The Monongahela Conference

Thursday, October 23, 2003

11:30 am  Robin


Tim  Artists working to influence spaces we care about

            Diverse approaches with clear intent

            Shared purpose: want need desire pursuit of change


Request for respect of differences


Frame for discussion:

Spatial and Discursive form of the public realm

Visioning the Future

Range of Practitioners

            -Lyrical expression

            -Critical Engagement

            -Transformative Action


Day Plan

Thursday/Friday – goals / intentions   and   methods / processes

Friday afternoon/Saturday – implementation in river town dialogue




3 years of 3rivers 2nd nature

looking at cultural mindset of the post-industrial community

advisory committee being assembled to help bring in people for future actions




Artistic Subject Matter: life of nature – finding personal identity through contemplation of nature


Experience at wildlife refuge center – supporting life became Reiko’s practice


Releasing animals, where are the released? How do we create an environment that is condusive to human life and animal life alike


Artist in Residency         – butterflies hatched in fennel and leave through open window, later return to the site

-          later installation “summer”

-          Cho-MU (butterfly dream) collaboration with dance company

-          ’91-’93 Public Art Project: Cho-En (butterfly garden)

focus relationship between place, plant, butterfly, human

questions: how do I connect to other people? How do we meet together? How do we understand each other?


Move to Pittsburgh – period of decline for city along with steel industry

Nine Mile Run Project

-          investigated plants, what is growing?

-          Slag Garden presented one study in Ohio, native plants can grow in slag

-          Tricycle, books made of honeysuckle one of the introduced species

-          Poison Ivy  (lyrical expression)

3 Rivers 2nd Nature

            -work with scientists; what questions should we ask of nature?

            -Engage with community


“Relationship between human and nature is never and equation, always a miracle to me”




Interested in strategic knowledge: what can we reveal that will produce strategic knowledge?


Mapping a lot of things; restoration potential etc.


Transformation from 1970 to today – 30 year recovery to be celebrated


Pittsburgh was covered by streams and lost waterways

Buckwheat grown on a island in the mon

Streets to riverfront we blocked off, access lost


Visions for the future:

Hays Hill Side

-          Extract remnant coal

-          Build casino!?!


How can scientists and artists help people see rivers in new way?

Take people out on the river

Get people engaged

Is it art or not? –who cares


Jackie Brookner + Angelo Ciotti


Work dependant on CONTEXT

Some work 100% process

Others more visual manifestation


Working with National Park Service Rivers and Trails People

These people had already been working in towns and had some connections

Towns select for grants – Park Service consults on water access/use issues


Stream daylighting – could be center point for revitalization

In the process of the project, the racial tensions of the town emerged

Difficult bringing Hispanic population into the process reported prior to start of the project

Artists didn’t find this difficult

They spent time trying to connect to people to identify interested constituencies and link them to the project

Not much in the way of funds

Working with at risk use, students – created a mural and one other project around the flora and fauna of the creak

Community took over the festival and throughout artist ideas taking on their own ideas

Worked with local college and girl scouts


Tilman Oregan:


Gorgeous slew

BUT mostly experienced from the highway, doesn’t look inviting

Small group of citizens wanted trail through the area

Connected to local artists to develop a plan

How to use green space, relate to history and the slew


5 rivers come onto the area – early settlers used their hands to indicate location, each finger representing a river

Advocated the restoration of a house set for demolition

This will become an info center for the trail

One artist bushwhacked a trail – low budget solution

Festival – kids made biodegradable sculptures to put in the slew


10 years previous

Turning point project:

-          followed migration of cotton

-          spoke with former share croppers

-          initial interest was mostly ecological

-          interview technique: sit on ground, look at feet, sculpt portraits of their feet out of soil

-          meaning – dependency of culture upon the hands and feet and work of other

-          changed relationship of artist to other people, working with people more

-          video of conversation documentation

-          photographed cotton picking process


First bio-sculpture (1966?)

Mosses and wetland plants

“I am you” – looks like hands but based on microscopic patterns of plants

Sculpture may be used to filter rooftop water in NYC

Germany-wetland sculpture – human hands with moss growing on them, reaching into water


Mill Creek – awarded for most polluted urban create

Project to reclaim this creak

4 Pilot projects

1 project = water from parking lot and ballfield collected and cleaned as it passes to the creak


Florida – working with Angelo Ciotti

Storm water project

Had planned to remove islands – instead Jackie and Angelo got them to save the islands

Creating a bridge, which they all a dock because you can get money if you’re building a “dock”

Bio-Sculpture imitates and includes native plants




120 acre park

Using soil from the ponds to reference Seminal Indian burials

Seminals helping to design playgrounds ontop of these mounds

Using native plants from everyday Seminal life

Dump site will be re-vegetated with native grasses

Educational program allows kids to plant native species

“Lawns don’t belong in Florida 


Painter trained in Italy


1970 – bought a farm in Bulter County,  abandoned surface mine

No background in biology, geology


Coal companies would mine the coal, push spoil to the side, extract all the coal and claim backrupcy


Moonscape – how do you reclaim dead earth

Rock to collect silt

Within five years the area was revegetated


Set out to reclaim the entire 23 acre site

Looked for ways to save money in the process of mine reclaimation

Created stupas using existing form and saved around 70K

Dead mound with spiral of vegetation

Living mound with spiral of coal

Studied indigenous plants

Penn State – planting on acid mine soil

Re-vegetated the entire site as food for turkey population

Doubled turkey pop. in one year


Acid mine drainage

Brought beavers to the site

They built a damn with helped improve the water quality

Cattails were planted in another area


Stupas were never meant to be maintained

Trees are growing in quickly


Deep mine project in Summerset County – Oven Run

Problems:  Bony pile – bad coal

                   Bore holes


Two methods for solution:


Active – putting water trough system that must be maintained


Outdoor educational center

Geared toward middle school students

7 holding ponds demonstrated the process of cleaning the water


They went to the churches to connect with community

Clergy brought people to the project

Organized the planting of trees

Great community event

Community input on design was a Disaster

In the end Angelo worked with designers to create an outdoor classroom

All groups involved (Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, State County, etc)


Advise: Bring everyone to the table,  involve everyone possible as soon as possible



Open Discussion:


Anne Rosenthal – work is catalyst for bringing people together, education, participation

            The work seems secondary to the process, work is an acknowledgement of

            the process


Newton – work goes beyond community, continues for generations, becomes for forests etc.


Helen- “Community continues after us, but the work continues after the community”


Laurie:  are the communities cohesive – this element hasn’t been represented in the presentations. . .


Jackie – projects have taken months getting off the ground because of disagreement,

            Some disagreements are irreconcilable, each project is different


Angelo – Stupa project, people protested because they thought he was building a burial

            Mound.  People heckled them outside the courthouse.  But it’s miscommunication –“as artists no matter what we say people are going to find some way to disagree”


Laurie – yes miscommunication, but doesn’t this represent a difference in priorities? 


Newton – the neat thing about being an artist is the ability to set your own agenda


Mark – Community means different things

            Like minded people

            Collections of differences


Malcolm – people in metropolitian cities assume membership of a global community

                        There is no such thing as community, but perhaps in very small places

                        They all hate each other but hate outside more


Different publics, different communities


Tom – has to do with belief systems


Do these projects try to shift belief systems?


Newton – people agree when everyone can see their advantage in the project


Tim – Common ground is found in mutual advantage


Helen – Most important issue  - we’re an all white group.  This is an issue in dealing with    closed communities.  I wish it were different. 


Tim – resolution to this question might be able to be addressed over the next couple of

            Days  - struggled withwho to bring in to diversify this further, racial diversity is a hard one to achieve in eco/art community


Jane – Environmental issues are not exclusively white middle class, there are others out there who want to express themselves.  But the language, access isn’t available they will be excluded.


