EDITED EXCERPTS of INTERVIEW with JONATHAN GOODMAN – December, 2020
1. You are an artist, art writer, art educator, homesteader, and curator. How do you allocate your time and attention among these compartments?
While your list of the pursuits that occupy me is accurate, they do not require ‘allocation’ because they do not compete. They coincide. What may appear as a multiplicity of engagements is united by the singularity of my mission. In all these capacities I promote art as an instrument of environmental reform. My fragmented career gradually cohered into a unified lifestyle in which the content of essays, curatorial initiatives, art practices, and teaching strategies, as well as the ingredients of my meals, my manual manipulations, physical exertions, and seasonal activities, reinforce each other.
2. Can you provide a particular example of this merger?
Creating art became officially united with my other activities when I began hosting performances and interactive events for the public where I reside. Day-long visits with college classes, and week-long residencies with MFA students in the NOMAD MFA program from Hartford University consisted of sensory explorations of materials and objects foraged from the woods. Students create habitats for wildlife, sound sculptures, performances, and many other forms of creative interaction. Constructing a solitary bee habitat provides one example. In this workshop, conducted with Emily Puthoff, students constructed a nesting site for bees using found materials. They then surrounded it with a field stone terrace that they filled with soil for cultivating pollinator plants. These functional activities offered forms of sensory interaction that once were common, but have become rare. They involve observing, smelling, touching, lifting, and arranging examples of the infinite variability of biological and geological materials. Such interactions contrast with the stultifying predictability of manufactured components, and the bland sterility of electronic gadgetry. They encourage students to forge personal connections with planet’s materiality, and contribute to the trans-personal benefits of vitalizing eco systems.
3. These environmental concerns commenced at the inception of the eco art movement in the 1970s. How is i your involvement has endured?
Art created in accordance with the principles of ecology represented one of several cultural frontiers in the 1970s when I was first formulating my career path. Despite the spate of vanguard artforms, the status allotted to environmental art at the time was on the fringe of the fringe. Attention was diverted to Pop art, Conceptual art, Fluxus, Performance art, Happenings, and more. Despite periods of waning and waxing, the convergence of art and ecology continues to challenge cultural conventions, even though eco art ‘s role in invigorating contemporary art is more broadly acknowledged. While it is no longer an uncharted territory of artistic exploration, the insights and interventions that eco artists offer are not yet fulfilling their potential for awakening consciousness in individuals, instilling responsibility in institutions, and supporting wildlife. I will remain a producer and facilitator of eco art as long as there are damaged waterways, soil, atmosphere, and wildlife, and artists who are intent on rescuing them.
4. How do you define ecological art?
Infinite variability explains which precise definitions of all things ‘eco’. Ecology is inclusive of macro and micro scales, biotic and abiotic realms, past and anticipated conditions, visible events and invisible forces. Botany, zoology, microbiology, chemistry, geology, meteorology, and more are included within its considerations. Relevancies expand beyond natural systems to include technology, politics, economics, agriculture, manufacturing, and so forth. Thematically, eco art may treat waste as resource, or evaluate technological innovations from a non-human perspective, or support biological and cultural diversity, or promote sources of energy that are nonpolluting and renewable. Metaphysically, eco artists may pursue these goals by documenting, investigating, instructing, intervening, commenting, etc. Materially, they may manifest their intentions through sculpture, performance, social practice, and so forth. Art in synch with eco systems can involve temperature, sound, moisture, microbes, wind, weather, weight, tempo, etc. Because all of these possibilities are available for artistic adoption, eco-art cannot be defined in terms of materiality, or process, or composition, or even theme. That leaves a single attribute. Eco art is defined according to the creator’s intention to attend to the well-being of ecosystems.
4. Is ecological art qualitatively different from a conventional painting or sculpture
Qualitatively different? Indeed! Consider this – the autonomy of the artist and the protective sequestering of the artwork are guiding precepts of Western art. In contrast, eco art is characterized by integration and relationship. Like ecologists, ecological artists explore the interactions among living beings and between living beings and their environments. The isolating frames and elevating pedestals that are conventional art are alien to this ecological principle. Eco art’s borders are permeable, allowing it to participate in flows of energy and fluctuating environmental conditions.
5. While writing, teaching, homesteading, and curating are integral parts of your eco art practice, you also conduct a studio practice. Do your studio creations deviate from the environmental premise that unites these other activities?
Although the products of the hours spent in my studio are classifiable as sculptures, these objects are presented in a manner that always include the public in the multi-sensory richness offered by foraged materials. This is as true for large installations and miniscule sculptures. Workshops are even a part of every exhibition. For the large installation entitled Beyond Death, for example, I created the central components which was gradually surrounded by visitors’ contributions. Multiple creators generated a harmonious whole that was material (foraged bones, fungi, acorns, pine needles, pine cones, moss, feathers, seeds, and bark), and aesthetic (the progressive rhythms and harmonious patterns that prevail in forest settings).