Mel Chin, Inspiration & Information

Mel Chin is an artist whom I have known little about beyond the PBS show Art21, which featured his work in their very first season in 2001.  I had the opportunity to hear him speak at Portland State University this week and I was among all ages in a crowded lecture hall, followed by a more intimate Q&A session with PSU’s graduate MFA students.  Mel is the kind of artist I respect and though he claims he never wants to change the world because it is too much responsibility, I cannot help but feel his goals are similar to that of the average librarian who wants to change the world by educating, enlightening, and actively doing something within society to make people’s lives easier.  “…The art [his art] can mutate into a science project dedicated to providing the world this information, good or bad.”

Mel spoke of his various political art endeavors.  His personal story is compelling and his work is heavily based in research, which made him far more interesting than many contemporary artists I have heard speak.  Many of his projects started with an experience that left him feeling overwhelmed, such as the Fundreds project, started after visiting New Orleans after Katrina hit.  Not only is he interested in educating people about the severe impact of lead poisoning on several cities around the U.S., he is determined to change it through this project.

Hearing him speak about empathy and his view on that word gave me hope for the art world.

The fact that he is both an artist and an information seeker, like many artists, really intrigued me.  Especially hearing him talk a little about his process.  It made me think of the interview I just finished for my 801 class and how art and information are never separate.  Effective artists tend to be skilled information seekers, curious souls and interested in the world around them and how they fit into it.  People in general want to fit into the world around them comfortably.  The information models that we have been reading about seemed applicable to Mel’s practice, which was an interesting connection to make during his lecture.

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