Interview conducted by LRWP Raritan Scholars intern Quentin Zorn
Why did you decide to work with the LRWP?
In the past couple of years my work has been in community gardening, locally organized composting and food system development. I have focused my creative drives toward innovating and troubleshooting in these sectors via grassroots organizing and business startups.
The opportunity with coLAB and LRWP came along at the perfect time. I had just finished installing a geodesic greenhouse in an exhibition called LANDHOLDINGS at Index Art Center in Newark, NJ and was looking to invest more energy to art-making. Additionally LRWP’s mission incorporates scientific and geological considerations that at the time I was not familiar with: the focus on watershed heath and its intersection with the urban environment. I was eager to learn more.
How do you relate to the LRWP’s goals?
LRWP’s goals are to inspire environmental appreciation and stewardship, to inform relevant stakeholders on the watershed by building networks for sharing data about its health, and to innovate to improve watershed health responsibly with a diverse group of partners.
My role as a Resident Artist with the LRWP is to support their on-going projects and help generate new projects that align with these goals. Because my personal viewpoints also align with LRWP’s mission, my own integrity as an artist is not compromised. In fact, exposure to their programs and operations has been challenging and enlightening. The public needs organizations like LRWP to bring together science and community towards making impactful environmental efforts. Art plays a big role in this as it can help folks make the connection between the health of local environmental resources and one’s personal well-being in exciting and thought-provoking ways.
How does integrating art with science change the way you think about your own art?
Even the most traditional art forms require scientific understanding. For example, oil paint is an exceptionally difficult medium that if applied improperly can result in cracking and flaking once it sets. Research- historical, social, and technical- is always necessary for an artist and in-studio discoveries can be, in many ways, scientific in nature. I am used to shifting my medium to convey different kinds of ideas. As an interdisciplinary artist I am excited to collaborate and learn more technical languages.
How does the interpretive nature of art help or hinder conveying the messages you want people to understand?
This tension is one of my favorite parts of art making. The artist Patricia Piccinini is a huge inspiration of mine as much of her work is about the “creator’s” inability to control their “creation.” Experienced artists are able to walk the tight rope between intention and perception, directing the viewer but leaving enough space in the work open for the viewer to be able to identify and enter into it. Of course, not all art works intentionally speak to all audiences.
How do the sculptures from project WADES help achieve the LRWP’s goals or environmental goals in general?
Project WADES stands for Watershed, Action, Dialogue, Education and Stewardship and aims to develop Environmental Education curriculum. The sculptures are positioned at the intersection of WADES with a public sculpture project under a program called Rail Arts River, which aims to connect New Brunswick communities to the Raritan though art and green infrastructure. The sculptures from Project WADES are casts of the hands of youth clasping pieces of trash collected at clean ups along the streams of the Raritan Watershed. They serve to inspire increased connection between human behavior and watershed health within LRWP’s watershed curriculum.
When the sculptures are completed, what is the reaction you are hoping for?
To be honest I haven’t reflected on the reaction as much as the intention and the varying methods that coLAB, LRWP, and I have discussed for presentation! So far this work is still going through a collaborative gestation process. The sculptures will be brought back to the schools for semi-permanent art installations but will also be used in a larger public sculpture at Boyd Park. When the work is complete I am very much looking forward to seeing what people think.
How did you create the River Walk book and what do you hope people take away from it?
River Walk is a kind of functional art work, much more sentimental and straightforward then my typical work. It is a usable notebook made primarily from recycled materials: reused paper, cardboard, old art prints and wood binding. The wood binding was fabricated from materials gathered from a FEMA buy-out home that was deconstructed and transformed into a rain garden and flood storage park, an exciting project done by landscape architect and Rutgers Professor Tobiah Horton. The signature sheets include linocut prints of humans in nature. These images were taken directly from a hike with coLAB Arts on the D&R canal in New Brunswick. The only way to acquire this work is by donating to LRWP. My hope is simply that people enjoy it and use it!
What effect do you think the Windows of Understanding project has on the community or the local environment?
Windows of Understanding is a public art project set in multiple storefront businesses. It operates like a rhizome, utilizing the brain power of local advocates and artists to filter their mission and work through a prompt. This year that prompt is ”We See Through Hate.” I see so much mutual benefit here and I’m excited about the realistic, but hopeful message. Our country is going through rapid change that seems to hark on hard times for so many of us. Americans are under incredible pressure from the media, from the antagonistic government, from the precarious state of healthcare, and from a job market threated by automation. To be truly resilient, in an environment filled with risk, disparate communities should be given opportunities to know each other face to face; to move past bigotry and ignorance and to see through hate. Windows of Understanding will address these struggles, but provide hope and positivity to the surrounding public. I believe this effort will have a positive effect on the passerby, increase the visibility of advocate organizations, and increase community cohesion.