Humanity’s relationship with the environment has been a constant theme in the arts throughout history.
From the poems of William Wordsworth to Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” artists from every medium have addressed environmental issues.
Art with a conservationist message is the focus of a new exhibit at ETSU’s Tipton Gallery. The exhibit, titled “Reclaiming/Remaking,” features works in different media by ten artists from around the country.
Curator Lyn Govette states that the artists featured in the exhibit were chosen for “their unique and diverse ‘lens’ in the ‘remaking’ of forms and installations that look at the issues of environmental decay, capitalist waste, man-made environmental disasters, and related issues.”
“The field of environmentalist or activist art has grown considerably over the past decade,” Govette said, “and has become a significant part of the conversation in our communities both locally and globally.”
“Reclaiming/Remaking” aims to further that conversation with the works of artists such as JoAnna Commandaros, Xia Gao, Elsie T. Hill, Megan Karlen, Kathryn Martin, Michael Messer, Steve Novick, Carrie and Eric Tomberlin and Paul Turano.
The exhibit is presented by the ETSU Department of Art and Design and Slocumb Galleries. They are partnering with Johnson City’s Urban Redevelopment Alliance, Boone Street Market, the ETSU Women’s Studies program and the ETSU Department of Sustainability.
Govette said that the exhibit hopes to “invite the community at large, not just the students on campus but the community that this campus is in.”
“The other thing is to engage people in seeing, through an artist’s eyes, some of the things we’ve caused through just being human and worrying and trying to figure it out,” Govette said. “Art has always been a part of change and highlighting things that are important.”
As for combating these environmental issues, Govette suggests that while the issue may seem too large and overwhelming, there are small steps we can all take to improve the situation, such as walking instead of driving, buying locally, or even turning off the water in the sink while washing our hands.
“If everyone just did one thing, it would make a difference,” Govette said.
Elsie T. Hill, a featured artist of the exhibit, discussed some of the inspiration behind her work.
“The subject matter that I use as a catalyst for my work is the demolition site of commercial architecture such as strip malls, car dealerships, and grocery stores.” Hill said.
“These otherwise nondescript structures become monumental once in the throes of their accelerated demise. I play with the idea of preserving and representing elements of a fleeting and kinetic site which exists just before the building disappears and is forgotten completely.”
Hill described working with the expanding field of painting, saying, “I am an easel painter, but these works are created so that the artifact and the image contain reciprocal amounts of information for the viewer.”
Hill has also experienced environmental issues first hand through her artwork. “I make most of my work and do most of my research in the summer,” she said, “and every summer feels hotter than the last, so climate change is hard to ignore.”
The exhibit held an opening reception as part of the Little Chicago Downtown Music and Arts Festival this past Friday. According to Govette, around 200 people visited.
“Reclaiming/Remaking” will be on display at Tipton Gallery through Aug. 19 and is free to the public.