Currently on view in Los Angeles, gallery Various Small Fires has compiled a selection of works from the careers of Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison, affectionately referred to as “The Harrisons.” A visionary pair who embraced early warning signs of a global ecological catastrophe, The Harrisons have used their lives and careers as a spring board for investigations and experimentations in just how artists mights provide alternatives and opportunities for global preservation in the face of global climate change and political indifference.
First inspired in the late 1960’s by Rachel Carson’s landmark work Silent Spring, The Harrisons decided to only create artworks that benefit “the great web of life”, leading over many years of research and production to the genesis of the Ecological Art movement. Their works involved restorative practices like composting and performative actions meant to ensure that some space might be left for natural life on a planet rapidly consuming its resources, the artists work I=was a prescient look at the potential global catastrophe that lurked in the future. In 2007, The Harrisons began to design and realize interdisciplinary works, employing a range of mediums, including landscape-scale living installations, that would not only protect the life web, but actually counter human destruction by stimulating the life web to assist in its own amelioration.
The artworks collected in this exhibition, dating from 1970 to the present, demonstrate this singular approach proposed by The Harrisons to mediate the extinction of our natural world, their works are something of a blue print, providing geological surveys, test cases in creating ecological safe havens, and pother projects designed to spur viewers towards new perspectives and practices. Newton Harrison, who has built a team at the Center for the Study of the Force Majeure at University of California, Santa Cruz, continues to develop and implement projects at large-scale across the globe. Stating that he is quite “aware of the short time remaining for humans to counter the devastating effect of their own greed,” the artist’s work (his wife passed away in 2012) continues to push and prod viewers, challenging them to realize the impacts of global capital on the world (one work traces environmental impact and the the disappearance of natural environs in the face of human civilization, while another charts the political necessities of acknowledging climate change to adjust and move whole ecosystems to new grounds, searching out proper conditions and relocating the necessary life forms to help preserve and strengthen the networked biomes that make up our home planet.
As the show notes, Newton is encouraged by the rising movement of young environmental activists around the globe, and his work with his wife feels distinctly ahead of its time, anticipating the crisis that could well destroy life one earth as we know it. The question remains whether the artist’s work might convince more people not only of the necessity of the project, but equally, its urgency.
The show closes August 24th.
— A. Berman
The Harrisons at Various Small Fires [Exhibition Site]