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.”