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Air Art: Living Gallery Explores Pollution

Dai Dandan’s “Crystal Rock 2” critiques contemporary Chinese culture’s turn to consumerism. By taking this rock, which is associated with China’s long, deep past, and embellishing it with rhinestones, she draws attention to how the demand for high-end consumer goods impacts the culture and the environment. Dandan’s work calls for a reevaluation of the changing societal values of her country. Though China has long practiced reusing resources, such as saving and reusing bricks and metal from a torn-down building, this practice is fading in the face of a rising capitalist China.

Feb. 7, 2014 – The University of Utah has bridged the gap between art and life with its first “living art gallery” of environmentally focused works addressing different aspects of air pollution.

Five artists – three from Beijing, which is known for having some of the worst air in the world – are creating an art exhibit in the U’s Gittins Gallery in the Art Building, 375 S. 1530 East, Feb. 3-20. They’ll work on the project from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday-Friday, and visitors are invited to experience the gallery as it is made, talk with the artists and even contribute by participating in any of the art stations available in the gallery.

“Art has long been an important component in environmental movements, and we hope this project will contribute to changes here in Salt Lake City and globally,” said Betsy Brunner, communications doctoral student at the U who spearheaded the project along with professor Kevin DeLuca. “Pollution knows no political or cultural borders, so we need to connect beyond them.”

Brunner, an outdoor enthusiast who moved to Utah for her doctoral program, is studying the intersection of images and environmental advocacy in Salt Lake and China and felt that bringing these artists to Utah would open new conversations about how to conceptualize and deal with air pollution.

“China has taken some pretty dramatic actions, such as limiting the number of driver’s licenses it gives out, expanding public transit while keeping it affordable, moving factories out of the city and forcing construction to stop on poor air quality days,” Brunner said.

The work of artists Li Gang, Huang Xu, Dia Dandan, Mei Mei Chang and Matthew Niederhauser deals directly with pollution, consumerism and the risk involved in China’s rapid expansion.

The artists will participate in a roundtable discussion, Monday, Feb. 10, 4:30–6 p.m. in the Utah Museum of Fine Arts auditorium, 410 Campus Center Dr. A closing reception will be held in the gallery Feb. 20, 6–8 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.

The project was made possible through a Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund grant, supported by student fees and available to all students who wish to engage in a sustainability focused project on campus. With matching funds from the U’s Asia Center, Confucius Institute, Global Change and Sustainability Center, Communications Department, Environmental Humanities program, Tanner Humanities Center, Art and Art History Department, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, College of Fine Art, and Villanova’s Waterhouse Family Institute, the project is truly a collaborative effort.

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