Beyond Green: Towards a Sustainable Art is an exhibition centered around sustainable design philosophies from national and international artists. The exhibition has traveled to various university art museums as well as art centers across America and in London, Ontario. Now at the DeVos Art Museum at Northern Michigan University, its final destination, the show will extend through March 30, 2009.
Beyond Green connects environmental needs with social justice practices to show various cultures’, generations’ and societies’ approaches to sustainability. Stephanie Smith, curator of the exhibition, says, “Sustainability involves the attempt to meet the development needs of current society without sacrificing the capacity of future generations to meet their own needs.” This definition of the often broad term set the tone of the work selected and now serves as a guide to the exhibition space.
Smith thematically grouped the show into three parts: objects, structures and processes and networks. Some pieces are practical and stem from a specific need in our culture, where others are fanciful and rhetorical based. The objects category focuses on smaller items that employ a wide range of sustainable design practices. The structure section discusses sustainability within modern city environments. Last, the processes and networks grouping covers sustainability in daily routines.
ParaSITE. Photo Courtesy Beyond Green
Michael Rakowitz’s ParaSITE series is one of the first pieces to open the exhibition space as it an inviting and sets the social and environmental tone for the rest of the show. ParaSITE is a multi-layered piece that addresses the lack of affordable housing, homelessness, the environment and class structures. Rakowitz collaborated with individuals from the homeless community to create a practical space that was customized around their needs and desires. The piece inflates with recycled warm vented air from a near by building.
ParaSITE is as artistically dense as it is rich in social meanings. I’m not sure if it is the plastic windows, the dome-like shape or the marshmallow appearance that makes this piece oddly welcoming. The small windows that surround the shelter connect the interior space with the outer environment, while also creating a rhythmic pattern of an organic shape. The dome shape mimics a tent form, however the marshmallow quality evokes a sense of stability and comfort, essential for his target audience. The inflated form is practical, eco-friendly and artistically attractive.
In case you missed Beyond Green, or you can’t make it to the DeVos Art Museum in the next couple of weeks, iCI and Smart Museum of Art have released a catalog to accompany the exhibition.