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Revival Field: Projection & Procedure
Mel Chin
unframed 16.75 × 22 × 0.25 inches
color Xerox on paper, mounted on foam core board
Not on view

Object Details

Drawings and Watercolors (Drawings)
Accession Number
front, details

online content Museum: Background Information Walker Art Center, 2003

Sculptor Mel Chin explores ways that art can provoke greater social awareness and responsibility. His interest in the environment has led him to collaborate with scientists and government agencies to create work that transcends traditional sculpture. In 1990 he began a lengthy residency at the Walker Art Center to create an installation titled Revival Field: Projection & Procedure. He worked with scientists to design gardens of hyperaccumulators–plants that can draw heavy metals from contaminated soil. The site of an old landfill near downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, was selected. The contaminated earth was enclosed with a chain-link fence and divided by paths that form an X. The project’s boundaries were marked by a square. Chin conceived of these overlays as a target, a metaphorical reference to the work’s pinpoint cleanup. The divisions were also functional, separating different varieties of plants from each other for study.

Revival Field and the National Endowment for the Arts

In 1990 the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition Education Fund submitted a proposal to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to fund Mel Chin’s work on Revival Field. Despite recommendations by committees who reviewed the proposal, the director of the NEA rejected the application, citing questions of aesthetic quality not addressed in the proposal.

Mel Chin, Revival Field: Projection & Procedure (1990), from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.

Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center

online content Science: Hyperaccumulators Walker Art Center, 2003

Plant list for year one, Revival Field:
Alpine pennycress (Thlaspi caerulescens, Derbyshire ecotype)
Alpine pennycress (Thlaspi caerulescens, Belgium ecotype)
Bladder campion (Silene cucubalus, Palmerton ecotype)
Corn, Cd-accumulating type Zea mays L.
Red fescue (Festuca rubra, cultivar “Merlin”)
Romaine lettuce (Lactuca sativa, cultivar “Paris Island”)

Dr. Rufus L. Chaney, research agronomist at the U. S. Department of Agriculture Soil-Microbial Systems Laboratory and adviser on the Revival Field project, describes the sculpture:

From a scientific viewpoint, this piece … is a field test of a new technology to remove selected heavy metals (zinc, cadmium, nickel) from polluted soils in place. In this method, unusual “hyperaccumulator” plant species are grown on polluted soils. (Hyperaccumulator plants pull toxic metals from the polluted soil through their root systems. Normal plants, for instance, stop growing when the amount of zinc in their leaves reaches more than 500 milligrams per kilogram. Hyperaccumulator plants can still grow with up to 250,000 milligrams of zinc per kilogram in their leaves.) When a large biomass (refers to the size of the plant) has grown, the plants are cut and dried like hay, and baled for transport. The plant is burned to concentrate the ore (toxic metal). The site manager could control erosion, and use fertilizers and soil pH modifying agents to maintain high uptake of metal over time until the plants have removed sufficient of the pollutant metals that the site is no longer an environmental hazard. For more highly polluted soils, a longer period may be required to achieve bioremediation. The value of metals recovered can offset the cost of the “green remediation” technology, greatly reducing the economic cost to society. Further, no landfills are needed for the deposit of polluted soil.

Science: Hyperaccumulators, from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.

Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center

online content Place: Pig’s Eye Dump Walker Art Center, 2003

The Pig’s Eye Dump is located on the Mississippi River floodplain east of downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, east of the Mississippi River, northeast of the Metropolitan Council Environmental Services Metro Wastewater Treatment Plant, and northwest of Pig’s Eye Lake.

Pig’s Eye Dump operated from 1956 to 1972, accepting waste from communities, businesses, and industries in the eastern metro area. Much of it was deposited in wetlands on the property. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) records show that an estimated 8.3 million cubic yards of waste were disposed of on the 250-acre property. This makes Pig’s Eye Dump the largest dump in the state to operate without a permit.

From 1977 to 1985, the Metropolitan Waste Control Commission also used the site for the disposal of sludge ash. An estimated 236,000 cubic yards of ash were placed on top of old garbage in compliance with a solid-waste permit issued by the MPCA.

The MPCA listed Pig’s Eye on the state superfund list, the Permanent List of Priorities, in 1989. The Minnesota Superfund program, like its larger federal namesake, deals with sites where past disposal of hazardous wastes poses a potential or actual threat to health or the environment. Superfund provides public funding under certain circumstances, but the state prefers to have the parties responsible for the problem undertake investigation and cleanup whenever possible. The MCPA began the process of identifying such parties at the Pig’s Eye site in 1990. Subsequent investigation, and cleanup if needed, will proceed when responsible parties are identified.

Using a federal ranking system that helps to assess the risk posed to the environment, Pig’s Eye scored 42.5 on a scale of 0 to 100. Among the specific environmental risks: - Discharges to Pig’s Eye Lake, which exceed water-quality standards for polychlorinated biphenyls, lead, boron, cobalt, aluminum, zinc, ammonia, chloride, and mercury - High levels of lead in the soil where lead-acid batteries were dumped - Garbage, debris, and drums–some containing unknown substances–exposed by erosion from Battle Creek, which flows through the site and empties into Pig’s Eye Lake - Lead- and cadmium-contaminated sediments in Pig’s Eye Lake and on the shoreline –From the MPCA Agency Wide Fact Sheet, August 19, 1991

Place: Pig’s Eye Dump, from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.

Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center

artist statement Artist: Mel Chin Mel Chin,

“Conceptually, this work is envisioned as a sculpture involving the reduction process, a traditional method used to carve wood or stone. Here the material being approached is unseen and the tools will be biochemistry and agriculture. The work in its most complete incarnation (after the fences are removed and the toxin-laden weeds harvested) will offer minimal visual and formal effects. For a time, an intended invisible aesthetic will exist that can be measured scientifically by the quality of a revitalized earth. Eventually that aesthetic will be revealed in the return of growth to the soil.”
–Mel Chin

Mel Chin on Revival Field (1990), from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.

Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center