with the conscious intention of preserving valuable components of it, or remediating blighted habitats, or correcting harmful behaviors. In some instances eco artists apply recycling and biodegrading protocols to their works of art as well as to bottles and banana peels. By intentionally designing art that decomposes, these artists model ethical management of resources.
CL: You have written that curators are “at liberty to direct their therapeutic role to the functional well-being of ecosystems.” Does this proscribe or limit the kind of art you, as a curator, wish to engage with?
LW: Limit is the last thing I worry about since eco art offers a double-header in disciplines that are limitless.
• Contemporary art explores infinite material, thematic, and procedural choices. It can express every possible emotion, in every degree of intensity, and present every facet of the human imagination – and it does!
• Ecology incorporates the study of every living species, every Earthly force, every source of energy, every topographical region, and every possible condition on every scale as each relates to the other now and in the future – and it does!
• Both disciplines are burgeoning. Experiments are proliferating. New concepts are multiplying. Innovations are flourishing. The race to keep abreast of developments within two fields that are limitless leaves me panting.
CL: In one of your essays you discuss the role of the curator referencing the Latin root of the word which is ‘cure,’ and, as such, a function curators share with doctors whose focus is on matters of the body, and curates – priests – whose role is focused on matters of the soul or spirit.
LW: As you mention, the word ‘cure’ is imbedded in the word ‘curate’. This linguistic root has two meanings, providing art curators with two missions. ‘Curing’ is defined as ‘restoring’, ‘vitalizing’, ‘assisting’, and ‘healing’. ‘Curing’ is also defined as preserving, like curing ham or cheese. While it is not the job of curators to preserve the physical art object (that is the responsibility of conservators), curators are intent on preserving the viewer’s art experience. This means providing the circumstances to intensify the viewer’s interaction with a work of art to such a degree that the experience lingers long after that viewer has left the museum or gallery. Gradually, this experience ‘cures’ as it matures into a permanent impression, influence, or insight. That is when it ‘cures’ by uplifting the spirit, expanding consciousness, heightening empathy, intensifying concerns.
CL: In the distant past, religious art played a clear role in people’s lives. Many would say that, today, the art world is a sealed echo-chamber; that most art is irrelevant, even divorced, from the lives of the general population. Can you comment on that idea?
LW: People who come to the exhibition will discover art works by 43 Hudson Valley artists that epitomize the vitality and relevance of contemporary art. By creating offerings to Mother Nature, these artists reverse the mindless depletion of Mother Nature’s reserves and the destructive consequences of harnessing her forces. They address Mother Nature as a metaphor to enable their viewers to visualize and conceptualize the critical condition of the environment today, offering apologies, gratitude, prayers, assistance, etc. They divert their artistic sensitivity and originality from self-expression in order to restore and protect Earth’s systems so that they can continue to support the miracle that is life.
CL: In what ways does the work in this show break through the walls of the echo-chamber?
LW: There are no echo chambers here. These artists are devoted communicators. Outreach efforts are built into many of the works selected for this exhibition. Some artists are sharing the evolution of their work with the public in the museum instead of keeping the creative process confined to the studio. Others are even inviting the public to interact with their pieces by contributing objects to installations, creating origami wishes, writing messages to Mother Nature, and even inviting visitors to take away drawings and texts. Furthermore, the programming scheduled throughout the duration of the exhibition includes interactive performances, workshops, and participatory ceremonies. In sum, the artists in this exhibition have urgent messages to convey, which explains why so many are inventing schemes to engage directly with the public.
CL: In addition to the many art books you have written and co-authored, you are the founder of Artnow Publications in Rhinebeck and the author of Avant-Guardians: Textlets in Ecology and Art – can you tell me something about this project?
LW: Each of the three books in the Avant-Guardians series addresses a particular aspect of contemporary eco art: artistic strategies, eco art themes, and sustainable material considerations. I established Artnow Publications in 2007 to publish these books in a manner that conforms to the environmental protocols discussed in the text. This meant digressing from standard art book publishing protocols and design. Thus, the series not only introduced new artists and a new art movement, it also introduced new methods of book production. I was Amazon’s first print-on-demand customer – ever! The number they assigned me was 0000001 in anticipation that hundreds of thousands of customers would follow.
CL: Wow! That is amazing. What other projects are you working on right now?
LW: I have just completed a major new book exploring the burgeoning arena of contemporary eco art. Its title is TO LIFE! Eco Art in Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet. It will be published by the University of California Press in August. Currently I am writing three separate Instructors’ Manuals to accompany the book because it will serve classes in studio art, contemporary art history, and environmental studies.
CL: That is very exciting – I was an art, design and art history teacher for many years and maintain an interest in art education at all levels, I look forward to this publication. If you were not an artist, writer, publisher and curator, what would you be?
LW: I would be a wife, mother, grandmother, gardener, bee-keeper, chicken/duck/turkey/goose/rabbit/lamb/pig raiser, orchard tender, berry grower, stone wall builder, compost maker, food preserver, maple syrup maker. In fact, it is my great fortune to be all these things as well as an artist, writer, publisher, curator.
CL: How many hours do you sleep at night?
LW: I climb into and out of bed at reasonable times, but the hours in between are often filled with planning the next day and solving the problems of the previous day. When, on occasion, I wake up after a full night’s sleep, I regret the lost time for creating.
CL: Do you have some words of advice for aspiring and emerging artists?
LW: My advice to aspiring artists is to utilize the absolute freedom that the art profession provides. Artists don’t need licenses to practice. No qualifying exams are required to become an artist. There are no rules that must be followed. Furthermore, art provides a platform for interaction with the public. Artists are granted a unique opportunity to contribute in innovative ways to the well-being of current and future populations. Inspire. Uplift. Warn. Soothe. Guide. Correct. Oppose. Criticize. Forge new value systems. Humans and the Earth are stressed. They need all the help they can get.
CL: That is terrific advice, and reminders that all of us artists need to hear on a regular basis. Ms. Weintrau.Thank you for talking to me.
Photographs: Group photo by Chris Kendal, all others courtesy of the Weintraub family.
The Hudson Valley Artists 2012 exhibition will run from June 23 – November 4, 2012 at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art in the Alice and Horace Chandler Gallery and North Gallery. See website for further information including the list of artists in this year’s exhibition: /www.newpaltz.edu/museum/exhibitions/exhibitions_6.html
For more on Linda Weintraub, visit her website: lindaweintraub.com
For the Avant-Guardians’ book series: avant-guardians.com
For Linda Weintraub’s book titles: avant-guardians.com/lindaweintraub-com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=66&Itemid=56
Claire Lambe is an Irish born painter whose works have been exhibited on both sides of the Atlantic; she is a graduate of the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and holds an MFA in painting from the City University of New York. Claire’s artwork can be seen at Hudson Valley Artists 2012 at the Dorsky Museum, SUNY New Paltz from June 23, 2012
In addition to her art-making, she is also the company manager and designer for The Woodstock Players Theater Company – as the company designer she is responsible for everything from the website to the set design.
Writing credits include contributing author to Teen Life in Europe (part of the Teen Life around the World series), and articles and reviews for this publication.
Claire Lambe: Artworks