Green house


With his ParaSITEs—tentlike structures attached to building vents, inflated and heated by the warm air the vents give off—Michael Rakowitz works with the homeless to create art. In 1998 he began the ongoing project by collaborating with a handful of homeless people in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to custom design seven of these portable homes. Aside from a few ParaSITEs made of vinyl and nylon, most of them are composed of plastic bags and packaging tape. One inhabitant, Bill Stone, returned his ParaSITE to Rakowitz when he no longer needed it. Still dirty and stained from its time on the streets, it now sits in the Smart Museum as part of the exhibition Beyond Green: Toward a Sustainable Art. On the wall behind Stone’s temporary shelter are a slide show about the project, sketches of other ParaSITEs, and a ParaSITE kit.

Beyond Green, which opened last Thursday, includes works by 13 artists and groups from the United States and Europe contemplating the idea of sustainable art. For many of the artists, sustainable art “must also be convenient, or aesthetically pleasing,” said docent Emily Warner, a fourth-year art-history major in the College, leading a tour group of about a half-dozen visitors Sunday. For instance, the artist collaborative JAM has produced a line of handmade, earth-friendly, cloth and leather handbags equipped with flexible solar panels, so consumers can charge small electronics such as cell phones and iPods while walking down the street. Soon JAM hopes to offer the handbags for sale. Another artist, Kevin Kaempf of People Powered, has developed both compost “tea packs”—bags of decayed organic matter made from kitchen and yard waste—and a palette of paints made from mixing together friends’, neighbors’, and strangers’ waste paints that otherwise would have been discarded.

Though exploring solutions to social problems, Warner said, the artists often see their job as raising questions and issues. Rakowitz, for instance, includes the following disclaimer as part of his ParaSITEs display: “This project does not present itself as a solution. It is not a proposal for affordable housing. Its point of departure is to present a symbolic strategy of survival for homeless existence within the city, amplifying the problematic relationship between those who have homes and those who do not have homes.”

Hana Yoo, ’07

Photos: A ParaSITE (top) and the handy handbags (bottom).

October 10, 2005