Aviva Rahmani: 2009 AHN Awardee

“Art has the capacity to ask questions, provoke the imagination and present new paradigms for thought and meaning. Have we ever faced a more urgent time to ask the right questions?” ~ Aviva Rahmani

The Arts & Healing Network is delighted to present one of the 2009 AHN Awards to Aviva Rahmani. For over forty years, Aviva has been creating eco-art installations and remediation earthworks that have had concrete results, such as the restoration of a dump site to a flourishing wetland system in her Ghost Nets project, and catalyzing a USDA expenditure of $500,000 to restore 26 acres of critical wetlands habitat in her Why Blue Rocks? project. In her current project, Gulf to Gulf, Aviva is observing the impact of global warming on the Gulf of Maine and the Gulf of Mexico with a focus on New Orleans, and the end product will include several annual public performances.

The Arts & Healing Network admires the way Aviva weaves art and science together to inspire significant positive change. We also applaud her for being such a good, generous communicator by offering her podcast series on environmental art called Virtual Concerts. We look forward to her forthcoming publication, What the World Needs is a Good Housekeeper: An Ecological Art Field Guide, a primer on creating site-specific environmental art.

To learn more about Aviva’s work, please visit her website.

Below is an interview by Arts & Healing Network Director, Mary Daniel Hobson with Aviva Rahmani from August 2009:

Mary Daniel: Do you believe art can be a catalyst for healing?

Aviva: Art, such as nature or spiritual experience, has the capacity to heal by taking us out of the limits of our selves. "The Impact of Culture on Creativity" (download a PDF copy here) is a study prepared for the European Commission in June 2009 and it concluded that the arts benefit every sector of society, including economic progress, by opening the mind to new possibilities.

As an ecological artist, I am acutely aware that there are practical implications for environmental degradation and restoration. In conversations with Ed Maibach, an author of the recent Yale/George Mason University study on public attitudes towards global warming, it was clear that art, combined with hard data, can dramatically impact thinking. The collaborative partnerships that often arise between scientists and ecological artists, for example, can result in innovative environmental insight as well as new models for aesthetic expression.

Last year, shortly after the election, I wrote to President Obama:

Dear President Barack Obama,

Thank you for reviving hope in the world. I am writing to ask you to include the power of art to address environmental and economic problems in that hope. Globally, where art goes, prosperity follows. Since 1989, funding for individual artists has atrophied in this country. Meanwhile, a growing genre of "Ecological Artists" has emerged, working internationally, side by side with scientists, engineers, city planners, community activists and others to find novel solutions to environmental degradation and threat. Art has the capacity to ask questions, provoke the imagination and present new paradigms for thought and meaning. Have we ever faced a more urgent time to ask the right questions? Contemporary art in the USA has thrived despite the efforts of the conservative movement towards silencing us.

The confluence of economic shifts, energy transitions and climate warming represent an opportunity for your administration to tap into the promise art can bring to the table, at a time when the world needs ALL players, as never before. I urge you to be open to these ideas, investigate them on sites that host this work, such as the Arts & Healing Network and the GreenMuseum and consider the enormous value art can bring to the table now.

Since writing that letter, I have committed to completing a dissertation topic, Trigger Point Theory as Aesthetic Activism, a Z-Node Program of the Institute for Cultural Studies, Zurich University of the Arts with the University of Plymouth, United Kingdom. My research will systematically explore how viable the theories are that I have developed, while applying the skills of art to ecological disruption for large system restoration and healing, based in my previous ecological artwork.

Mary Daniel: The theme uniting all the Arts & Healing Network Awardees this year is WATER. Please talk a bit about how your work is inspired by healing the waters of our world.

Aviva: My present work, Gulf to Gulf, compares the impact of global warming from the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf of Maine by looking at gulf regions internationally. It has brought me to seriously consider the possibility that ocean dead zone could dramatically expand in our lifetime. This, along with the prospect of losing fresh water (even as human populations and sources of pollution continue to explode) and sea water intrusion overcoming coastal zones, make a preoccupation with water key to my thinking now. Gulf to Gulf is premised on the idea that all disciplines and means need to be drawn into the dialogue about how we will survive our present. Art is the fulcrum for the understanding, innovation and communications that will meet that need.

Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for other artists wishing to create positive change in the world?

Aviva: Location, location, location…affiliate yourself with other groups. Some artists, such as Beverly Naidus, who recently wrote Arts for Change, have affiliated with activist groups. I have chosen to work primarily with scientists. It is important find your community and to challenge the tendency of artists, especially visual artists, to isolate. I think it is very difficult to be effective as an isolated individual. I believe that change on the scale necessary today demands great openness from us all, especially to each other. The rest is homework: research, craftsmanship, being responsible in all our dealings with the world and our colleagues, and knowing what moves you at the heart of your vision.

Mary Daniel: So many artists write to us at the Arts & Healing Network looking for funding and support. Do you have any advice you might offer them?

Aviva: People often tell artists that the joy of the work is its own reward, but after a number of years that wears thin and certainly doesn’t pay the bills. Teaching jobs are scarce and ecological art is a hard one to sell to the public, but that’s not a reason to be a martyr. When I was in school, my good friend
Alison Knowles advised me to master graphics so that I’d always have a job. That was good advice and has also served me as a fine artist. Younger artists are more willing than my generation was to learn how to operate their practice as a business. Jackie Battenfield recently did a great book, The Artist’s Guide, that I think is very useful. I think attitudes and economic opportunities will rapidly change in the next few years as people increasingly see the value of engaging artists in solving environmental problems. Europe is already way ahead of the Untied States in recognizing that value. Meanwhile, it’s a good idea to take care of your inventory of artifacts for when you get famous and ready to be rich.

Mary Daniel: Please share one book, person, or resource that has deeply inspired you in your creative work.

Aviva: Martin Buber's I and Thou, because all art is a spiritual exercise in intimacy and courage.

Mary Daniel: Is there anything else you would like to say or share?

Aviva: I think it’s wonderful that there are so many of us healing artists, and that there are sites and people, such as those at the Arts and Healing Network that support and promote these ideas. It is both humbling and inspiring to be included.

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