human/nature: ARTISTS RESPOND TO A CHANGING PLANET
Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, California. April 1, 2009-September 27, 2009

ARTISTS: Mark Dion, Ann Hamilton, Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, Marcos Ramirez Erre, Rigo 23, Dario Robleto, Diana Thater, Xu Bing.

CAN ARTISTS INSPIRE CONSERVATION? CAN CONSERVATION INSPIRE ARTISTS?

Beginning with this pair of questions, the Berkeley Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and the international conservation organization Rare commissioned eight contemporary artists to travel to UNESCO-designated World Heritage sites [http://whc.unesco.org/en/list] and create new work informed by their experiences there. The resulting exhibition reveals a diversity of experiences from their encounters with the human, animal and plant inhabitants living within these eight regions around the globe.

Chinese artist Xu Bing visited Mount Kenya National Park in 2005. After discussions with locals about the impact of deforestation in the area, Xu identified trees as the focus for his project. In 2008 he returned to work with ninety schoolchildren to develop contemporary pictographs—image and text integrated artworks inspired by lessons and a book he designed to introduce them to Chinese characters and Egyptian hieroglyphics. Partnering with Kenya’s Departments of Education and Forestry, he created a website to disseminate information about the park and issues related to the forest. His installation incorporates his own work along with the children’s drawings. The children’s drawings are available for purchase on the project’s website, www.forestproject.net. Proceeds go towards reforestation efforts in Kenya. The website will report on the progress of efforts.


Mark Dion, Mobile Ranger Library—Komodo National Park, 2008; mixed media; 96 x 84?½ x 39?½ inches; fabricated by William Feeney; installation view, MCASD; courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; photo by Pablo Mason


American East Coast artist Mark Dion
traveled to Komoto National Park, Indonesia in 2005, inspired by his childhood fascination with the Komoto Dragon, the largest living species of lizards. However, his project focuses on the labor and self-sacrifice of the park rangers who guided him. He was impressed with their knowledge of the park’s ecosystem and their dedication to their work. Their lack of resources was a concern in his project. In 2007 he returned to design and build a piece that functions as a rolling supply cart for the rangers. It contains wildlife and ecology manuals, first aid supplies, lab equipment, fishing gear, nets and traps, flashlights, batteries, maps, games, notebooks and art supplies. Local craftspeople and the rangers helped to construct the cart and added traditional decorative elements to it. Dion created a replica of the cart for the exhibition.

Mexican artist Maro Ramirez ERRE visited Three Parrallel Rivers of Yunan Protected Province, China in 2005. He toured the region and studied the government’s plans to construct a hydroelectric dam at Tiger Leaping Gorge, which would flood the area. ERRE worked with local Tibetan carpenters to create a sculpture, which represents the wall of a traditional house, twenty feet long and ten feet high, using regional building methods and materials. He installed four plasma screen windows, two on each side. The windows display video footage revealing the everyday domestic lives of the residents and the outdoor landscape where they live. He returned to China in the summer of 2007 and was shocked by the environmental and cultural changes that had taken place in the time between his two visits. His project features additional elements that voice his urgent concern to protect one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world.


Ann Hamilton, Galápagos chorus, 2008; DVD projection, amplified cone gloves with prerecorded animal sounds, iPods, artist’s books with texts by 8th-grade students from El Colegio Nacional Galápagos; installation view, MCASD; courtesy the artist; photo by Pablo Mason

American artist Ann Hamilton
traveled to the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador in June 2005, where she observed land iguanas, finches, sea lions, and tortoises. She returned to the Islands in 2008 to produce her piece. After her initial visit she began thinking about concepts of buoyancy and balance in relation to human life and natural landforms. She then created a poetic text that inventories the animals and plants of the Galapagos, cites population figures, and incorporates words from Charles Darwin’s famous texts about the islands. Local elementary schoolchildren recited the words from a boat circling the islands. In the exhibition she installed video footage documenting the children’s performance and images of a wavering horizon line shot from a camera suspended in the water; amplified cone gloves expelling a cacophony of prerecorded animal sounds; and artist books on music stands containing a litany of ecological terms. In wall text at the museum she reflects on the questions raised for her in this project: “The threading of the two experiences is in the thick line that is the rim of water dividing a world of air from a world of water. Perhaps our role as artists is to be the amphibians that inhabit both.”


Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Juggernaut, 2008; Super 16mm film digitized to HD video projection; 5:44 video loop; installation view, MCASD; courtesy the artist and Max Protetch, New York; photo by Pablo Mason

Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, a Spanish artist now living in Chicago, first journeyed to the El Vizcaíno Biosphere Reserve, Mexico (also known as the Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaíno) in February 2005. On that visit he was inspired to create an artwork that depicts the natural beauty and ecological importance of the area in addition to raising awareness of the industrial development that threatens it. He created a multisensory installation featuring a video projection filmed on location at the Mitsubishi saltworks, which is adjacent to the reserve. In 2007, he returned to the region and completed filming, with the assistance of a local camera crew.

A Portuguese artist who lives both in Portugal and San Francisco, Rigo 23
first visited the coastal village of Cananéia and the surrounding forested areas of southeastern Brazil, known as the Atlantic Forests South-East Reserves, in early spring 2005. Between 2006 and 2008 he made four more trips to the site, forming strong connections with three local communities: the Guaraní community of Pindoty, an indigenous community; the Quilombola communities of Ivaporunduva and Sapatú, founded hundreds of years ago by escaped and freed slaves; and the Caiçara Community of Itacuruçá, a fishing village near São Paulo. Rigo worked in collaboration with the artisans of these communities to create two large sculptures filled with an explosion of carved diminutive human figures, small wooden animals and baskets woven using traditional materials and methods. The pieces metaphorically refer to the idea that the developed world often exploits the resources of economically disadvantaged nations to support unsustainable, and often destructive, ways of life. Together, they have built handmade versions of contemporary weapons of mass destruction—a cluster bomb and a nuclear submarine—reclaiming their purpose by turning them into beautiful and poetic celebrations of life.

In 2005, American Southwest artist Dario Robleto visited Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, located on the USA/Canada border, spending much of his time with a glaciologist who was monitoring the park’s melting glaciers. When he returned in 2006 he participated in a glacier-measuring expedition. He made a sound recording of the melting glacier, and also a 8mm film of shooting stars reflected in a pristine lake that was created by the water from the melting glacial ice. His work for the exhibition is a somber series of cabinet and coffin-like memorial sculptures (containing stretched audiotape of last bird recordings and recordings of extinct human languages that were made into replicas of feathers and human hair, bear paws, human hand bones, pieces of widows’ mourning dresses, vials of glacial runoff and human tears, etc.) as well as a film that focuses on the inevitable loss of the glaciers, the mourning we collectively experience as we witness the changing of the earth at our own hands, and the ways in which loss can inspire new ways of thinking.


Diana Thater, RARE, 2008; 16 LCD monitors, DVD player, DVD, existing architecture; 204 x 264 inches; installation view, MCASD; courtesy the artist and David Zwirner Gallery, New York; photo by Pablo Mason

American West Coast artist Diana Thater
visited iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa in 2007. Experienced in capturing footage of animals in the wild, Thater located and filmed many of the park’s endangered and threatened species, including rhinoceros, hippopotamuses, giraffes, elephants, crocodiles, warthogs, and several species of birds. She has long been concerned with mitigating the human impact on the relationship of animals to their natural habitats. For this exhibition she edited the film footage to create a dizzying installation of moving and at times blurred images displayed on 16 separate but connected 40-inch LCD monitors.

To read further about the criteria for choosing the 890 sites included in the UNESCO World Heritage List: http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/

For more information about the exhibition, the eight sites, the artists and their projects: http://artistsrespond.org/about/ and: http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/exhibition/human_nature