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Working By Any Means Necessary: A Conversation with Mel Chin
by Jeffry Cudlin


Mel Chin refuses to be pinned down, hemmed in, or otherwise restricted from pursuing whatever concept fires his imagination—in whatever medium seems appropriate. The Houston-born artist began his career making sculptures based on research into ancient cultures, social issues, and geopolitical subterfuges. But after a 1989 solo show at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, he appeared to jump track, abandoning object-making for the less familiar territory of conceptual art based on botany, ecology, and hands-on collaboration with scientists and government officials. In his redefining project Revival Field (1993), he attempted to reclaim 60 square feet of toxic soil in a St. Paul, Minnesota, landfill. To do this, Chin and his collaborator, Rufus Chaney, relied on plants called hyper-accumulators, which can draw heavy metals like zinc and cadmium out of the earth through their root systems. Though Chin has subsequently been tagged as an environmental artist, he has followed many divergent paths, also working in recent years with comic books, animated films, and even commercial television.

Safehouse, 2006–ongoing.
Existing house, stainless steel, steel, wood, plywood, 12,000 brass thumbtacks, 6,000 hand-drawn Fundreds, and mixed media. Part of Operation Paydirt, located at 2461 North Villere St., New Orleans.


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