Green Studio Concept

Located on the grounds of the George Mason University’s Art and Design Campus, SoA Green Studio offers students a living studio in which to creatively explore the interdependence of biological and cultural systems. The Green Studio exists, as any working art studio does, in constant flux and develops organically through the relationship artists form with the developing ecology of the site.

The concept of an externalized art studio challenges conventional approaches to landscapes as master-planned perpetually finished products. The Green Studio also challenges the notion of the art studio as a place where artists retreat from the world, while repositioning the artist within the contingencies of a living space with its art materials embedded in a functional ecosystem. The goal of work in the Green Studio is not to create in spite of the world, but rather in relation to it. In this sense, traditional art and design concerns of creating abstract aesthetic relationships (whether on the canvas or in the landscape) are reshaped to include social and ecological relationships.

Finally, The Green Studio is not contained in any one physical space. It exists as conceptual space for exploring the role of art and design in building meaningful, creative, critical, and supportive relationships between people and the earth’s life support systems. The Green Studio can materialize anywhere and anytime an artistic act forms a conscious relationship with an ecological process, and renders the opposing concepts of “nature” and “culture” as inadequate terms for creating a sustainable future.

A History of the Green Studio

In the fall of 2009, the School of Art was given a new building on the Fairfax GMU campus. During the first semester, the grounds of the building were void of vegetation and much of the building felt very industrial. To counteract the concrete and glass, Vina Sananikone and Justin Raphael Roykovich founded SoA Green, a student group that would use art and design greening initiatives to bring awareness of ecological issues to the School of Art. Serendipitously, Mark Cooley, (a professor in the School of Art), was simultaneously planning his Agri-Arts class to launch in the fall semester of 2010. Needing an outdoor space for this class, Cooley and SoA Green worked together (with much help from The Office of Sustainability) to transform the clay landscape outside the Art and Design Building into a garden. Since the transformation, the garden at the School of Art shares two main uses: one, it acts as a student run garden of fruits, vegetables, flowers, medicinal herbs and plants for pollinators; two, it serves Cooley’s class with a permaculture studio, in which Eco-Art installations are created.

There are three main areas for the SoA Green/Agri-Arts Garden. One is by the stairs of the School of Art, leading into the Creative Quadrangle. Another is in the sculpture yard behind the building, using wooden pallets as raised beds for vegetables. The third area is in the front of the building, where a perennial wildflower garden has been planted, stretching the total length of the building.

While the initial goals of SoA Green were to simply to start greening and guerilla gardening activities at the School of Art, the garden has since become the focus of a much more ecological mindset. Conscious of the plight of Collapsed Colony Disorder and the endangerment of the monarch butterfly, flowers have been planted to specifically draw these insects into the garden. Following the example of the artist Mel Chin and his “Revival Field Project,” certain plants were put into the garden that would absorb and thrive on the minerals left behind by construction. The most visible of which are the sunflowers that have graced the stairway to the Creative Quadrangle.

The goals of the gardens at the School of Art are malleable, and will continue to take shape as new students and professors join the School of Art. It is the hope of SoA Green that these gardens will continue to be a habitat for the indigenous insects and small animals that have used the garden as nourishment and protection, that the gardens will produce a learning of self-sustainability by the growing of food and that it will provide a resource for the combination of art and design projects of an ecological nature to take place.

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