When creating artwork with the intent to raise awareness of contemporary issues, the artist must consider which methods, materials, and forms can most effectively convey meaning, or guide the viewer to ask themselves questions. For example, how can crafting large-scale environments as Bio Art generate discussions on the problem of waste disposal?
Nancy Holt’s Sky Mound is an example of a work that seeks to engage her audience with the problem of trash and waste disposal through the construction of a massive, immersive environment. The work lives in northern New Jersey, atop a 57-acre, 30 meter high landfill, the first in the nation to be capped. In 1988, the Hackensack Meadowland Development Commission asked Holt to a design an artwork that would reclaim that land and turn it into an environmentally-friendly space for plants, animals, and human visitors. She proposed Sky Mound, which would seal the landfill and covered with soil to convert the area into both an earth sculpture and a public park.
To this day, the work remains unfinished. Apparently, the costs of maintaining the completed project would be steep, since the continual decomposition of the garbage beneath would shift the ground, requiring large amounts of maintenance to repeatedly realign the park. However, many of the site’s structures remain there, including steel poles, plants, and a pond. Additionally, the work was designed with astronomical and geographical alignments in mind—which required much research on Holt’s behalf—so that visitors would see unique views of the sun, moon, and Manhattan skyline during certain times of the year.
This element of interactivity in the artwork, along with its sheer size, provides more than simply an aesthetic experience. Gazing upon celestial views, knowing that they stand above an immense landfill, visitors are confronted with the question of humankind’s place in the environment, with the complex dilemma of humankind’s waste production and the profound consequences for the land.
Another work that addresses waste issues by creating an environment for people to interact with is “Trashforma 04” by brothers Pablo and Blas Montoya, as part of their Trashformaciones series that utilizes discarded metal objects to make furniture and art installations. Made in 2004, Trashforma 04 is a giant cube crafted by joining 166 recycled stainless steel sink basins side-to-side, resulting in a perfect cube that measures 3.5 meters on each side. Sunlight filters through the drain openings, creating a stunning pattern throughout the cube interior that shifts direction over the course of a day, seen by viewers who enter. The work is also mobile, and has been exhibited throughout Spain.
Though relatively smaller than Holt’s Sky Mound, Trashforma 04 is similar in that the work itself is not only a sculpture, but an actual enterable space that directly involves and engages the viewer. Like Sky Mound, it utilizes the sun to create both an aesthetic experience and raise questions about waste. The work brings new life to the waste metal, where scrapped metal sinks generate beautiful light patterns, demonstrating the extended potential of the material and prompting the public to rethink how such resources can be reused.
– Dorothy Boyd