Friday, November 11, 2011

Add environmental artist to your resume

By Carol Clark

Take an empty plastic bottle out of the trash. Slash the label and the top off with a knife, then use scissors to cut the base into a spiraling ribbon. Now clamp the plastic ribbon down and blast it with 1,000 degrees F. from a heat gun.

Voila! The plastic bottle becomes a long, slender stalk curving into a dainty little cup at one end, like a pitcher plant. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t done it myself.

Environmental artist John Grade glanced at my handiwork and noted that the cup at the end of the stalk is “to hold the mosquito larvae.”

Something unusual is under way on the Emory campus. And I mean unusual even by academia standards.

Grade (pronounced “grotty”) is a visiting artist at Emory, heading up a monumental public art project called “Piedmont Divide.” During the next 10 days, 20,000 plastic water bottles are being transformed into two massive sculptures. One of the sculptures will hang from the trees on the Quadrangle; the other will be suspended over the lake at Lullwater Preserve.

The results are bound to be interesting. Grade is internationally known for his immense installations. His piece “Seeps of Winter” was influenced by his curiosity about the remains of humans found in Irish bogs, and a beached humpback whale he came across one day walking on the Washington coast. His sculpture “The Elephant Bed” centered on Ice Age algae that forms the geographical bedrock of Brighton, England.

John Grade's sketch for "Piedmont Divide" on the campus Quadrangle.

For “Piedmont Divide” Grade is drawing his inspiration from Emory’s work on West Nile virus and global water sustainability.

"Piedmont Divide" needs volunteers daily through Saturday, Nov. 19, to help with the construction. If you love art and/or science, you don’t want to miss this chance to become an environmental sculptor, even if it’s just for a few hours. Click here for volunteer details.

Taking pieces of trash and changing them into pieces for a major artwork can alter your perspective. I will never look at a plastic bottle the same way.

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