Artists Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison give a talk in NYC

On Tuesday January 13th,
NYC curator
Amy Lip
ton hosted an Artist's Talk with Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison. The artists led a gallery tour with over 100 in attendance through their new exhibition Global Warming at the Ronald Feldman Gallery. The Harrisons have been working together as a team since the early 1970's and are two of the most influential living artists working today on ecological issues. They are considered to be pioneers in this field along with artists Robert Smithson, Han Haacke and Alan Sonfist and have been exhibiting artists at Feldman Gallery since 1974. Their practice is one of scientific inquiry, dialogic process, community engagement and collaboration. They work with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners and other artists to uncover ideas and solutions, which support biodiversity and community development. Working well ahead of the curve, their work must now also be considered within the context of relational aesthetics, though their revolutionary concepts proceeded the coining of this term by over two decades.

The walk-through of the Global Warming exhibition focused primarily on the Harrison's new multi-media installation Greenhouse Britain, which toured the UK in 2007/8. The work consists of video, large panels comprised of text, mapping, photography and architectural models. It proposes an alternative narrative about how people might withdraw as waters rise due to sea level change, what new forms of settlement might look like, and what content or properties a new landsc
ape might have in response to the global warming phenomenon. It also demonstrates how a city might be defended. Greenhouse Britain includes 5 components, the first being, On the Island of Britain: The Rising of Waters. This large-scale model of the Island of Britain, rests on the floor, with six overhead projectors showing animated video of the rising waters, storm surges, and the redrawn coastline. A soundtrack of three voices accompanies the piece.

The next component includes 3 panels of maps and text and is titled, On the Upward Movement of People: A New Pennine Village. This work proposes a 9,000-person village where the land around it is eco-systemically redesigned to absorb the local carbon footprint of the village through the use of forest and meadow.

Part 3: In Defense of the city of Bristol is a three-minute video that proposes a defense and salvation from flooding for the city of Bristol. Part 4 consists of 3 large-scale maps and text panel, The Lea Valley: On the Upward Movement of Planning (in collaboration with APG architects) which takes issue with the existing development of the Thames estuary. The model shows this area covered by water, and proposes redesigning the l,000-square mile Lea Valley watershed, while at the same time suggesting how approximately one million people might be housed in ecologically provident high-rise structures with solar power, stilts, and hanging gardens, while also enhancing the water supplies of London.

The last component of the group is a large architectural model titled On Eco-civility: The Vertical Promenade (in collaboration with ATOPIA architects). Wherein the civil, social, and economic virtues embedded in a small town main street become the basis of design for a 150-story, 10,000-person, vertically-designed town, based on the concept of settlement, where eco-systemic thinking drives design as opposed to typical development models. Architects Jane Harrison and David Turnbull, from ATOPIA spoke at length about this model, their concepts and their collaborative process with the Harrisons during the creation of the work.

The Harrisons then moved into the smaller gallery of the two to discuss other works, dating as early as 1974; San Diego is the Center of the World demonstrating the long history of their engagement with the topic of global warming. A new work from 2009, Tibet is the High Ground, Part II: The Force Majeur is a 7 x 7 ft. map of the Tibetan plateau showing the seven rivers flowing from that plateau that nourish 1.2 bilion people in ten countries who are endangered by the rapid melting of glaciers in the plateau.

A brief question and answer session concluded the tour with comments by artists Aviva Rahmani, Betsy Damon, Joan Bankemper, Jackie Brookner and others. The event illuminated the Harrison's artistic process and history and exemplified the ways in which their art embraces a breathtaking range of disciplines. They are historians, diplomats, ecologists, investigators, emissaries and art activists. Their work involves proposing solutions and involves not only public discussion, but extensive mapping and documentation of these proposals in an art context. The talk was documented on video and will become available for viewing, please contact amy@ecoartspace.org for information.

Greenhouse Britain (greenhousebritain.greenmuseum.org/) was produced as an artist-led project by Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison and principles of the Harrison Studio and Associates (Britain) in collaboration with Tyndall Climate Center, Great Britain, designed by Westergaard & Harrison, and funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Exhibited at the Rotunda at London City Hall, Greenhouse Britain toured across England in 2007-08).

Photos top to bottom: Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison with Amy Lipton at Feldman Gallery, "Tibet is the High Ground, Part II: The Force Majeur" 2009, "The Lea Valley:On the Upward Movement of Planning" 2008