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Q & A with Deanna Pindell. by Mallory Nanny

Meet Environmental Artist-in-Residence Deanna Pindell in a Q&A with Mallory Nanny, External Affairs Intern.

Which came first: your passion for art or the environment? Or did they evolve together?
"They both evolved, but it took me a long time to figure out how to combine them. My work has always had an element of caring for the environment, but I went back to get my MFA in Ecological Public Art at Goddard."

Have any artists from the Land Art movement inspired your body of work?
"They are all foundational in this work."

Their work seemed to alter the landscape more than conserve it, whereas your work involves positive environmental change in addition to strong aesthetic change. Is that where you think the movement is heading for most environmental artists?
"One thing that has shifted is the concept of art as a service to other people, creatures, or the earth, as opposed to pure aesthetics. But this is a fairly new concept that has come out of Joseph Beuys' philosophy. He was pivotal in what's happening now in the art world."

Is Beuys a major influence in your work?
"Absolutely! There was that piece in Germany where he planted 7,000 oaks, as well as many other pieces that advocated for animal rights. But it wasn't just his environmental work that inspired me - he made me think about social sculpture. He believed that every person is an artist, and we are all capable of participating in molding society. Now, I think of myself as a cultural worker as much, or more than, an artist. It's important that we change culture in relation to the environment."

What kind of social change do you want to instill in your audience?
"I just want to inspire people who feel that they can't produce change, or maybe feel that they can't do anything useful."

Do you think you've succeeded so far?
"Yes, I think I have! I worked on a remediation project a few years ago, where I removed a large amount of invasive ivy from the woodlands of Webster's Woods Sculpture Park, at Port Angeles Fine Art Center in Washington. I replanted salal, which is an important native shrub, and used 200 feet of wattle to embroider salal in eight different languages, which I thought would be meaningful to the indigenous people in that area of Washington. The park staff was so inspired by it that they removed two tons of invasive ivy later."

How do you choose your site?
"I am actively seeking sites that are environmentally damaged, so I can repair the area and provide aid for animals to return. Because my focus has been on water quality, the team at McColl Center for Visual Art suggested I work at the pond at Trinity Episcopal."

Tell me about your current project there.
"When I first became familiar with the patterns on the site, I discovered that the drainage flowing into the pond pulls rainwater from the nearby parking lot, and therefore, a lot of pollutants. I want to slow down the storm water into a pool before it reaches the pond so that the sediments can settle out. The pond water will be cleaner as a result, which would allow the local flora and fauna to flourish."

What kind of aesthetic changes would you make?
"I'm adding more stones around the pond, as well as five small granite pillars interspersed between them. The students at Trinity selected five representative species to serve as ambassadors for the pond: the minnow, willow oak, mockingbird, duckweed and bumblebee. A design of each will be engraved on the granite slabs. I will also incorporate text that says "we all share the same water" somewhere within the installation. I am always seeking to layer poetic metaphors into the work to try to engage people."

And finally, what is your primary goal as an environmental artist?
"I want my work to integrate eco function and social awareness, because environmental problems are a cultural issue. We have enough data, but the reason we still have problems is due to our culture - our habit and ignorance. Really, the most important part of my career is cultural work."

Deanna Pindell is McColl Center for Visual Art's Environmental Artist-in-Residence from April 2, to June 22, 2012. Read more about Deanna's project via Catawba RiverView's Blog and her own blog, We All Share the Same Water.

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