Various Small Fires proudly presents Eco-art Work: 11 Artists from 8 Countries, a group show curated by the legendary founders of the Ecological Art Movement and gallery artist Newton Harrison (b.1940) of The Harrison Studio, an esteemed collaborative endeavor with his late wife Helen Mayer Harrison (1927-2018). This exhibition brings together work by Harrison and ten additional artists: Salma Arastu, Brandon Ballengée, Barbara Benish, Nathalie Blanc, Tim Collins and Reiko Goto, Jorgge Menna Baretto, Aviva Rahmani, Åsa Sonjasdotter, Ruth Wallen, and Yangkura. The mixed-media works, paintings, sculptures, sound, videos, and research highlight the urgency of environmental injustice in our local and global communities.
With a practice spanning over 50 years, The Harrisons have transformed neighborhoods, gardens, bodies of water, and even large land masses through their artwork, research, and proposals. Their projects have influenced policies and shaped city planning. Eco-art Work: 11 Artists from 8 Countries reflect an ongoing commitment to not only do work that “benefits the ecosystem” but to inspire and influence generations of artists to continue the mindful duty of caring for the Earth we live on. The Harrisons charge their audience in their monumental catalog, the Time of the Force Majeure: “‘Travelers, let us continue the serious labor of re-enchanting the planet.” The exhibition brings together members of an extensive network of eco artists dedicated to raising awareness of the ongoing negative impacts of militarization, environmental disregard, industrialization, and pollution on the land.
Santa Cruz-based Brazilian artist Jorgge Menna Barreto’s single-channel video entitled Lugares Moles (Butter Architecture) depicts a block structure made of butter slowly melting from the camera’s heat and lights onto human figures and architectural models as commentary on climate change. Working in the Czech Republic and Santa Cruz, California, artist Barabara Benish presents works from her Climate House series. By modifying architectural drawings and illustrations from the 1930s, the artist underlines the reality of climate change, juxtaposing the urgency of rising tides against the sterility of the blueprints. Based in Seoul, Yangkura collects trash that has washed up on the shores of South Korea to design elaborate monsters that he then performs in. A photograph from his performance depicts the monster’s mythic return to South Korea from the shores of the beach.
Rooting us in the earth are works that decenter the human and provide a multispecies lens to climate justice. Salma Aratsu’s paintings inspired by mycelium uncover the importance of the fungal networks that grow underground. Her work points to a more hopeful perspective of how the earth, specifically mushrooms, can regenerate, activate and heal the damaged state of the environment. Reminding the viewer of the damage caused by human pollution and exploitation are Arnaudville, Louisiana-based artist Brandon Ballengée’s two bodies of work. The Crude Oil Series utilizes oils from oil spills to paint species that are either endangered or no longer survive in a particular region or body of water. The Frameworks of Absence series appropriates historical prints of species that have become extinct in the last hundred years. After surgically cutting out the extinct animal from the print, he cremates the ashes into funerary urns for each species. Paris-based artist Nathalie Blanc’s audio piece Manifesto for Fragility in the sound corridor reflects on the delicate state of her health and our environmental crisis. The work questions how frail conditions create growth potential and modify our behavior and environments.
Sweden and Germany-based artist, researcher, and amateur plant breeder Åsa Sonjasdotter edited and published Archive Journal n°9 as part of her exhibition and seed propagation project at Project Arts Centre (PAC), Dublin. This brought together practitioners to revisit histories of agriculture to investigate soil, habitat, and dwelling histories, introducing overlooked narratives of cultivation and ecological thinking. San Diego artist Ruth Wallen’s photomontage print from the Walking with Trees series demonstrates an exercise of mourning the death of trees caused by climate change or human-wrought disasters. New York and Maine-based Aviva Rahmani’s two works stem from the extensive Blue Trees Symphony project that began in 2015. Exploring how art, science, and law can change environmental policies about fossil fuels, Rahmani developed a several-mile-long installation composed of trees marked with painted vertical sine waves as notes, designating trees as a musical score for an overture. By harnessing copyright law, Rahmani protects the trees because they are considered protected artwork, safeguarding the land from eminent domain takings for pipeline development. Scotland-based artists Tim Collins and Reiko Goto’s Lanolin utilizes unwashed fleece to recreate Scotland’s national flag, speaking to how the removal of sheep from the Scottish landscape impacted trees and their ability to regenerate and grow. Their additional video work DECOY situates the viewer amongst the trees in a vast forest, reconciling the relationships and kinship between humans and forests.