Jackie – time and trust issues are difficult.  Example – working with Seminals ¾ of time together passed before they felt ok with being forthcoming.  Seen this over and over.  Trust is built over time.


Newton – work extensively with native American communities in Sante Fe. . .


Erica – when non-native plant was introduced to increase turkey pop, was there investigation into what this increase would do to the rest of the ecosystem? 


Angelo – went to the gaming commission and spoke with other farmers in the area.  First suggestion from farmers was Quail.  Game commission said this is not practical.  Ga

me commission said turkey.  Went with the commission and community, trusted feedback


Erica – concern with artists without bio background taking on projects without concidering reprocussions.  Different commissions and services have different opinions and agendas.  Find renegade biologists – they’re on the ground


Dan – Jackie’s comment about communication/intimacy – sometimes you can have the most intense conversations when in a car and not looking at eachother.  Changing the rules (eye contact etc.) allows different kind of listening.  Idea for conference where people sit on park benches together and look out.  Talk without looking at each other.


Newton – Renegade biologists idea is right on, they see use as renegade participants in their projects.  We can be complicate together.  We understand the language, in the same ballgame.  Trust!



Mark D.


Formerly of bread and puppet – influenced by these types of puppetry

Geographical and cultural diversity of puppets

People use the materials at hand

Art a bridge btw the people and the place they live – the materials and the meanings of place


Extensions and amplifiers of ideas and meaning – through sound image scale and movement set in a social context

Community expression foremost in traditional puppetry contexts

Symbolic meaning

How do we get power of puppetry to communities groups and kids using cardboard and covered over with colored papers etc and staple pliers


Species and puppets – not a designer from outside who goes and gets input, goes away to create the plan and then returns, instead….

Arts bridge people and place


Community landscape project

How people in the community read the relationships between social and ecological

Ecological practice and social practice

Document their observations

Journals photo nature walks etc etc

Then gather up all the documents, put it in a database, and put into gis to create a map of town…with rivers, roads, etc, plus contacts of the people who have made documentation of a place so they can be found and contacted. Layerable with traditional GIS material.

Then build performances – drop in types of puppetry – based on peoples’ long term personal investigations and observations and turn them back into community expression



Erica Fielder


Looking for connections between interest as a naturalist and as an artist – combiing image making interpretive research and writing and image making


From Mendocino/ Fort Bragg

The idea of watershed as home area – within 7 days all the fluids in the body are replaced by the water drunk – so if drink from a certain location body becomes tributary


Written nature guide that can be taken along for walk in multiple locations – not site specific that takes into account the

53 senses and sensitivities – sensual and sensuous experiences to help people fall in love with the earth


project with middle school kids – art in science class – looking at migratory patterns – making art for the migrating species – compass visible to birds from the air


sensory experiences of nature


finding ways to return something back to the earth in recompense for all that we have taken from the earth


salmon bones offered to people to return to the streams they encounter

saspostcards – people tell about their experience returning the bones from various locations around the country


bird feeder hat project watershed education and story sharing with people from Mendocino and tourists


talk one on one over 6 weekends

mark their home watershed on a map

high school students didthe conversations

watershed exchange of information and sharing through stories some of which were video taped




Stephanie Flom

Background as naturalist in city parks

City art planning – worked to plan events – interface with community memebers

CDC to open old theater in ?


Politics is bringing art to community as something that sparks something that all communities need


Personal creative practice became garden making

Large public space to bring gardeners and artists working developing


Connection btw environment and creativity

Persephone as metaphor that without art our lives are barren


Gardening creative process

Exhibition public product

Dialogue public and private


Acquired space along Bigelow

Phase one small garden and projects by the road at Frank Curto Park


Sycamore arches

Cotton/okra family history and story

Stephanie’s garden – of light sensitive plants along the road to be facing the road as people passed


The Magic Penny Garden

Based on the love of giving plants from home garden and telling the stories attached to the source of the plant


Videotaped the stories and write in journal pages to tell the story connected with the plant



