Tim is a member of the Green Alliance – http://www.greenalliance.biz
Is it hard to translate your on-site creations to the web experience?
It is quite difficult to translate my work to the web format and the small screen — it’s an entirely different experience. In the original, my work is generally experienced in unexpected ways, for example, one might stumble across it on the street or where there is opportunity for interaction. Instead, with the web, everything is up for grabs and there are few surprises, mouse clicking creates a facade of interaction. I think both the privacy of viewing and the small scale of the web take a lot away from the experience of artwork that is a generation removed from the original. On the flip side, a major point of my work is about the education of environmental ideas. The web helps create a dialogue and spread the ideas so much further than I or my work could on its own.
You are an activist. What are your causes with the new administration?
I think the Bush administration, on one hand, distracted me form my original artistic intent, but focused my work in an interesting way. Environmental themes are my primary area of work, but social justice is intimately connected to this. The Bush administration wreaked such havoc on every level of justice, fairness, human and civil rights and our environmental behavior — I think everyone should have used their relevant tools to fight back. While we certainly have a more amenable administration now, I don’t expect big business or big money to go away. We will still have to shine light on those issues that need public attention. Take President Obama’s support of “clean coal” — c’mon, there’s no such thing! And, don’t get me started on the current trajectory of the Republican Party; they still need to have their feet held to the fire.
How many distinct ecosystems do you live in right now? Please describe how they over-lap each other.
I primarily inhabit the ecosystem of my homestead. It’s a place where I am making every attempt to create a sustainable lifestyle. It encompasses my home and studio (and all of my sustainable practices), my garden and what I plant to feed myself, the chickens and cat, my bees and then all of the uncultivated naturally occurring flora and fauna. These include all of the deer, raccoons, foxes and coyote that survive from my land as well. It’s tricky trying to find a balance where my self-sufficiency is protected at they have free range to do there own thing.
My community, seacoast NH, is its own unique ecosystem that includes my home, as well as all the other families, businesses, roads and schools, and waterways that make up a city. It’s a large group of people trying to get along while living together within a particular landscape. While I may live in my own isolated pocket, it’s really an illusion. I breathe the same air as my neighbors do. I drink the same water. So, when the local power plant fires up for coal burning, that air becomes part of my personal ecosystem. Really, I think all potential ecosystems overlap each other as everything is intimately interconnected. Our seacoast is part of the state, which is part of the nation, which is part of the continent, which is part of the whole globe. I know that if the mountain range 100 miles away gets low winter snowfall, then spring steams will run shallow and we’ll have a summer drought where I live. I know that if we dam the rivers at coast, the salmon can’t make it their spawning ground far inland where a variety of animals once thrived on their sustenance. I know if the Midwest burns coal, it pollutes our air here one thousand miles to the east. The increased acidification of our rain, lakes and streams is killing our forests and fish. And, it goes on and on.
Are you a romantic?
Well, I would say that I am not really a romantic — the term suggests an unrealistic and idealistic notion of one’s view of the world. I think my worldview, expectations and actions fall more in the realm of practical. I don’t advocate for the preservation of any particular landscape out of a nostalgic sense of awe for the past or for an unadulterated tract of land. Rather, I argue for land, water and air protection, for the protection of particular landscapes or for specific issues because these things are absolutely vital for our elemental health and well-being. It’s really a no-brainer: if we pour chemicals onto the land, somebody somewhere will eventually drink it. I have a strong sense of justice and I firmly believe in the inalienable right to breathe, eat and drink a non-toxic life. While I am well enough off and I live in a reasonably safe place, I am not immune to the effects of air pollution on my body. I am not immune to the implications of hormones, antibiotics and gmo’s in my food. In one sense, I create this work because I don’t think it’s fair for me to be forced to consume environmental toxins that exist because our economic system favors short-term financial gain over long-term sustainable practices, does not measure the impact of pollution, nor consider the cost to individual quality of life. I don’t think anyone should have to accept poisons into their bodies, for example, because it is cheaper for industry to use toxic materials and then release it into the air just because it would cost money to do it more ethically. Our lives and health are worth more than that. I don’t want to sell out our children’s future for stockholder gain. So, am I a romantic? No, not at all. I seek justice and I use my work as a tool of education so that we can all truly understand the big picture implications of our short-term behaviors. Then we can collectively make informed choices.
What are you reclaiming? From what? And how?
I’m currently reclaiming my backyard. When my house was built in 1880’s agrarian New Hampshire, it was surrounded by farmland and, further out, forest. My property was actively farmed into the 1960’s. A neighbor recalls that the children in this house were sent throughout the neighborhood to sell the vegetables. Somewhere in the 90’s, the then current owner, a building contractor, started using the backyard to dispose of his surplus fill and asphalt. When we bought the place two years ago, there was a startling amount of pavement surrounding the barn. Throughout the property, the fertile farm soil has been replaced or covered by rocks and fill. Invasive species have been introduced to the point of mostly taken over. I have been slowly removing the human and plant invasion to let our little patch of earth return to a more typical NH landscape. Much of that pavement has been removed and I am trying to cut back invasive species and replace them with native ones. I have built a very large garden of raised beds as an experiment in building community and referencing this land’s history. Last year I invited friends to garden with me, to take advantage of the unusual (for a city property) space and sun. This year, I’ve expanded the garden to invite other neighbors to participate, to share in the space, experience working with the land. It’s all an experiment as I try to open up the space to share and see how I can initiate a micro community of sorts. Using our gardens, we’re planning to feed seven local families this year. I’ve gotten chickens and we’ll put a small greenhouse on the barn this summer, too. Of course, we’ll probably never bring back the cows to the barn since it’s now my studio space!
How do you teach sustainability through your work?
Through the development of my artistic lifestyle, I’ve really created an experiment in sustainable living. My artwork, in a way, has become the excuse to talk about the eco issue and sustainability. Just today, I worked with an elementary school to create a sculpture using plastic bottles. By using plastic as a material, I opened the opportunity to talk with the kids about recycling, use of natural materials, pollution issues, and possibilities for making better choices. Many of my projects also very specifically seek to educate about a specific issue, such as recycling, carbon footprint, chemicals pollution or climate change. And, just about any time I do a project, I introduce all of these topics or talk about my own actions as examples to demonstrate that it’s really not that hard to be green. I find that just by acting and talking, all of my own sustainability practices inform – or, maybe, spark questions that open the door for conversation. I’m often asked about all of these things, for example, running my car on biodiesel, why I eat vegetarian, local and organic, how I grow my own food, what changes my trash self-portrait inspired, or how the heat in my studio works.
Name three Green metaphors and tell us your favorite way to deploy them.
I don’t know if this is exactly what you are asking… but I tend to use stories that I just work into conversations and speeches as tools to help illustrate my points when I visit communities. My favorites include the story of Wengari Maathi and her acts planting trees as a way of demonstrating empowerment and that individuals can make significant difference. I use a story about the life cycle of plastic and how the Pacific Gyre plastic vortex has been created to illustrate how little things add up to big things with profound environmental consequences. In a third story, I talk about my experience with a project called Eco Gift Boxes in which we give wrapped gifts to random strangers on the street. This story reveals coldness, busyness, disinterest and fear of strangers as an illusion. In my experience, people turn out to be warm and friendly — often just looking for an opportunity to connect and engage with people around them. We just have to provide the excuse for breaking the ice.
In Portsmouth Says “Hi” – 2005 http://www.wake-up.ws/Hi/hi.html, why did you choose poems vs. images or found objects?
In the Portsmouth Says “Hi” project, I was specifically looking for a way that I could engage my community in an active and unusual manner. I thought about New Englanders’ tendency to be suspicious of everything and self-deprecating in regards to their own artistic expression. Since I asked people to contribute their stories, I found words and text to appear less threatening to the general passerby. Maybe, in another situation where I could be present in person during the entire time of the event to encourage or explain the parameters, I could work differently. However, in this project, I passively asked people to participate and relied more on their own personal guidance for self-expression expression.
Do you think us bullet dodging, vegan smiling Oaklanders would react differently than NH folk to the Call Box?
I’ve done many projects where expectations and suspicions would suggest a tepid response from the public — and time after time, I have been pleasantly surprised by the response. Every community is unique and, certainly, influenced by local events and culture, but I have learned that people are much more open, interested and sophisticated than is generally expected. My experience of the west coast suggests that you might approach Callbox 4 with far less trepidation than folks in NH, but it’s also possible that you would be less impressed as well. I suspect that there’s no getting by our innate human curiosity. If this phone rang as you walked by, would you answer it?
Is there such a thing as Green sprawl? If so, where?
In New England, I think Green Sprawl is more theoretical rather than actual, but at least as a concept, it does exist. I have mixed feelings about this idea. Indeed, it is laudable to build the next generation of big box retailers and shopping malls with more sustainable and energy efficient techniques. However, to continue to build — even these supposed green buildings — within the construct of our current sprawl and strip mall pattern, is entirely absurd. Is it even possible for a big box retailer to be or build green? Isn’t that an oxymoron? The whole concept is faulty from the bottom up. We’re certainly smart enough to figure out a better way of doing things! Maybe, instead of metaphorically putting a new roof on a bad building from a bad business model in a bad location in a bad development, we could scrap the whole idea and start over. The strip mall — the quintessential big business contribution to architecture and aesthetic history — should be erased. I’ve read about Wal-Mart’s with solar roofs, treed parking lots and runoff mitigation, but I’ve never actually seen one. I wonder if it’s all just smokescreen to keep the public from questioning the viability of the whole mechanism?
Are there special symbols and colors in “sustainability?”
There isn’t really an easy answer to this question. Sure, green is the color of the movement, but as it has come closer to ubiquity, green means less and less as it has been co-opted for marketing and ‘greenwashing’. There are plenty of symbols, from tree and leaves to globes, that readily signify sustainability, but there doesn’t seem to be a rule about it. Most of this imagery is marketing/branding driven. Consumers are sophisticated enough to recognize the branding style associated with green products. With sustainable lifestyle choices beyond marketing, for authentic lifestyle behavior, there are all sorts of coded actions, products, activities and language that signify differentiation. Just thinking about this idea as it relates to my life, I wonder about my own choices. Do I drive a Volkswagen diesel as a signifier of my green status or have a selected this vehicle because it allows me to run it on bio (plus it’s fun to drive)? Actually, I think for most of us green-minded people, we make these product and lifestyle decisions out of an authentic desire to make good choices and when enough green conscious people arrive at similar conclusions, choices become a trend which becomes a signifier. I have to admit that I feel troubled when I visit a friend’s house and I notice that they have bottled water, the food isn’t locally sourced, or the toilet paper isn’t recycled. It seems to me that consumer purchases are strong indicators of individual commitment to sustainable living, so it makes perfect sense to me that one’s product choices become important representations of sustainability rather than adherence to an ill defined aesthetic green symbology. Dr. Bronner’s is the new old green.
Are you helping to create a mythology of sustainability?
I’m not sure if I am. I am directly asking questions, encouraging people to think and act. I am critiquing and, even dissecting, the dead-end mythology of consumerism and no-consequence resource consumption/destruction.
“Leaves, 2001,”- http://www.wake-up.ws/Ephemeral/index.php – is semi-haunting. I like the leaf / juxtapositions. The series says breathe / expand. Balance is a staged phenomenon. Am I close?
I think the idea of balance, as a staged phenomenon, is a really interesting idea. At the time that I created these pieces, I don’t think that I was so consciously mulling over the idea in those same terms, it was probably deeper in my subconscious. I’ve recently started another series of works called, Stop, Look and Listen Daily Meditations. Each day, I take ten minutes to sit outside. During that time, I quiet my mind and body to observe nature around me. I look, see, hear, and smell all of those things that I (we?) am too distracted to notice when I am in motion busy with life. I then take ten minutes to write about my experience and observation on a blog – http://timgaudreau.wordpress.com/. Contemporary life is busy and hectic by design and we rarely make time to connect with nature. Most of us don’t even think to take the time to stop, breathe, and observe. The theme most present for me in this exercise is how each day really is quite different from the next. In NH, we tend to think of the four seasons as static events. Winter is just cold and snowy, dead and miserable until spring miraculously arrives. But, really, it doesn’t work that way — everything is in constant flux. So, I would argue that balance is not a staged phenomenon, just that our perception of balance is a false construct. I think about balance a lot, and it is essential, ubiquitous. I just think we don’t often recognize balance as elastic, nor do we like the push or pull that results from our non-sustainable actions.
Eco-artist Tim Gaudreau is passionate about the environment and the interconnections between people and nature. His work combines photography, video, new-media, graphics, and sculpture with humor and irony to create collaborations that advocate for a greater awareness of eco-issues and empowerment. His work initiates dialogue about social and environmental issues and serves as an entryway to improve our relationship to Nature and consider each individual impact.
Awards including the Artist Advancement Fellowship from the NH Charitable Foundation, Fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and NH State Council on the Arts, and commissions from the city of Portsmouth have given Gaudreau the opportunity to create public art projects that stimulate collaboration and interaction while challenging conventional thinking. Gaudreau has traveled extensively and his intimate portraits reveal people and cultures. With residencies stretching from California, India, and South America to Laos and Africa, he has returned with lots of stories and thousands of images. His work is represented on Greenmuseum.org and has been featured in exhibits internationally, in magazines such Orion Magazine, books such as Cycle-Logical Art, Recycling Matters for Eco-Art, and on such shows as That’s Clever (HGTV), New Hampshire Chronicle (WMUR-TV), New Hampshire Outlook(NH-PTV), and The Front Porch (NHPR).
Gaudreau completed his Master of Fine Arts degree in interdisciplinary studio art and critical theory through the intensive program at the Maine College of Art in 2002. Gaudreau’s photography and design background grew from a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Hampshire completed in 1992.