The Walker Art Center played a pivotal role in helping realize one of Mel Chin's most important works of eco-art. In conjunction with a 1990 solo show of Chin's art at the Walker, the museum worked with the artist to create Revival Field, a phytoremediation experiment at a Superfund site near St. Paul. But aside from a short blog post I wrote about the project in 2006, Revival Field had no digital presence on the Walker website. With Chin's return to the Twin Cities this month to keynote Public Art St. Paul's 30th anniversary celebration, I set out to tell a story that we should've been told online long ago. I commissioned Peter Boswell, the former Walker curator who oversaw Chin's 1990 Viewpoints show and the Walker's lead on Revival Field, to recount the project's history and the tribulations in making it happen (it got caught up in the NEA funding battles during the early '90s Culture War), and to position the work within Chin's long and diverse career.
Revival Field was an early Chin project that was truly multidisciplinary, engaging experts in art, science, and agriculture, including Dr. Rufus Chaney, a senior research agronomist at the US Department of Agriculture Research Service, presaging later collaborative works, including other soil remediation artworks and Chin's more recent Fundred Dollar Bill Project. Writes Boswell:
Chaney told Chin that he had conducted lab research with certain plants but noted that the department lacked the funding to conduct field research to expand on the lab work. Working with Chaney, Chin developed the Revival Fieldidea as a means of using the framework of art to conduct the first field test of the process on a contaminated site. It represented an important step in the development of his art practice, in that it did not simply address social issues metaphorically or symbolically but instead sought to engage with them practically by bringing together people in different professions to collaborate toward a common goal.