Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison

Among the leading pioneers of the eco-art movement, the collaborative team of Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison (often referred to simply as “the Harrisons”) have worked for almost forty years with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners and other artists to initiate collaborative dialogues to uncover ideas and solutions which support biodiversity and community development.

The Harrison’s concept of art embraces a breathtaking range of disciplines. They are historians, diplomats, ecologists, investigators, emissaries and art activists. Their work involves proposing solutions and involves not only public discussion, but extensive mapping and documentation of these proposals in an art context.

Past projects have focused on watershed restoration, urban renewal, agriculture and forestry issues among others. The Harrisons’ visionary projects have often led to changes in governmental policy and have expanded dialogue around previously unexplored issues leading to practical implementations throughout the United States and Europe.

“Our work begins when we perceive an anomaly in the environment that is the result of opposing beliefs or contradictory metaphors. Moments when reality no longer appears seamless and the cost of belief has become outrageous offer the opportunity to create new spaces – first in the mind and thereafter in everyday life.”

By the early ‘90s, the Harrisons perceived that every work they were doing either needed or engendered a collaborative group. As a consequence, they formed the Harrison Studio and Associates. It’s earliest manifestation was at the Bauhaus Dessau in 1993 in a team that centered around Bauhaus personnel with Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, Vera Westergaard and Gabriel Harrison, working collectively on the Mulde River watershed. Thereafter, the Harrison Studio has formed and reformed many times. There was the Harrison Studio in Borna, South Leipzig. In Bonn, with the Endangered Meadows. In Gouda, with Greenheart Vision. Most recently, the Harrison Studio Britain and, as an offshoot, the Harrison Studio Devon.

Their work process is singular. It begins with the question, “How Big is Here?” Here may be a street corner, as in California Wash or a sub-continent, such as Peninsula Europe. They only do work that is the outcome of an invitation to engage a particular place or situation. Typically, they agree to go to such a place to see, think, speak, research and engage a broad spectrum of people and groups. They will only take on a work if there is a general agreement that their actual client is the environment itself. The agenda is created by the artists in discourse with the larger community. Thus, the Harrisons see themselves simultaneously as guests and co-workers. They stay only as long as the invitation continues, or until they deem that they have done all that is possible for them to do.

Here’s a little video of one of their works that was first created in 1970 and recreated in 2012 at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

On February 6, 2013, Helen and Newton gave a lecture about their work and exhibition, The Harrison Studio: On Mixing, Mapping and Territory, at the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery at UCSC. The show runs to March 15, 2013 at the Sesnon Gallery in Porter College.

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