The two works by The Harrisons address the life cycles and interconnectedness of ourselves and our planet. Untitled (Outtake from Seventh Lagoon Cycle), 1981-84, stems from their epoch project that spans over forty years. In it, they interpreted the ecosystem of the Pacific Rim, detailing interactions between watersheds and food production. The project resulted in a seven-part series of maps, collages, murals, photographs, performances, and poetry. The work is presented together with the never-before-seen work Epitaph, which is an initiation of a series that meditates on the voice of the web of life. The print renders two tombstones–one for Helen and one for Newton, detailing manifesto-like prose where Harrison asks, “After encountering a non-curable cancer, and three years after Helen passed. I asked the web of life, do you have any rules beyond self-making?” The work questions the ways in which species relate to life; Harrison shares, “All species give back as much as they take, except we (humans), just take. The web of life comes to me and shares these questions.”
Eco-art Work: 11 Artists from 8 Countries underscore the gravity and urgency of the state of our planet. Through their research-focused projects and collaboration, the artists promote the awareness of regional and global ecosystems, directing attention to our collective participation in the safety and health of our future and survival.
Salma Arastu (b. 1950, lives and works in Berkeley, California) graduated with a degree in Fine Arts from Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda, India, and lived and worked in Iran and Kuwait before landing in Pennsylvania in 1987. She was invited to Germany twice, as a Resident Artist in 2000 at Schwabisch Gmund and in 2011 at Westphalia Wilhelm University in Münster, to publish her paper “Art Informed by Spirituality” in the publication on the International Symposium: ‘God Loves Beauty: Post Modern Views on Religion and Art. She has presented her work and given talks at Stanford University, Commonwealth of San Francisco, Seattle University, Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, and Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, St. Louis, Missouri. She was invited to Morocco for a one-month Artist Residency Program in March of 2018 through Green Olives Art Gallery. She has held over 40 solo exhibitions nationally and internationally in India, Iran, Kuwait, Germany, and the U.S. Arastu has received numerous awards including the East Bay Community’s Fund for Artists (2012, 2014, and 2020) and the City of Berkeley’s Individual Artist Grant Award (2014, 2015, and 2016). She has written and published five books on her art and poetry including her recent work with ecological consciousness from Quranic verses “Our Earth: Embracing All Communities.”
Brandon Ballengée Ph.D (b. 1974, lives and works in Arnaudville, Louisiana) is a visual artist, biologist, and environmental activist Since 1996, a central investigation focus has been the occurrence of developmental deformities and population declines among amphibians and other ectothermic vertebrates. From 2016-2019, he was a Postdoctoral Research Associate Museum of Natural Science at Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), studying the impact on fish species from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill with Curator of Fishes Prosanta Chakrabarty. Ballengée was also a 2017/18 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) in Washington D.C. examining species “missing” from the Gulf since the 2010 oil spill. In 2019 he received a Creative Capital Award and delivered a TEDxLSU talk. In 2020, he was included in the 2020 Grist 50 Emerging Environmental Leaders. In 2021, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was appointed Adjunct Faculty of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University
Ballengée’s artwork has previously been exhibited throughout the USA and internationally in 20 countries, including Canada, Argentina, England, Germany, Italy, Spain, Slovenia, Russia, India, China, South Korea and Australia. In the summer of 2013 the first career survey of Ballengeé’s work debuted at the Château de Chamarande (Essonne, France), and traveled to the Museum Het Domein (Sittard, Netherlands) in 2014. In 2016 a 20-year retrospective of his work was held at the University of Wyoming Art Museum in Laramie, Wyoming.
Barbara Benish (lives and works in Bohemia, Czech Republic, and Santa Cruz, California) is an artist, curator, writer, and farmer. She received her BA in Ethnography & Art from the University of Hawai’i and her MFA in Painting from Claremont Graduate University, and at the Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm. She moved to Prague in 1993 as a Fulbright scholar and stayed. Her work has been shown at numerous institutions in Europe and the U.S., including P.S.1 Museum, Queens, New York; the Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California; the Stadtgeschichtliche Museen, Nurnberg, Germany; and the National Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic. Benish is the Founding Director of ArtMill in rural Bohemia, which is an expansion of her vision of art as social practice working with students, artists, and locals. She has been an Advisor to the United Nations Environmental Program, a Fellow at the Social Practice Arts Research Center, UC Santa Cruz, and co-author of Form, Art, & the Environment (Routledge, 2017). Benish teaches in Prague and at West Bohemian University in Plzen. With co-author Nathalie Blanc she is working on a new book, “Art, Food and Farming” (Routledge, 2021) and continues to create installations, interventions, and paintings on environmental and social issues integral to our time.
