"What distinguishes the
Harrisons' work even more
is their idea of modifying
the landscape functionally
rather than aesthetically."
Eco-Art and Action Research
Visiting Artist Newton Harrison and Anne Whiston Spirn, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning in the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, explored artistic methods as ways to wed the insights of ecology with city design and planning as a means of adaptation. As part of the course 4.213/11.308 Ecological Urbanism, Harrison and Spirn worked with students on “A New River for Philadelphia,” a project that investigates how to re-create a river that was buried in a sewer in Philadelphia in 1880. Students employed methods developed by Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison to identify a problem and scale of inquiry, devise solutions and design strategies for implementation that “bring forth a new state of mind.” “A New River for Philadelphia” represents an important new advance in 30 years of Spirn’s action research.
Throughout his residency, Harrison met with faculty and students and gave public presentations tracing the eco-art movement that he and Helen Mayer Harrison pioneered and have led for more than 40 years, which uses art to address environmental problems, such as agriculture and forestry issues, watershed restoration and urban renewal, among others.
Among the leading pioneers of the eco-art movement, the collaborative team of Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison has worked for over 40 years with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners and other artists to uncover ideas and solutions that support biodiversity, often tuned to community development. Most recently, they have formed a non-profit organization associated with the Arts Division at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The organization, the Center for the Study of the Force Majeure, works to mediate the combined forces of global warming, ocean rise and increasing extinctions.
The Harrisons’ concept of art embraces an unusual range of disciplines. They are artists who can function variously as historians, diplomats, ecologists, investigators and art activists. Their work involves creating with poetic narratives embedded in complex large-scale imagery. Often, their practice proposes solutions and involves not only public discussion, but also extensive mapping and documentation of these proposals in diverse art contexts.
Past projects have focused on watershed restoration, urban renewal, agriculture and forestry issues, among other issues. Their first global warming works were done in the 1970s. The Harrisons’ visionary projects have led to changes in governmental policy and have expanded dialogue around previously unexplored issues leading to practical implementations such as Baltimore Promenade (1981) and A Vision for the Green Heart of Holland (1994).
More at the artists’ website: The Harrison Studio.
Course 4.213/11.308 Ecological Urbanism
Mondays / 2:00–5:00pm
From Passive to Provocative: When Good Planning is Productive Troublemaking
DUSP Lunchtime Seminar
Tuesday, September 19, 2017 / 12:30–2:00pm
DUSP students and faculty only
Eco-art and Action Research
ACT Lunchtime Seminar
Wednesday, September 20, 2017 / 1:00–2:00pm
MIT Building E15-207
Environment-Sustainability Lunch Seminar
MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative
Monday, October 23, 2017 / 12:00–1:00pm
MIT Building 10-105, Bush Room
Lecture: The Time of the Force Majeure
Co-hosted by MIT Department of Architecture
Tuesday, October 24, 2017 / 6:00pm
MIT building 32-155
This event is free and open to the public
Followed by a reception in R&D Pub
ACT Roundtable: Building a Career as an Artist
Hosted by the Program in Art, Culture and Technology
Tuesday, November 7, 2017 / 3:00pm
MIT building E15-283A, de Rothschild Room
ACT students and faculty only
Lunch Discussion with Newton Harrison
Wednesday, November 8, 2017 / 12:00-2:00pm
MIT Building 10-401
For MIT graduate and undergraduate students
September 18–22, 2017
October 20–23, 2017
November 6–9, 2017
“Helen and Newton Harrison began combining art and ecology in the late 1960s, pioneering a mixture of political activism and scientific empiricism that Newton continues to pursue following Helen’s death several months ago.”
— Forbes, August 2018
Landscape Architecture Magazine: The Art of Inquiry, Manifestation, and Enactment
Leonardo: Journal of the International Society of Arts, Sciences and Technology: The Harrisons: Talking and Remembering
Art in America: Land Art for the Media Age
Anne Whiston Spirn, Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT