At CIA, Mel Chin offers "Spectrum of Survival" as defense against the WMD poverty

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sat, 11/13/2004 - 14:05.

Mel Chin's presence at the CIA
"Aesthetics and Consumer Culture" symposium showed art and artist at
their very best, inspiring attendees to make Cleveland a more
valuable save the world. Some concepts he presented from his work that we should embrace in our community include:

  1. Use art to give all Clevelanders a voice throughout the community
    and beyond
  2. Create collaborations of art, science and technology for
    environmental good
  3. Realize our poverty is a Weapon of Mass Destruction and use art to
    go to war against that
  4. Add more cultures to our "Cultural Gardens" and interconnect them all with all our people

Transcending the artfulness of the event was the reality of art as social activism, which
inspires a more intelligent vision of the human role in Earth's future, being for global benefit. Chin’s impact
is that important - as is the realization everyone here may be as impactful. Read on and learn from the best of art...


At the pre-lecture reception,
this international-renowned artist socialized with the diverse attendees with
such ease and mirth he stood out as the most "in" and comfortable of the local
art crowd, which ranged from clay encrusted and paint splotched students,
surfacing from their studios, to inspired CIA faculty and guests, all celebrating our
most special community - the CIA world. In the corner of the reception room, on
an unassuming TV monitor, we were joined by "84 Bronx residents offering
heartfelt thoughts to the President", via one of Chin's latest sophisticated,
politically attuned, socially inspiring art projects, "Red Fall". All
this was a good introduction to the world of Mel Chin, to be felt in force, en
mass at 6.

Then, on stage at the Aitken Auditorium,
Chin started his performance by serenading us with some Elvis ditties, until
two students in the audience pummeled him with bananas, and it was thus clear
that in Mel's world art, performance and life are one blurring abstract reality. Mel
proceeded to pummel us with innovative concepts, images and explanations of work spanning
his remarkable career, documenting how world-class art
may improve the world. The diversity of his concepts, imagery and materials is
unlimited - paint, paper, ideas, nature, community, space,
humans, heartbeats, multimedia - showing the range of the creative
palate is as infinite as the creator's mind and vision. That Mel has in every
sense been successful, as an artist and intellectual, demonstrates the global
market for the most extreme creative energy is limited only by the
creators themselves... Chin’s being limitless. His presence here was
the strongest possible challenge to Clevelanders to extend their impact in and
on the world.

Consider "Red Fall", the 2004 Chin video featuring 84 Bronx
residents staring silently into a video camera as their personal statements to
President Bush scroll in text across the bottom of the screen, the only sound
being their heartbeats. Chin uses the most basic videography to create artistic
social awareness that trivializes Michael Moore's contrived sensationalism
and FOX News-ilk's divisive talking heads by merging artful imagery, human rhythm, intellectual contextualization, freedom of speech and modern
technology into the most refined social expression imaginable - beautiful,
whether viewed as art, activism or documentary... here's a recent review of this work.

Consider "Revival Field", a "green
remediation" he started in a toxic landfill in Minnesota, in 2000, still living as art today, which uses heavy-metal- tolerant plants to absorb contaminants from
biohazardous soil, transferring the toxins to the plants, cleaning the soil,
while recovering the metal - pure genius rising from the mind of this great
artist and now driving research at none other than the US Department of Agriculture.
How is this art? In concept, Chin refers to this as a sculpture using the
reduction process - just a stone-carver reduces the mass of a stone, Chin reduces the
toxins of the Earth. In execution, Chin laid out the Revival Field in
functional yet aesthetic ways, maximizing visual expression. In context,
the field transcends form and time as it is an ever-changing work
evolving from toxic wasteland to a green field to naked harvested land (and the ash and recovered metal of the harvested and incinerated plants), to a
more healthy canvas supporting new life not possible there before, and the process continues. Read more about this project here.

Consider Chin's statement "Poverty is a Weapon of Mass Destruction" and then his W.M.D. project, a trailer home - "Winged Mobile Domicile" - built in the form of a cruise missile, with students at East Tennessee State University, launched at their homecoming, intended to relate the realities of poverty to the cost of war - consider how much housing could be provided to the poor in Cleveland for the cost of one cruise missile. Chin said W.M.D. is dedicated to providing the poor with information on poverty services, literally as a facility for distributing literature and information. Read more about this project at ETSU.

Chin ended his talk discussing "Reverb", a current project he's developing as part of the new museum at the University of Texas (UT) in Austin, Texas... a supposed bastion of inclusion and social sensibility. On the screen Mel flashed the image of a meat cleaver and explained that, after a month of research, Chin presented his proposal to the leaders of that proud institution by using a meat cleaver to chop a map of Austin in two pieces, driving home the point that he had learned Austin is in fact deeply divided between the rich and poor, whites and others, urban and suburban. Thus, his design recreates in the new park many "found landscapes" of other parks from around the community, connected with audio links that capture the sounds from those remote places - the idea is that people visiting the UT park will see and hear their piece of the segregated community integrated in this melding place - bringing together all people and places of Austin, by design, concept, sculpture and technology. More on this project is found on the UT museum website.

After Mel's inspiring discussion, as I drove down Martin Luther King Drive, through the Cultural Gardens, snaking through the struggling Glenville neighborhood, in the most impoverished city in America, it occurred to me how much we need Chin's ideas, vision, guts and creativity here. Perhaps he'd help our people be heard, like in Red Fall, renew our environment, like Revival Field, fight our poverty with new WMDs, connect our cultures to reverberate together for future generations - or perhaps we'll learn from his example and solve our problems ourselves. I believe that vision is the ultimate art of Chin's work. Let's get creating.

Mel Chin' bio is found here - he is an internationally prominent artist whose works are in the
collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of
American Art, New York; the Weatherspoon Gallery, Greensboro, North Carolina;
and the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio. He was included in the first season of
the celebrated PBS series "Art: 21, Art in the Twenty-First Century."
An influential artist, Chin is known for his politically engaged and socially
aware site-specific works, including his multi-sited Revival Field, KNOWMAD,
and Render (2004).

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