In Our June, 2017 Issue:

STUDIO, STAGE & SCREEN: Indulge in the ‘Ecocentric’


Step through the entrance and imme­di­ately your atten­tion is seized by a bright and col­or­ful tree at the cen­ter of the room. You lean in close to dis­cover that the tree is made of Tar­get bags and other recy­cled plastic.

Swirl to your right to see a sculp­ture of a fish, cre­ated from empty Marl­boro cig­a­rette car­tons and alu­minum Moun­tain Dew cans.

In the oppo­site cor­ner, you see a sculp­ture of a fox also com­posed of recy­cled material.

Hang­ing on every wall are pic­tures of wildlife and char­coal draw­ings of seeds. These images mean­der across the wall, cre­at­ing an intrigu­ing mosaic that seizes your imagination.

Some peo­ple might call these pieces of art eccen­tric. Rather, they are the art­works that make up the “Eco­cen­tric: Art, Ecol­ogy and Engage­ment” exhibit.

Eco­cen­tric” is on dis­play in the Gor­don Parks Gallery until July 13. This exhi­bi­tion fea­tures the works of Min­nesota artists Mary John­son, Rachel Breen and Miranda Bran­don. You can find the gallery on the third floor of the Library and Learn­ing Cen­ter on the St. Paul campus.

Artists Nur­tured By Nature

Each artist dis­cussed the inspi­ra­tion and process of her art­work with The Met­ro­pol­i­tan.

Scav­eng­ing through sew­ers, gut­ters and river­banks, Mary John­son has spent years gath­er­ing trash. Col­lect­ing metal pop cans and plas­tic shop­ping bags, she uses these pieces of garbage to cre­ate some­thing aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing. “The art gives peo­ple the abil­ity to visu­al­ize how much stuff is out there,” said Johnson.

Her inspi­ra­tion came from research­ing extremophiles, which are organ­isms that can sur­vive in extreme con­di­tions. Using her sculp­tures as points of depar­ture, she finds her­self won­der­ing how life will adapt to the chang­ing envi­ron­ment. “The art makes a state­ment about cer­tain areas,” said John­son. “This helps feed into my own cre­ative process.

Rachel Breen imprinted her char­coal draw­ings directly onto the wall of the Gor­don Parks Gallery. Using an unthreaded sewing machine, she cre­ated sten­cils of seeds. Once the sten­cils were fin­ished, she trav­eled to the gallery and began trans­form­ing the wall into art.

One of the most impor­tant prin­ci­ples learned from seeds, Breen explains, is the idea of heirlooms

The con­cept of an heir­loom is really impor­tant because it is a metaphor for larger things,” said Breen. “There are some things we see as being pre­cious and pass them down. Heir­loom seeds are the same way. Sav­ing seeds is how we can pre­serve our com­mu­nity legacy. We ensure our sta­bil­ity as a com­mu­nity as long as we grow our own food.”

Draw­ing on the wall helps Breen to sym­bol­ize another con­cept. “One of the rea­sons I work on the wall, is there is less of a bor­der,” Breen said. “The art becomes much more a part of the space, but also it is more tem­po­rary and frag­ile. If you rub it or blow on the art, it changes. That is the mean­ing of the work. How frag­ile and del­i­cate our envi­ron­ment is. It’s pre­cious and we have to be very care­ful with it.

Miranda Bran­don cre­ated the prints fea­tured on the wall of the exhibit. Using appro­pri­ated images, she inserted ani­mals into pho­tographs she cap­tured around the Twin Cities. Bran­don also cre­ated posters of ani­mals to accom­pany the framed works.

The Eco­cen­tric Argument

Eco­cen­tric” is cer­tainly a unique and unfa­mil­iar term. What exactly does it encompass

Eco­cen­tric means a per­son is capa­ble of think­ing out­side the self,” said Breen. “Think­ing com­mu­nity based, instead of think­ing about the self and only the self. It is broader way of thinking.

Erica Ras­mussen, the gallery direc­tor and stu­dio arts pro­fes­sor at Metro State, sees the exhibit as a plat­form to help cre­ate aware­ness of envi­ron­men­tal issues. “[The artists] are inter­ested in not just mak­ing art and show­ing art, but also engag­ing peo­ple in eco­log­i­cal dis­cus­sions,” said Ras­mussen. “Art stu­dents might be inspired by the exhibit. The exhibit spurs all kinds of thought about devel­op­ing sub­ject mat­ter and inte­grat­ing ideas into one’s work.

But this does not mean that the exhibit is meant only for art stu­dents. Because of the broad spec­trum that “Eco­cen­tric” cov­ers, Ras­mussen sug­gests that all stu­dents come to see the art­work, regard­less of their major.

It’s about engag­ing peo­ple,” said Ras­mussen. “The arts are often­times a very soli­tary act, but I think that we are going to see more and more of this kind of prac­tice where artists invite the com­mu­nity to get involved and par­tic­i­pate. It’s a way to get peo­ple excited about art­work and ideas. Art­work is one place to start rais­ing con­scious­ness about some of the things that deserve discussion.”