“This poly-agriculture is about embracing the messiness of Nature in its diversity, as opposed to trying to controlling it, through monoculture.”

One can imagine Nicole Fournier shaking her head in dismay regarding the report that in 1977 Walter De Maria rejected a shipment of 280,000 pounds of ordinary “earth” that he had ordered to create a work entitled The New York Earth Room. The work filled a 3600 square foot loft space in New York City with a layer of dirt that was 22″ high. In order to fulfill his pristine minimalist aesthetic, each microorganism, insect, weed, mold spore, and mushroom that sprouted from the dirt had to be banished. Thus, the entire load was removed, fumigated, sterilized, and then reinstalled. Only barren soil could achieve pure geometry, undeviating color, and uniform texture that embodied the eternal sameness of Minimal art.

ah6
Walter De Maria
NY Earth Room

Fournier, on the other hand, desires dirt that supports the vibrant, unpredictability of life. In fact, Walter De Maria might shake his head in dismay if he heard Nicole state, “This poly-agriculture is about embracing the messiness of Nature in its diversity, as opposed to trying to controlling it, through monoculture.”18 The contrast between these artists is even more clearly articulated when she describes a work entitled Interconnected Performers: “The event addresses human interrelationships and collectivity using living matter, bacteria, fungi and cellular collectivity (which make up humans and other species), along with non-cellular, viral performance, interconnected to life. It is about invisible performances that take place in the microcosm and the macrocosm.”19


Thus, the earth that offended De Maria contained the precise qualities that eco artists like Nicole Fournier cultivate – living organisms! Although this story is unconfirmed, it illustrates the dichotomy between a Minimalist artist’s use of soil as a medium in art, and an eco artist’s.

By sterilizing dirt, De Maria reveals the culture’s deep-rooted preference for the sanitized products of technology, engineering, and industry. Fournier, in contrast, assumes the attitude of a gardener who values dirt for the vital role it plays in perpetuating the cycles of life. Explain how the following eco artists affirm Fournier’s respect for living dirt: Bonnie Sherk, Friedensreich Hundertwasser and Helen and Newton Harrison.

a. By sterilizing dirt, De Maria reveals the culture’s deep-rooted preference for the sanitized products of technology, engineering, and industry. Fournier, in contrast, assumes the attitude of a gardener who values dirt for the vital role it plays in perpetuating the cycles of life. Explain how the following eco artists affirm Fournier’s respect for living dirt: Bonnie Sherk, Friedensreich Hundertwasser and Helen and Newton Harrison.

b. Forms of interaction vary greatly among eco artists who address soil-related issues. Fournier introduces her audience to direct, visceral connections with soil by promoting gardening, picnicking, and foraging. In contrast, Natalie Jeremijenko’s Robot Dog discourage sensual engagement with dirt because this work deals with detecting soil contamination. Mel Chin’s Revival Field establishes strict scientific controls regarding dirt to monitor the site’s remediation. Jae Rhim Lee’s Infinity Mushroom Suit is also remedial, but it promotes an intimate connection between the human body and soil which occurs after death. Amy Franceschini introduces a subversive connection with soil in a work entitled Soil Sampling Shoes. This covert action involves wearing special shoes to collect soil samples of Superfund waste sites in Silicon Valley, one of the most concentrated areas of toxic sites in America. Identify the response each form of engagement was designed to produce: enticement, aversion, remediation, etc. and how it set about eliciting this response.