The Art of Mel Chin

By Daixi Xu, NCMA Summer Intern

As an art history major, I’ve encountered a lot of artists who have stretched the definition of art, from a guy who declared a urinal a work of art to someone who manufactured a gilded sculpture of Michael Jackson and his pet monkey. When I began researching Mel Chin, an artist who will be on the panel at the NCMA Summer Expo in Asheville on August 30, even I scratched my head as to why some of his works were art. For example, his work Revival Field resembles more a science experiment than a work of art. The site of this work is a piece of land in Minnesota that had been polluted with hazardous waste from human industry. The artist and his team introduced special plants that can both survive the toxic environment and pull out pollutants io return the soil to its original state. It’s clear that this project uses science to improve the environment, but where is the art? I didn’t understand until I heard Chin comparing Revival Field to Michelangelo’s David. The transformation of a toxic patch of earth into something that can sustain life can be as poetic and inspiring as sculpting a figure from a block of marble.Another of Mel Chin’s works, The Fundred Dollar Bill Project, involves artists, educators, students, and politicians in a collaborative effort that combines service learning, art making, and environmental awareness. This project aims to end childhood lead poisoning in New Orleans. To achieve this goal, the project enlists students in classrooms across the country to make creative $100 bills. In the end $300 million in “Fundred” dollar bills will be presented to members of Congress to urge them to fund this project. Not only does this project affect the lives of those living in New Orleans, it also promotes the idea that art can be a vehicle for democratic action and that anyone, even elementary students, can help solve environmental and other problems.

While many contemporary artists create works of art that comment on current issues, Chin’s works are more active. Not only do they create discussion about problems in the world, but they also try to remedy them. Chin also defies the loftiness of the art world by bringing nonartists into his projects and making his art accessible to those who may not be familiar with art or art history. Art doesn’t have to be framed or sit on a pedestal. Anyone can be an artist and make a difference in the world through the creative act of art making.
%d bloggers like this: