Art-Science Convergence in Ecology

This week’s material shifts our focus from microbiology to the macrocosm scope. The readings and what I learnt from the lecture gradually resolved a question that had been in my mind for a while: “is bioart art?”. Our professor defines the concept of bioart narrowly to practices involving living matters only. In the textbook, Wilson defines the term ecology as “stretching from studies of interdependencies of cells in a body to the relationship of humans to the environment” (Wilson, 129). The macro scope of biology involves the interaction between living organisms and their living environments. It is interesting that observations from this system thinking perspective usually give evidence to characteristics that are invisible when taking things apart.Vis 159 Week 3.001

Hans Haacke’s series of works embody the system thinking very well. His many works manifest his progressively changing visions behind over time. From his installment of Condensation Cube in 1965, Chicken Hatching and Grass Grows in 1969, to the Recording of Gallery’s Internal Climate in Exhibition in 1970 (shown in the above collage), he continuously expanded his perspective from physical phenomena, to living creatures, and to his concept of ecology in gallery setting. His works explore the concept of ecology in an aesthetic way. Meanwhile, like many other ecological arts, one of the purposes of those projects is to raise the public concerns about the environmental issues.

The art works in regard of ecological systems diverge a lot. Ecological art can be an exhibition, a performance, a scientific attempt, inside or outside a museum. One most common idea for artists working in this field is to propose paradigms in pursuit of a sustainable planet. They seek problems, come up with schemes, and aesthetically display their work. In the reading, an artist Mierle Landerman Ukeles’s works stood out for me. She manifests her research of waste management and recycling in the form that combines installation and performance. In her performance Flow City, she engaged viewers with recycling processes.

flow-xlFlow City

Her art work Manifesto! Maintenance Art ( in 1969 undertook a series of performance of her daily maintenance activities.

image_cropYou can see more pictures in this video ( Her Maintenance Art Works 1969-1980 become more radical and bigger, and deal with three aspects: personal, general and earth maintenance. She works with the Department of Sanitation in New York City. The first project is Touch Sanitation. In two and half years, she shook hands with all sanitation workers (more than eight thousand) in the New York City, to make them visible. The following video gives us a detailed demonstration of Mierle Landerman Ukele’s work.

(Picture of one of the series of maintenance
work in Menifesto! Maintenance Art)

Ukeles-Touch Sanitation1979-80--P55(Mierle Landerman Ukele shaking hands with a sanitation worker)

The Artists working with projects that relate to science usually have some scientific background, or they work collaboratively with scientists. The convergence in the art and science field successfully raises awareness of the society very often. As Wilson writes in his summary: “Some artists propose the arts as the place to integrate science and action, and undertake projects in which scientific research is part of the art” (Wilson, 146). Ecology is a great art-science filed that is so relevant to our society.



–Siyi Ye


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