I have engaged in many projects addressing environmental and social justice concerns. In most of these projects I have collaborated with my husband,Tom Merriman,artist and Professor of Design at Carnegie Mellon University. Many of the projects have taken years of focus and have involved working with communities, scientists,activists and politicians . The artifacts created in response to the topics have been presented in museums,galleries and community settings. Often projects also include actions in affected communities to bring the issues into public discourse. Projects to engage children in the topics are often included.
The content of the projects most often address the topic of the impact caused by the extraction of energy. We have focused on Hydroelectricity in the Great Whale Series, Coal mining in Hays Woods Project,The Cerulean Project, The MTR series, and Blanket for Brownfield. Issues concerning the impact to cities caused by development of greenspaces have been addressed in the Hays Woods Project, Community Forest Project and the Bridge Project.
Perception of Power -1 Great Whale
Perception of Power / Great whale
In the 1980’s the government of Quebec, Canada, began the construction of a series of hydroelectric power plants which caused profound and far reaching impact to the environment and the indigenous residence, the people of the Cree and Inuit Nations. The projects created enormous impoundments equal in size to the combined Germanys. Because of the location and method of flooding, the impoundment became permanently contaminated with methyl mercury, compromising the food chain for all living things, including the hunter gatherer societies of the Cree and Inuit. The dam system was built without environmental impact studies. No notification of the flooding was provided for the nomadic people. The electricity generated by the flooding was used in Canada and exported to the US. In the 1990′s, another series of dams was begun, the Great Whale. This time, native people acted to create international pressure to prevent the dam construction. They invited environmentalists, civil rights activists, artists and others to come to see and respond to the critical situation. We were invited to visit northern Quebec in the summer of 1992.
We acted impartially to gather information form the stakeholders: Hydro Quebec, The Cree Nation and the Inuit People. Extensive information was provided by all groups previous to our visit. In Montréal, we met with Hydro Quebec’s representatives and scientists. We also met with government representatives of the Cree and Inuit. We traveled north by car and plane to visit Cree and Inuit communities. We also viewed impoundments and toured a Hydro Quebec power plant which was under construction.
We created a series of art works in response to our experience. These works were driven by the concept of the 2 societies’ conflicting perception of the word power. For the hunter/gather society, power refers to the energy to sustain life. They believe that land, water, plants and animals contain power. The hydroelectric process extracted that life- energy from the environment. In the consumer society, power refers to energy to drive industry and domestic life. It is a commodity, not the essence of life.