Nathalie Blanc (lives and works in Paris, France) works as a Research Director at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). She is the Managing Director of the Center for Earth and is based at the University of Paris. A pioneer of ecocriticism in France, she has published and coordinated research programs on areas including habitability, environmental aesthetics, literature & environment, and nature in the city. A founding member of the French Environmental Humanities Portal, she has also been from 2011 to 2015 the French delegate of the European COST research project Investigating cultural sustainability and then is the delegate of the European COST program on New Materialism ‘How Matter Comes to Matter’ (2015-2018). She is an artist and an art commissioner, working on the theme of ecological fragility. In 2014, she was the curator of an exhibition “What makes fragility” at the Galerie Vivo Equidem. Blanc animates and coordinates a project of LABArtSciences devoted successively to urban soils of the Anthropocene SOIL FICTIONS (2016) and sustainable food THE TABLE AND THE TERRITORY that give rise to experiments in writing and exhibition.
Tim Collins Ph.D and Reiko Goto Ph.D (live and work in Glasgow, Scotland, UK) are known for long-term projects that involve socially engaged environmental research and practices; with an additional focus on empathic relationships with more-than-human others. Methods include deep mapping and deep dialogue. Recent work involves the cultural meaning of conservation boglands and cutaway peatlands in Ireland Deep Mapping | Lough Boora Sculpture Park (2020). A focus on deep mapping a Caledonian Pine forest in Scotland: Future Forest: The Blackwood, Rannoch Scotland; Sylva Caledonia (2016); Caledonian Decoy (2017). An elucidation of photosynthesis and transpiration in the sculptural instrument, PLEIN AIR presented in North Carolina (2019), Glasgow (2017), and Cologne (2016). They have also developed relational approaches to climate change integrating empathy, science, and technology. Earlier work focused on post-industrial public space and ecological recovery Nine Mile Run (1997-2000); and 3 Rivers 2nd Nature (2000-2005). Outputs include artworks, video, exhibitions, seminars, workshops, and publications that embrace an arts-led dialogue and deep mapping methods of research-and theory-informed public practice. They have worked with musicians, planners, scientists, and technologists as well as historians and philosophers to realize work for over thirty years.
Edgar Cruz (b. 1998, lives and works in Los Angeles) is a Oaxacan botanist, ecologist, and photo-based artist from South Central Los Angeles. Through using photography as a camera-less medium, Edgar examines his relationship to land, space, and environment. He has a B.A. in Art and B.A. in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Cruz. Edgar is a recipient of UC Santa Cruz's William Hyde Irwin and Susan Benteen Irwin Scholarship.
The Harrison Studio consists of Newton Harrison (b. 1932, lives and works in Santa Cruz, California) and Helen Mayer Harrison (1927—2018). Often simply referred to as “The Harrisons,” the husband and wife team are leading pioneers of the Ecological Art movement. During their prolific career, the Harrisons have been the subject of over 100 solo exhibitions, and have been included in over 250 group exhibitions. For nearly fifty years, the Harrisons have produced work across a vast range of disciplines, working in collaboration with biologists, ecologists, historians, activists, architects, urban planners, and fellow artists to initiate dialogues and create works exploring biodiversity and community development. They have shown work at 2019, 1980, and 1976 Venice Biennales; Taipei Biennial (2018); Documenta 8 (1987); the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Tate, London, UK; Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles; The Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.; Cooper Hewitt Museum, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois; MoMA PS1, New York; Berkeley Art Museum; Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Massachusetts; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Kunstmuseum Bonn, DE; and Kunstverein Hamburg, DE. Works by the Harrisons are included in many major permanent collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Centre Pompidou, Paris, FR; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Newton Harrison is a Professor Emeriti at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the University of California, San Diego.
Jorgge Menna Barreto Ph.D (b. 1970 in Brazil, lives, and works in Santa Cruz, California) is an artist and educator whose practice and research have been dedicated to site-specific art for over 20 years. Menna Barreto approaches site-specificity from a critical and South American perspective, having taught, lectured, and written on the subject; he has participated in art residencies, projects, and exhibitions worldwide. In 2016, he took part in the 32nd São Paulo Biennial with his award-winning project Restauro: a restaurant set up to work with a complex system of environmental restoration in collaboration with settlements of Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement (MST); the project traveled to the Serpentine Galleries, London, in 2017. In 2020, as a resident at the Jan van Eyck Academie, Netherlands, he launched a periodical called Enzyme in collaboration with artist Joélson Buggilla. In 2022, he was commissioned to participate in the 2021 Liverpool Biennial. He is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Art at UC Santa Cruz, currently teaching in their new MFA in Environmental Art and Social Practice.
Aviva Rahmani Ph.D (lives and works in New York and Maine) is recognized as a pioneering leader of and theorist on eco-art, crossing over the environmental sciences and feminism and a co-founder of the eco-art listserv. She is the co-editor of “Ecoart In Action,” the author of “Divining Chaos,”(pub. New Village Press 2022) and is working on an opera based on “The Blued Trees Symphony” (2015- present), which challenged eminent domain land takings for natural gas pipelines with copyright law across North America. Rahmani has received numerous grants and fellowships and has been exhibited, published, presented, and written about both nationally and internationally. Her previous work has been included in exhibitions at the Thomas Erben Gallery, the Independent Museum of Contemporary Art, Cyprus; the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, CO; the Hudson River Museum, NY; the Cincinnati Center for Contemporary Art, OH; and the Joseph Beuys 100 days of Conference Pavilion, for the Venice Biennale, Italy. She is an Affiliate with the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research, the University of Colorado at Boulder; gained her PhD from the University of Plymouth, UK, and her BFA and MFA from the California Institute of the Arts.
Åsa Sonjasdotter (lives and works in Ven, Sweden and Berlin, Germany) is a Doctoral Researcher in Artistic Practice at Valand Academy, The University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Since 2015, she is a founding member of the Neighbourhood Academy, a bottom-up learning site growing from the Prinzessinnengarten in Berlin. In 2007, Sonjasdotter co-founded the Academy for Contemporary Art in Tromsø, The Arctic University of Norway, where she was program leader until 2010, and professor until 2014. She took part in establishing the Danish artists’ association Young Art Workers (Unge kunstnere og kunstformidlere, UKK) in 2002. Sonjasdotter is a founding member of Women Down the Pub (Kvinder på Værtshus), a feminist action network initiated in Copenhagen, in 1996, who published the anthology View, feminist strategies in Danish visual art in 2004.Sonjasdotter’s ongoing artistic inquiry, Cultivating Stories, follows the re-cultivation of grains rescued from the deep freezers of the Nordic Gene Bank. It is to be presented in a collaboration with the farmer/breeder-initiated association Allkorn, the People’s Movements for Art Promotion (Konstfrämjandet), and the Malmö Art Museum, Sweden. Cultivating Stories was initially commissioned by the Bergen Assembly, Norway in 2019. It has been presented at the Biennale of Warsaw in Poland, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Antwerp, Belgium; Wuerttemberg Art Association, Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany along other venues.
Ruth Wallen (lives and works in San Diego, California) is core faculty for the MFAIA in Interdisciplinary Arts program at Goddard College and a lecturer at UCSD. She has had solo exhibitions at Franklin Furnace and CEPA, New York; New Langton Arts, San Francisco, California; and many venues in southern California. She has been represented in numerous national and international group exhibitions ranging from Virgin Territory, at the Long Beach Museum of Art, to Weather Report: Art and Climate Change, curated by Lucy Lippard for the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, Colorado. Website hosts have included the California Museum of Photography and the Exploratorium, where her work is currently on view. Active in the border region, she was a member of the multinational artist collective Las Comadres, and a Fulbright Lecturer at the Autonomous University of Baja California, Tijuana. In the spring of 2022, she was the Lenz fellow at Naropa University in Boulder Colorado, and will be an artist-in-residence at the Santa Fe Art Institute this fall.
Yangkura (b. 1981, lives and works in Seoul, South Korea) received his BA and MA in sculpture from Chung-Ang University, Seoul, South Korea. His solo exhibitions include Invisible ordinary public domain Porgy & Bess, Wien, Austria; Forgotten messenger, Space Union, Seoul, South Korea; force Majeure & Anthropocene in DMZ, Old Dora observatory UN, South Korea; Return of Maitreya pair 2 Kaohsiung, Taiwan; Year of Zayed national theater, Abu Dhabi, UAE; ‘Tsushima art fantasia 2018’ Tsushima, Japan; The solar Panel art Series DEENA Zukunftsforum, Kasel, Germany; and The solar Panel art Series TOA, Berlin, Germany, among many other international venues. Recent awards and residencies include anyang art leb, Jeju, South Korea; Pier2 Kaohsiung, Taiwan; AIR Krems, Austria; Gyeonggi artist award selected, South Korea; Do bong Peace culture art residency program, Seoul. South Korea; and Gyeonggi north side jagun museum, South Korea.