In 1987, after 18 years as a professional ceramic artist/sculptor, I began creating sculpture and installations to explore the links between local daily life and environmental issues. For me, this venue retains a healthy ceramic work ethic: community-oriented, earth-based, labor-intensive, direct. More than visualizations of obvious connections (domestic to industrial; natural to human design), this genre can critique precarious situations while implying hope through community action.
Over the last 12+ years, the large scale outdoor projects have matured into clear visual symbols of ecological regeneration and restoration, positively reinforcing the use of indigenous plants and recycled materials in public urban venues.
Working with familiar objects and industrial materials culled from local waste streams, and adding organic elements such as endangered native grasses or fruit trees, I construct both large scale installations and human-scale assemblage in publicly accessible locations. Most are temporary. Many are audience interactive. Collaborations--with public school students, community action groups, community college horticulture students, public infrastructure staff, and other artists--are essential to this methodology.
The fruits of this work are the one-to-one and the public discussions it generates. The best of assemblage makes extraordinary connections between ordinary materials. Collaborative assemblage installation in community settings with indigenous materials can create positive connections between us and our environment. It's a possibility.
Artist Susan Leibovitz Steinman salvages materials directly from community waste streams to construct public art installations that connect common daily experiences to broader social issues. Projects include conceptual sculpture gardens that meld art, ecology and community action.
Major projects include
- Mandela Artscape (1998-99), Oakland, CA.
2 acre temporary (+/-3 years) installation of recycled freeway materials and native plants on West Oakland's Mandela Parkway symbolizes positive urban regeneration on new-found but degraded open space where the '89 earthquake collapsed an elevated freeway. It involved the unique cooperative participation of community residents, Caltrans, the City of Oakland, Merritt College Horticultural Landscape Department, and the Museum of Children's Art (nonprofit fiscal sponsor). Designed and managed by the artist from the ground up, the project was funded by private foundation art grant awards and Caltrans help-in-kind under its Transportation Art Program.
- California Avenue, California Native (1997), Palo Alto, CA.
"Native bunch grass & perennial wildflower meadow" as gateway median sculpture for Public Art Commission. Salvaged Sierra granite "sitting stones" replace worn benches. Existing brick sidewalks updated with new "carpets" of 100 bricks sandblasted with 3-line poetic text by public contest winners (500+ entries) describing "Quintessential California." Hand-painted banners of native flora & fauna, all with common and Latin names containing the word "California," transform existing flagpoles.
- Urban Apple Orchard (1994-95), San Francisco, CA.
One year SF Art Commission Market St. Art in Transit Program installation on a blighted Caltrans lot under elevated Freeway 101 on Market at Octavia Streets. Salvaged tires painted in shades of green delineated an orchard of 12 unique "antique" varietal apple trees & rapidly flowering hardy plants seated in a bed of recycled freeway concrete "gravel." Built with active participation of local residents, students, homeless persons, and SLUG--SF League of Urban Gardeners. Upon dismantling trees went to two local schools and a nearby public park revitalized by residents working with the City.
- The River of Hopes and Dreams (1992), San Francisco, CA.
Permanent 3 acre sculpture garden as model of reclamation, recycling & resource conservation for SF's waste transfer & recycling facility. Planted with drought tolerant plants, the centerpiece is an earthquake rubble "mountain" in homage to its western backdrop, San Bruno Mountain--a hotly contested open space. In time plants cover and transform the rubble. From the mountain, towards SF Bay, flows a concrete "river" path of ideas & pictures drawn by 75 SF high school students. Cast concrete stepping stones are embedded with materials salvaged on site--many made by facility workers. The Garden features changing Artist in Residence exhibits. 2,500+ students and visitors tour it yearly.
Large-scale temporary out-door installations
Connemara Land Conservancy, Dallas, TX.; Euphrat Museum, Cupertino; Paradise Ridge Sculpture Grove, Santa Rosa; a New York State park on the Brooklyn waterfront; a tract home condemned for toxic waste, Benicia; City of Concord Public Art Program, central park installation with at-risk teens (6 months); Waterfront Public Park, Berkeley.
Selected Gallery/Museum Venues
Oakland Museum; Judah Magnes Museum, Berkeley; San Francisco Main Public Library; SF Museum of Modern Art Rental Gallery; Bedford Regional Art Center, Walnut Creek; San Jose State University; Berkeley Art Commission Street Windows.
Co-curated "Living in Balance," eco-art exhibit, San Francisco International Airport; Richmond (CA) Art Center. Published "Directional Signs: A Compendium of Artists' Works," Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art, Suzanne Lacy, editor, (Bay Press, 1995). Co-producer (since 1996), Women Environmental Artists Directory. Taught : Visual & Public Art Institute, CA State University Monterey Bay; CA State University Hayward.
2000 Potrero Nuevo Fund Prize.