The communities around the curto park – made gardens in communities

One in the Hill one in Polish Hill


The Mayfly project


The first time that the may flies came to pgh for 105 years… corresponding to images that were coming out of a sort of first time image making practice – assembled multiples for eco art show


May fly cutouts in the skinny building

Dance project

Interactive art piece with magnetic pieces kids could play with

And signage with the stories of the eco significance of the mayfly and the stories of the rusolki nymphs


Discussion Period


Newton  -- common thread of intimacy and personal – question of scale – this is grounded – larger scale projects lose a sense of intimacy

These projects create communities – non abstract



In order to work, a community must be created in the place to work – sometimes as strangers get to see some things that people who are


Caring about the place is communicated and that develops trust


Erica – takees a lot of time to make friends – listens intently and doesn’t


Bridge btw what is important to you personally and the community of sharing



Intermediate tools – the means through which the dialogue flows – takes something out of context – whatever it is that you are talking about – there I s the the thing and the representation of the thing



When the community is already existing and artists go into something that is already formses

Or issue of creating the commuity through the art

The issue of trust

Is it of any values  -- what is creating the community – the making and the participaroty aspect

Sig of work – the community that is created

The object made

The environment that may have been healed

What is intention inevitability the feedback or the fallout or the intention



Lonliness need feeling of inclusion


Brett – notion of participant – the question of inside and outside is

Building community becomes a drone that is hard to put fingers on – or get stuck on the word and using it too much



Community is an emergent property with what happens in a complex system – if it happens it emerges from the context or situation created

Can’t be created – can only emerge out of the system



Not instrumental relationship but about seeing yourself as a participant – bring focus and skill



Being careful with generic community

Do this event and it will bring art to the community what does that mean

Through the work that went into the event and the time spent in work



What are other words

City culture space power over personal life is reduced to a minimum – very different than the idea of community



Intentionality ? or not

Level of participation

community structure emerges through a participatory consiousness

non spectatorial – becoming a participant


when the artist departs does the community dissolve if it is formed in the act of participation



Sometimes community is the way it is used is the other as opposed to the self

Doesn’t like this – feels like manipulation

Don’t think of the community think of the friends

\people are interested in similar things


comm. As other

comm. As family but not family – similar – close ethincal moral relationship


Community is usually thought of as just good

Over history comms are formed and there is a trade off in freedom

Power structures – constraining aspects of it that we accept

Brett speaks

Limitation in ecology – how do you see that as a positive aspects of it – how to acknowledge them

Community as a thing with  things in it that we don’t always want to see


Community used – seen as lacking in something

Unless you are an activist practice – the funds and process of seeking them in going to work\

Missionary position – is to be worried over

Not comfortable with commuity language



Community assumes that we can all function as a cluster




Is community the right word but there has to be experimentation with social relationships and dialogical relationships

With something less than specific instrumental

Form and function of the public realm



Successful comms have a deep spiritual base – sensory is a path to that



Social justice model – group of peoplee recognize power relations in a specific circumstance – bringing power into the discussion is critical




Difference btw group of people and community – people create stories and then transmit those stories to others



People getting together in the service of some larger issue – st bigger than you and more important than you - -the issue evokes passion and nurture and mutual compassion

Serve a purpose larger than self that is defensible



Many come into a community that is not our own and work – what are the issues there

Heller – the social for desire for nature (book)

We human beings have  desire for the social

That desire has been subverted by capitalism into buying stuff



Restore and re-story



Idea that we want to be part of something bigger than us – disagree – it is actively produced and constructed by us


Nature – is constructed and produced by us

Nature is something bigger than us – it is and isn’t because it is something we produce in and then also feel it is larger than us






Our work lies between the Possible probable and the utopic

Seek to invent and play and create impprobale images


Pahes shift in own process of making

Analytincal critical thinking become background

Trust  and then enact


77 first restoration piece

Art Park


On spoils pile


The endangered meadows of Europe – rolled up the earth from a meadow that was being destroyed and brought to


Fifteen meadows from Sicily to Norway

Ultimately harvested in a traditional fashion

Relocated to on the ground the location

Meadow model for rethinking farming of the future

Idea to effect the planting practices in Germany

They collect the seeds from the mother meadow and plant new ones


Two transects of work

Work with the earth

Effecting the planning process on a great scale – process that requires cultural urgency


Trying to build 600 000 houses in the green heart of Holland – the land reclaimed

150 bil economic engine – can that be redirected in another way


make a ring of wild polders around the green heart– make parks btw your cities

ecologu needs continuity and contiguity

culture needs framing to maintain its identity


we have it backwards – fragment ecology and let cities meld into each other


where to put the houses then? The houses go in a big circle around the heart


by theory of conversational drift – ideas drift back into process after a period

make something that starts a new conversation – proposal for analog farming that blends attention to bio diversity, engineering of the land

harvested in semi-hunter gatherer fashion

all elements useful to people and ecologically balanced



Looking at nature

Developing an intimate relationship with things that you can’t see



Hidden river


Creating diagrams to show

Things too small too vast too slow to fast


Nature is everywhere –even in the city there is nature happening even if it is covered up


There was water here – where is it now – how can we get back to it


Piece of the Delaware river in gallery

Gathered as many waters as could

Water placed in cups

Covered streams cup upside down


Interesting things happen when you make a map big enough to walk through – relation of the body to the map itself


Then the water grew its algae



In Seattle

Things that weren’t considered part of the community

Made insets in the sidewalk of species that were living in the vicinity – small creatures


Collected water from her watershed took it to edinborough and then did there to bring home


How people name water – in Scotland – named after places and people in PA after large animals


Stormwater runoff


Archs and engineers try to get the stuff


Harvests rainwater from the roof to celebrate the substance that is usually intended to be removed and hidden


Fresh Kill landfill proposal


Landfill purpose is to keep the liquid under control – water runs off of rubberized mounds


Stormwater Park in Philly

Harvest rooftop rain and create pond structures little parks while vacant lot is vacant


Acid Mine Drainage

Litmus Garden

Coats the lower end of the food chain in waterways

Alan comp (sp?) to create designs to deal with AMD

Collaboration with three others

Treat water and talk about the site

Process should also show how the treatement of the water works to get a sense of the water being changed


Winifred Lutz collab

Tidal area of river area  -- water enters the piece and exits as tide goes up and down


Watershed project with school – watershed sandblasted into stone – tipped so that when it rains, the water flows through the piece and into the Delaware river





LAURIE  -- open relationship btw the visualization and the actualization


Dan- cant’ predict


Court of last –resort – odor of desparation –

When someone of the gorund level is desparate and artists are cheap



Scale – and the detail that is possible on the small scale  --

Larger projects so much unfinished about them



What happens is not just what is on the ground but a change in how people are thinking about stiff


J Klein

Visualize ideas put the idea out so it can be taken up

When working at scale of region or country – indiv has to be let go and poepl then have to



Ideas are out there – if you are thinking something there is probably other people thinking the same way


Value is to stand up and say loudly – people have had the ideas to themselves  -- get it going



How to help it get accepted – or is just the wonder of life in complex world that



Making metaphors to understand what the thing is


Newton – trust



How to get people to

Long term vision

Unraveling the carbon industry

Say now – what it would be like to live in a city with no emissions

In 25 years the language wont sound so crazy

Cant copntrol when things are taken up


Society developing the ears to hear something – can’t organize that

Primo levy



Sense – abut reason and perception

Get people to understand that they have a vested interest

Seed the ground of ideas



Growing ideas similar to grow corn – if the soil is goood it will do well no usually somewhere in between

Has to do with conditions – complex but not mysterious  -- if mysterious nothing we can do.

complexity is hard to deal with but not impossible

Society is much more constructed than earth – the concepts the categories the place to intervene be that might be there – at the point of conditions

The conditions are not given they are made and whatever we do – they do not remain the same