spirit_1994_ropeSPIRIT 1994white oak, mixed tall-grass prairie plants, steel, industrial patina, sheetrock, paint 12 x 20 x 50 feet

In Spirit, an enormous swollen barrel is balanced on a tightrope of grass and grain in a room where the walls bow inward under a surreal strain. Characterizing an uneasy relationship between industry, agricultural America, and nature throughout the 19th and 20th century, Spirit constructs a portrait of a landscape on the line. The thick rope, braided with native grasses indigenous to the American Prairie, represents an inter-connective ecology. Spanning the room in this installation, utilizing plants like Big Bluestem Grass, Indian Grass, and Switchgrass, this “tightrope of biodiversity” is a material portrait of a once extensive natural system now reduced to a threadlike trace straining to exist under a massive cask. The original industrial measure of production, whether of food or fuel, is the barrel or ton.









Mel Chin was born in Houston, Texas in 1951. Chin’s art, which is both analytical and poetic, evades easy classification. He is known for the broad range of approaches in his art, including works that require multi-disciplinary, collaborative teamwork and works that conjoin cross-cultural aesthetics with complex ideas.

Chin also insinuates art into unlikely places, including destroyed homes, toxic landfills, and even popular television, investigating how art can provoke greater social awareness and responsibility. He developed Revival Field (1989-ongoing), a project that has been a pioneer in the field of “green remediation,” the use of plants to remove toxic, heavy metals from the soil. From 1995-1998 he formed the collective, the GALA Committee, that produced In the Name of the Place, a conceptual public art project conducted on American prime-time television. In KNOWMAD, Chin worked with software engineers to create a video game based on rug patterns of nomadic people facing cultural disappearance. His film, 9-11/9-11, a hand-drawn, 24 minute, joint Chilean/USA Production, won the prestigious Pedro Sienna Award, for Best Animation, National Council for the Arts and Cultures, Chile, in 2007. Chin also promotes “works of art” that have the ultimate effect of benefiting science, as in Revival Field, and also in the recent Operation Paydirt/Fundred Dollar Bill Project, an attempt to make New Orleans a lead-safe city (see These projects are consistent with a conceptual philosophy, which emphasizes the practice of art to include sculpting and bridging the natural and social ecology.

Chin’s work was documented in the popular PBS program, Art of the 21st Century. Chin has received numerous awards and grants from organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council for the Arts, Art Matters, Creative Capital, and the Penny McCall, Pollock/Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Rockefeller and Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundations, among others.



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