Art might not seem real when viewing pieces and/or
performances in a gallery of museum, via the everyday experience of
the landspace at 601 Tully the arts (and the all the dialectical
possibilities that grow out of them) become exquisitely real to the
people living on Syracuse's Near Westside. The project is an
alchemical work of modern art, ecology and community engagement.
To begin to solve the current state of the garden space, I propose soil testing and the installation of a 3’ x 3’ working bioremediation of the soil in situ, via phytoextraction processes that are appropriate. This “Foundation: Flux”, along with the construction of raised beds and container gardens will create a functional and aesthetically pleasing use of the 30’ x 30’ landscape behind the mahogany ramp attached to the building. The intention is to make a physical investment in the actual terra firma of the Near Westside that will also introduce the invigorating concepts of soil as artistic medium and “plants as sculpture” as displayed in the work of the contemporary conceptual artist Mel Chin. “Sculpture as an evolutionary process” is a lens through which to approach the 601 Tully re-vitalization project and in terms of this, an homage to “Revival Field: Projection and Procedure” is very apropos. “Foundation: Flux” will be a testament to the creative work that is in a long-term state of improvement.
Furthermore, I propose that the site be used to train youths for jobs and internships in the green industry by showing them how to take proper soil samples as well as the harvesting, drying, incineration and analyzing of the plants used in remediation. This view also recalls Joseph Beuys’ statement on the “nature” of his art not being “fixed and finished processes continue..” Both Beuys and Chin are artists who use earth as the medium, as prima materia (universal). There are scores of others who make art out of the earth. In terms of authorship, 601 Tully will have multiples.
“Plants are the new sculpture” Mel Chin, 1989. Situated in the Pig’s Eye Landfill in St. Paul, MN, another one of America’s Superfund sites (styes), “Revival Field” 1990-1993 grew out of Mel Chin’s desire to “carve away” at the earth as a traditional sculptor would use a reductive process to chisel wood or marble. The piece is a 60 square foot section of landfill that is being bioremediated via phytoextraction using several different hyperaccumulating species of plants, including a plant sacred to the Iroquois of the Northeast--sweet corn. Chin, seems to have been fascinated by jimsonweed originally; however, under the guidance of the botanist Rufus Chaney, discovered other dynamic accumulator species work best to remedate, Alpine pennycress being the best working species for “Revival Field”.
One species that would be useful at the 601 Tully site is comfrey Symphytum officianalus. Widely mistaken as a loathsome “weed”, it almost gets a bad wrap, for not only is it very medicinal and nutrient dense it also works in the garden as a nutrient fixer, biomass builder and a living fertilizer. Its foliage and flowers are aesthetically interesting and child friendly, as a perennial it will be a very sustainable and low maintenance plant. Symphytum officianalus along with other plant varieties such as sunflowers, chickweed, and clovers will provide a quilt of examples for experts to instruct students on how they may safely make use of the soil and different uses of plants growing wild here in the area that they might otherwise not be privy to. I have included a diagram of the “Flux Foundation” design that recalls “Revival Field” yet is also based on a quilt designed by the local fiber artist Caroline Tauxe entitled, “Coming Home--All Our Relations” it is made up of concentric circles divided from the center into quadrants, sort of like a miniature “quad” and representative of the “cycles and inter-related elements that make up our world.” (I haven't scanned that drawing for this post, will add it soon...)
Here is a sustainable system that will not only restore biodiversity and harmony to the area but also restores the health of the soil medium, a return to it’s ideal state for optimal growth. Working with soil/land as the medium, like Beuys, De Maria, Ana Mendieta, Rikrit Tiravanjia, Jean-Luc and Titi Parant-- Chin is also interested in alchemical forms of art, “the meaning is determined by matter.” He is also inspired by the experience of habitats, cross cultural exchange,scientific analysis, botany--multiple disciplines. Interesting to note that Mel Chin is the product of a pluralist environment growing up first generation Chinese in a diverse, urban neighborhood in Houston, Texas with a lot in common to the Near Westside
“Earth is what has been hidden by urbanism, what has been washed away by modern sanitation, what has been forgotten by people oblivious to the support systems they live within; it isnt surprising that it has reemerged as art.” R. Solnit
The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art, Martha Buskrik, 2003
Fragile Ecologies: Contemporary Artists’ Interpretations and Solutions, Barbara C. Matilsky,1992
As Eve Said to the Serpent: On Landscape, Gender, and Art. Rebecca Solnit, 2001
“Ecological Restoration: Mel Chin, Revival Field.” Don Krug. www.greenmuseum.org