From Landscape to Xeriscape to Mindscape

on Wednesday, 18 January 2017. Posted in Artists, Blog

Mel Chin is back in eco action, this time to address the severe water shortages in California. Acting as a kind of 'Johnny Appleseed', he is installing living paintings throughout the city, each takes the form of a 15 square foot xeriscape (drought tolerant) planting.

To realize this goal, he created eight demonstration gardens, which he sited along the LA River at the Clockshop Bowtie Project. Then he pitched the gardens to art collectors to select one design to create for themselves in their own backyard or community space. Participants received a blueprint and an installation manual to execute the gardens.

Chin also created duplicates he calls “mirror gardens” in the yards of private homes in neighborhoods throughout the city, and public spaces at Occidental College and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In this manner he is engaging the public in a collective action that addresses their own water issues. As Patricia Lea Watts states, "This call to action, combining aesthetics and nature in a way that mimics our interdependence, is a “watershed” strategy for ecological art."

Each garden is framed like a painting in steel that was mostly recycled/reused and donated by California State Parks. The curvilinear composition of this live artwork is comprised of drought-resistant chaparral plants—sages, native grasses, and succulents donated by Village Nurseries.

The Tie that Binds: MIRROR of the FUTURE includes an edition of 512 blueprints for unique gardens, of which 116 blueprints have been distributed. The piece complements the controversial ruling by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California involving its Removing Lawns Rebate program in 2014. Indignant opposition erupted when it was discovered that most of the monies went to Turf Terminators, a private company that benefited at the expense of the environment by replacing lawns with gravelscapes that absorbed heat. As Watts notes, "the program saved water, although it desiccated the landscape by reducing water retention in the LA Basin. At least with Chin’s vision, we can help mitigate some of these short-term “solutions,” which make for bad landscapes, as well as create a model for public art that can have long-term effects." Chin sums up the problem by stating, “The biggest threat to soil is people.”

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