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ART REVIEW : Environmental Plans on View in Pasadena

December 26, 1987|COLIN GARDNER

Since 1971, Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison have been creating art projects that aim to "improve the human relation with the environment." Their research into endangered ecosystems has taken them as far afield as Israel and Sri Lanka (currently the subject of "The Lagoon Cycle" at County Museum of Art, through Sunday).

Their latest project, at Art Center College of Design's downtown Pasadena gallery (through Jan. 9), brings them much closer to home. "Devil's Gate Transformation: A Refuge for Pasadena" is a proposal to reclaim the Arroyo Seco's Devil's Gate Dam area for a combination of recreation, wildlife conservation and flood control.

Located between Jet Propulsion Laboratories and the Rose Bowl, the dam was built in 1919 to prevent silt from flowing downstream during heavy winter rainfall. The resulting debris basin has subsequently become the site for illegal dumping and rock quarrying, creating both an environmental eyesore and a threat to local river ecologies.

Working in collaboration with Pasadena's Community Action for Parks, the Harrisons have presented a plan to fulfill the area's flood control needs and simultaneously create a public park and wildlife sanctuary. Panoramic aerial photographs, topographical maps and a 15-foot scale model illustrate their proposal for a raised habitat area and commons overlooking a new lake.

While one might quibble with the exhibition's grandiose claim of creating an environmental "sculpture," there's no denying the Harrisons' efficacy at eco-political activism. By working in the best agitprop tradition, the Harrisons successfully remove artificial distinctions between the art world and the "real" world. In an era when aesthetics have become seemingly synonymous with commerce and fashion, it's encouraging to note that at least some artists take their political responsibilities seriously.

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