Week 8: Art on Environmental Destruction

Maru García- “Vacuoles”:

Although I had already seen Maru’s exhibition last week, hearing her explanation of the work and the significance behind it totally changed my view of the project. For one, despite living in Los Angeles all my life, I have never heard about the issue of lead contamination here, so I am glad that someone is trying to bring this issue to light. In addition, I most likely would not have appreciated many of the subtler aspects of her project without her discussion. One moment that really stuck out to me was when Maru said that her ceramic “vacuoles” actually contained contaminated soil from sites in Los Angeles. Several people questioned how she collected the samples and if she was safe after potentially being exposed to dangerous chemicals, which is something that I also wondered (Lewis-Simó 2019). However, in that moment I realized that the saddest part about this project is the reality of the lives of the people living in these contaminated areas. We were rightfully concerned about Maru coming into contact with high levels of lead for even just an hour, but there are hundreds if not thousands of people who live in this area that are being exposed to these concentrated toxins every single day and very little is being done to fix the situation.



Black Mustard in the Santa Monica Mountains (Source: Los Angeles Times)


I was also taken aback by Maru’s explanation of the process of bioremediation, especially the species that she said were capable of doing it. In my mind, mustard plants have a very negative connotation. My research at UCLA focuses on the growth of invasive species in southern California hillsides following wildfire, and the most aggressive and widespread exotic invasive in the area are Black Mustard plants. They are extremely fast-growing and have taken over entire mountains near Los Angeles, thereby diminishing habitat for native flora. Many researchers have simply given up on trying to remove these plants with some experts claiming that “it can be combated locally but will probably never be eradicated” (Panzar 2019). Thus, when Maru told us that they also have the power to remove lead from the soil, I felt very conflicted. Then I learned that in some cases, conservationists have extracted enzymes from plants and used those as a way to de-contaminate soil, without having to put down full plants. Perhaps one day scientists will be able to isolate the genes that allow plants like mustard to act as bio-remediators and move them into native plant species, creating “native” genetically modified organisms that heal the land without taking it over (Surajit 2014).


Pinar Yoldas- Causality is Broken: Can We Fix It with Art and Design?

            My favorite part of Pinar’s talk was the slide where she pointed out some potential traits that a culture would need to have in order to be more sustainable and less self-destructive. I strongly identified with every single category on her list which included being non-violent, “biophilic” (a word she invented to signify a love and respect for nature and the environment), inclusive, anti-xenophobic, anti-consumerist, creativity focused, and curiosity driven. Even before her presentation, the recent political climate in the United States has made me contemplate whether or not our society is broken in some of these regards. Things that most people would agree are wrong such as war, mass shootings, racism, poverty, and environmental destruction are all still a part of our culture (Mirpuri 2016).


pinar slide.jpeg

Dr. Yoldas’ Design of a New Culture (Info Source: Pinar Yoldas; Photo Source: Cole Oost)


Personally, I feel that one of the most important of these designs for a better society is being anti-consumerist, or perhaps, being anti-capitalist. Numerous scientific studies and news articles claim that capitalism, left un-checked in its current form, will essentially lead to the downfall of humanity as we know it. This is primarily because of the point Dr. Yoldas made that our day-to-day purchases in a capitalist society are indirectly causing a decline in biodiversity, an increase in global warming, and an overharvesting of the planet’s finite natural resources, yet we refuse to recognize these consequences or change our actions. What’s worse, late-stage capitalism in America is also leading to an increasing disparity between the wealthy and the poor, and it is often the decisions of the rich and powerful that lead to the most significant damage to our natural world while the impoverished face the brunt of the resulting environmental catastrophes. The situation has become so dire that some scientists claim that capitalism will lead to the end of humanity by the year 2050, if not sooner (Hansen 2016). I hope that Dr. Yoldas continues giving this talk and that people with the power to make the cultural changes she suggests begin to do so before it is too late for all of us.



European Architect’s Design for an “Eco-topia” (Source: Caters News Agency)


Works Cited

Das, Surajit. Microbial Biodegradation and Bioremediation. Elsevier, 2014.

Hansen, Drew. “Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050.” Forbes. Februrary 8, 2016. www.forbes.com/sites/drewhansen/2016/02/09/unless-it-changes-capitalism-will-starve-humanity-by-2050/#256ed1407ccc

Mirpuri, Anoop. “Racial Violence, Mass Shootings, and the US Neoliberal State.” Critical Ethnic Studies 2.1 (2016): 73-106.

Panzar, Javier. “This Super Bloom is Pretty Dangerous: Invasive Mustard is Fuel for the Next Fire.” Los Angeles Times. April 25, 2019. www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-mustard-fire-santa-monica-mountains-20190425-story

Lewis-Simó, Tabatha. “Experimental Works Invite Interaction, Comment on Sociopolitical Systems.” The Daily Bruin. May 23, 2019. https://dailybruin.com/2019/05/23/experimental-works-invite-interaction-comment-on-sociopolitical-systems/


Image Sources:

  1. www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-mustard-fire-santa-monica-mountains-20190425-story
  2. Slide: Dr. Pinar Yoldas; Photo: Cole Oost
  3. www.catersnews.com/stories/quirky/could-this-eco-utopia-be-the-answer-to-climate-change-new-plans-revealed-for-sustainable-vertical-village