28 September 2010

Artist or Activist?

28 September 2010

Artist or activist? This question frequently arises in relation to the Industrial Scars project. The work is first and foremost art [works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power]. Many years of study into the rules of composition, color, and lighting have gone in to their making. The images hang in galleries and museums, and fetch high prices from collectors. All that said, the subject matter is highly contentious, which inherently makes the work political. There is plenty of precedent for this in the art world from Goya to Picasso to the artists of the Third Reich. This is art with a message.

One current project, Coal Ash, is about the 140 million tons of toxic waste generated as power plants burn this most polluting hydrocarbon to produce our electricity. Coal combustion waste (CCW) contains mercury, lead, arsenic, boron, selenium, and so on, but the utility industry has managed to keep it designated as non-toxic. Most of the 600 coal-burning power plants in the USA dispose their waste ash in unlined impoundments, from which the ash leaches into groundwater, or worse, bursts out and poisons the surrounding land and waterways. The other method of disposal is in your home. Because of its designation, utilities are permitted to sell the waste to manufacturers who use it as a component in: sheetrock, concrete, fertilizer, fill, paint, and a host of other products.

The EPA is currently holding hearings about the designation, and environmental groups are fighting to have it reclassified under subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) so that it must be handled as the toxic waste that it is. Every citizen has a personal stake in this as this toxic waste might already be in your home, and given the dispersal of coal-fired power plants, there might well be a coal ash dump near your house, contaminating the groundwater with arsenic.

Today I am in Washington DC where I will, along with the help of EarthJustice, lobby congressmen about the rule change, and then hold a reception in the Rayburn House Office Building, Room B-369.

Long-lasting change in our society ultimately happens through political machinations, which are foreign to me. Since my art is about things that need to change, this is an exciting adventure. And thus, the artist becomes activist.

1 comment:

Labann said...

Similarly motivated, curated an art show in 2009. Enjoy on-line at...