Greenmeme: The (profoundly) eco-conscious artforms of Brian Howe and Freya Bardell

Above, Greenmeme’s Freya Bardell constructing “Migration of the Marine Tumbleweed.”

Brian Howe and Freya Bardell work under the studio name Greenmeme, a cross-disciplinary design collective, based in Los Angeles. Bardell and Howe create site-specific artistic environments that encourage the public to participate and think, promoting both environmental and cultural awareness of given landscapes and ecosystems. Through their public artworks they can hope to provoke creative dialogue about deep ecological issues that matter to all of us.

I recently caught up with Freya Bardell over email:

Richard Metzger: What is your “River Liver” installation about?

Freya Bardell: The first “River Liver” was created in 2005 in the Los Angeles River, seeking to raise awareness of the many ecological and cultural conditions that line its concrete banks. Since that time, the “River Liver” project has become a yearly ritual, designed to “restore” the health of different types of stressed and polluted bodies of water. “River Livers” are functional sculptures, made through community events. They take place “down by the river,” in communities where doing so is not normal.

We encourage people to create their own River Livers, based around developing community strategies for culturally and ecologically reclaiming their water resources. River Livers re-mediate their environment but ,most often, we see the most significant remediation within ourselves, walking away with new friendships based in an enthusiasm to come together and pro-actively clean and reclaim our environment.

Richard Metzger: How many locations have you installed in 5 years?

Freya Bardell: Beyond the yearly Los Angeles River ritual, we have installed a series in Stowe Lake and we are planning a 2012 launch of one on the Trinity River, Dallas, TX.

As I keep mentioning our work is site specific, and therefore we were excited to have the opportunity to utilize the paddle boat culture on the Stowe Lake in our artwork by inviting the public to hook the River Livers onto their paddle boats and tow them to different parts of the lake that they thought needed remediation.

Coming up in Dallas, there will be something totally different. We’re anxious to delve into the site history and see what emerges. Maybe we could create more of an atoll or invite people to inhabit one of the islands. We have to get there first and see.

“Migration of the Marine Tumbleweed” in Santa Monica bay.

Richard Metzger: That amazing glowing, floating trash project you did for the big Glow festival in the Santa Monica bay was also, obviously, about water. What is the connection, if any between these two pieces?

Freya Bardell: We are particularly interested in the environmental and cultural systems at play around our studio and in the city we live in. The ideas that watersheds and air-sheds, cross all kinds physical, political and economic boundaries, picking up all kinds of crap on the way and depositing it out into the oceans or into the atmosphere. The “River Liver” projects looks at the source of these contaminants. Other projects, such as the “Migration of the Marine Tumbleweed,” the one you saw off the beach in Santa Monica look at the collection points of these toxic sources, pollutants gathering in the pacific ocean at the “the trash vortex” or “great pacific gyre”. The project is essentially a story that talks about plastic pollution in our oceans.  In the narrative we reconstruct tiny pieces of plastic pollution into fictitous sea creatures, that evolved from the toxic soup of plastic and electronic parts which litter the vortex. The Mum, Dad and Baby tumbleweeds, communicated through a light based language to a team of “scientists” from the “Center for Marine Intelligence,” who could decode to those at the Glow festival the tales of their journey from the vortex

Above, the Environmental Learning Center project, recently completed, at the Hyperion Treatment Plant in Los Angeles.

A third piece in the theme of watersheds, water usage and waste water it our latest project, “Hyperion-Son of Uranus,” a giant 3D topographical map of the Los Angeles sewer system. Based upon the Thomas Guide grid of Los Angeles County, reclaimed Caltrans road signs have been made to represent levels of sewer infrastructure lying beneath LA County.

Richard Metzger: What led you both in your careers to do work like this? There’s almost no precedent for the sort of interdisciplinary environmental and scientific blend of the art you make. How did you get into, or even create this field you’re in?

Freya Bardell: I studied Environmental Science in Manchester, UK and my first job was designing and constructing learning gardens for the Lancashire Wildlife Trust. Life led me to Los Angeles and I began my professional career here as art director. Brian comes from architecture and earthship building. I think the meshing of these various disciplines has helped mold our studio and the type of projects we feel compelled to create. We often work with teams of experts to help us overcome some of the more challenging technical aspects of our work.

Richard Metzger: Is it often major corporations and their foundations who underwrite your grants or do the budgets come from the local governments in areas where you work?

Freya Bardell: Our first projects were actually self-funded, in kind donations, small stipends from artwalks, and some private commissions. With a small portfolio of environmental art, we began applying for art grants the first of which was for $500, then $1000. Most of our projects have been funded though local governments such as The Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. The projects are very site specific. We rarely have an idea of a form before we have a site, before we understand the environmental and cultural factors at play and most importantly, who will be the audience.

Richard Metzger: Knowing the long, long lead-time and planning stages it entails to pull off the kinds of projects you do, from finding the money to actually planning them out and constructing them, I’m wondering what your next projects are?

Freya Bardell: Our most current projects have incredibly long time frames, some not being installed until 2015 or later. We are designing the first traffic roundabout in the City of Los Angeles at the confluence of the LA River and the Arroyo Seco. Water will be a major element within the 100’ diameter roundabout. Underneath the roundabout is a water catchment cistern that captures rainwater and run-off hitting the roundabout. This water will be used to irrigate a California native landscape. Throughout the landscape will be nine large stone sculptures.

Above, a visualization of Greenmeme’s “Climate Clock” proposal.

We’re spending the rest of the summer developing our proposal for the San Jose Climate Clock competition, a 100-year instrument to aid in the visualization of Climate Change in the Bay Area. We were selected as finalists over two years ago, and since then we have been refining the prototype of our proposal with the University of California Natural Reserve system and Stanford University to develop an artist-in-residency program within their high-tech field stations. Our main focus in this phase is the Blue Oak Ranch Reserve, a NRS Field Station near San Jose. There we have already begun a respectful transformation of a 100-year-old cabin into the first studio space for our art-science residency program. This will become the site for the first in series of yearly artist residencies over the next 100 years.

Richard Metzger: You certainly do plan things out well in advance, don’t you?

Freya Bardell: Yes, I think you can safely say that!

Posted by Richard Metzger
03:38 pm



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