Mel Chin on his Varied "Conceptual Art" Projects about History, Violence, Public Heath, and More

Feb 12, 2016

Host Jonathan Judaken talks with world-renowned conceptual artist Mel Chin before his upcoming lecture at Rhodes: "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again - Our Place in the Age of a Dystopian Future."


Artist Mel Chin discusses his many projects, and helps to define conceptual art, a term with which many people feel they don’t necessarily connect. In the catalog to the show, Rematch, a retrospective on his work, Miranda Lash writes, “Mel Chin has been labeled a conceptual artist, not only because of the primacy of ideas in his work, but also as a means of explaining the diversity of his practice. Since the mid-1970s, he has explored making art in a broad spectrum of media, including sculpture, painting, drawing, video, film, video games, performance, and the development of scientific protocols.”

Chin also insinuates art into unlikely places, including destroyed homes, toxic landfills, and even popular television, investigating how art can provoke greater social awareness and responsibility. He developed Revival Field (1989-ongoing), a project that has been a pioneer in the field of “green remediation,” the use of plants to remove toxic, heavy metals from the soil. From 1995-1998 he formed the collective, the GALA Committee, that produced In the Name of the Place, a conceptual public art project conducted on American prime-time television. 

Operation Paydirt/Fundred Dollar Bill Project

In KNOWMAD, Chin worked with software engineers to create a video game based on rug patterns of nomadic people facing cultural disappearance. His film, 9-11/9-11, a hand-drawn, 24 minute, joint Chilean/USA Production, won the prestigious Pedro Sienna Award, for Best Animation, National Council for the Arts and Cultures, Chile, in 2007. Chin also promotes “works of art” that have the ultimate effect of benefiting science, as in Revival Field, and also in the recent Operation Paydirt/Fundred Dollar Bill Project, an attempt to make New Orleans a lead-safe city. These projects are consistent with a conceptual philosophy, which emphasizes the practice of art to include sculpting and bridging the natural and social ecology.

On February 18th, 2016 at 6 pm at Rhodes College, Mel Chin will give the keynote lecture for the symposium, “Memphis: Art and Place,” which will be a set of discussions around Memphis about art and social change. 

To learn more about Mel Chin, you can visit his fascinating website.

To learn more about the Communities in Conversation series at Rhodes College, you can visit their Facebook page.