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Global warming inspires eco art at Montserrat and the BCA
By GREG COOK  |  March 3, 2008
THE WORLD REDACTED: At Montserrat, Pat Shannon fills a gallery wall with dozens of New York
pages from which she has cut out all the type, pictures, and ads.

“It’s Getting Hot in Here” Montserrat College of Art, 23 Essex St, Beverly | Through April 5

“Greed, Guilt & Grappling: Six Artists Respond to Climate Change”
Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St, Boston | Through March 30
When Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize last October, it was a triumph for anti-global-warming forces as well as a triumph for art. For years, scientists have struggled to focus attention on the urgent dangers of global warming, but with his film An Inconvenient Truth, Gore summed up the problem in a way that helped millions finally get it, kick-started the “green” environmentalism movement, and gave a push to government and private efforts to stem climate change.

Going green has become so popular and pervasive a phenomenon — if still only beginning to produce manifestly different behavior — that it’s easy to forget how new this sea change in thinking is. Gore’s film premiered in 2006, and it quickly affected the art world, with global warming, sustainable living, and green becoming a major focus of art. In the past year or so, exhibitors have begun to round up the stuff. New shows at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly and the Boston Center for the Arts represent the two poles of green and global-warming art: inward-turning meditative gallery art and outward-reaching, simply framed activist art.

Curated by the college’s Leonie Bradbury and Shana Dumont, Montserrat’s “It’s Getting Hot in Here” addresses “how the progressive philosophy of sustainability affects art making.” The art is quiet, gentle, stylish, thoughtful, often exquisitely crafted, occasionally droll. The primary method of the eight artists is recycling, via compassionate conceptualism and crafty minimalism.

The gallery smelled earthy when I visited — the staff had just watered Vaughn Bell’s art. This Seattle artist aims to increase our sense of responsibility for the earth by presenting plants as pets: eight bowls of moss and rocks are chained to the wall with dog leashes. The responsibility theme is even more explicit in the remains of her performance from the opening night, A Pack of Forests: Land for Adoption (2008): a pair of potted ferns with sign-up forms by which visitors can “adopt” them.

Kevin Kaempf, Suraiya Hossain, and Lora Lode of the Chicago collective People Powered merge art and recycling by presenting slickly designed painting kits and Loop Limited: Recycled Paint (Montserrat) (2008), a neat stack of cans filled with recycled house paint collected from North Shore folks below a sign saying, “Please take one!”

None of the other art so directly promotes ecological responsibility or action. The materials hint that the artists may be personally concerned with the state of the world. You could say the work is about small personal changes in behavior and how they add up, but the pieces seem driven primarily by meditations on form. The resulting objects are often beautiful, but their focus can feel small, insular.

New Yorker Niizeki Hiromi creates a lovely hanging patchwork lattice curtain out of thousands of cellophane envelope windows, which many communities don’t recycle. Boston’s Pat Shannon fills a gallery wall with dozens of New York Times pages from which she has cut out all the type, pictures, and ads. Sans the excised information, the result feels like silence, like the whole world redacted.

Boston’s Rachel Perry Welty presents Zen minimalist meditations on everyday ephemera. 208,896 Loaves (2004/2007) is a curious basket nest built from stacked rings of thousands of plastic bread tags. She peeled the stickers off fruit, sliced them up, and turned them into fine looping red, blue, green, and gold lines on a white sheet of paper for Fruit Bowl III (2008). And in Spam Series: Everything Should Be Okay(Claudette, July 20, 2006 11:54:09 AM EDT) (2008), she renders the junk-e-mail slogan “Everything should be okay” in twisted-up aluminum foil.

New Yorker Yuken Teruya cuts delicate tiny trees out of cardboard toilet-paper rolls that he either hangs in a group on a chain or mounts as a group on the wall. Note the gorgeous shadows they cast. Teruya has been playing with this idea of trees turned into paper turned back into trees. His marvelous paper trees cut from and assembled inside paper bags are a highlight of Tufts University’s current (through March 30) “Branded and on Display” show. The toilet-paper-roll trees are cool, but not quite as amazing.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Al Gore , Boston Center for the Arts , Science and Technology ,  More more >
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