Earth Day 1970: Public Art 101
Forty three years ago when the first Earth Day was held, I was just finishing up my freshman year at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. As part of the celebration, which would ultimately mark the beginning of the modern environmental movement, our sculpture professor required that we design and implement a bio-degradable, site specific, outdoor installation. Of course, the concepts, ‘site specific’ and ‘installation’ were brand new to the contemporary art world as was the idea of ‘bio-degradable’ materials. I didn’t know at the time that what we were assigned to do could also be classified as Public Art and that so many years later I would be immersed in a large public art project and remembering my first, primitive attempt in that discipline today, on Earth Day 2013.
After a limited survey of the common substances familiar to us that might fall into the category required, my classmate, Leslie, and I decided to collaborate on a jello sculpture. (Yes, even then I was prone to collaboration.) It seemed silly to us at the time and hardly worth the monumental effort it required to make, refrigerate and transport the product of 100 boxes of red jello. It was a warm day on April 22, 1970 when the sculpture was installed on the concrete walkway outside our dorm, and the jello melted appropriately as required. I wish I had a photo of the actual sculpture to document the moment, but picture this: large 12″ x 18″ slabs of red jello piled on top of each other at various angles to a height of about 3 feet, shining brilliantly in the sun. The image below will give you a general idea of what it looked like.
I remember fellow students mocking our efforts and those of our classmates as they passed by. None of them connected the ‘art’ to a statement promoting a ‘green’ environment and conservation of the Earth’s resources. Quite frankly, Leslie and I didn’t either. We were just completing the assignment. I am grateful now, though, to that professor for forcing us to pay attention by commemorating that historic day. Happy Earth Day 2013.