Michael and Yhelena Hall: ArtDiversions

Aug 15, 2015

Michael and Yhelena Hall featured on ArtDiversions, a blog by Amy Haddad.


Creating artwork that generates awareness to environmental issues is nothing new. Agnes Denes famously created “Wheatfield” in 1982. Two acres of wheat were planted and harvested in a Manhattan landfill—a symbolic move to underscore ecological concerns, waste and mismanagement, among other issues. More recently, artist Olafur Eliasson and geologist Minik Rosing debuted “Ice Watch” in 2014: over 100 tons of ice were brought from Greenland to Copenhagen’s City Hall Square to represent climate change. But Michael and Yhelena Hall’s thought-provoking installation at The Mission in Chicago does more than draw attention to the environment. It displays practical solutions to contemporary problems.

Descending the stairs to the gallery’s lower-level, called the Sub-Mission, visitors see and hear the Halls’ exhibition, “Wilderness and Household,” a three-part installation. Visitors cannot miss the two box fans stacked on top of each other, occupying the middle of the room. One fan, plugged into an electrical outlet, blows air against another fan that is repurposed as a wind turbine. With the aid of a generator, this wind turbine produces electricity and powers a third, oscillating fan. But why a wind turbine in an art gallery?

Looking for visual clues, visitors notice a triptych on one wall. It consists of cast concrete intermixed with cardboard fragments from consumer products, such as packaging from a DiGiorno pizza box and Cheeze-Its box; two individual concrete collages occupy a second wall. The third wall consists of a series of photographs of a nearby Chicago overpass, documenting where a similar concrete collage was designed and installed for restoration, to “level breaks and voids,” as the gallery puts it.

A revelation of the show is the relevance to contemporary culture: posing recycled goods and renewable resources as solutions to environmental problems. Some may see the mixing of consumer products with building materials as a nod to the ubiquitous commodity culture and its permanence in society. Others may view the concrete collages in Chicago’s urban infrastructure through the lens of recycling. Indeed, the turbine running in the center of the room also points to using resources productively. In this instance, the turbine uses energy sources that never run out, such as wind, to power a fan.

Wind turbines, a form of renewable energy, are increasing their presence as alternative energy sources. The Economist reports in an August 2015 article that wind accounted for 4.4% of the electricity in America; by 2030 it could contribute 20% of its electricity, according to a current Department of Energy report. Making a wind turbine for an art gallery not only points to the increasing use of renewable energy. But it also reveals an answer to our over-consumptive lives: be efficient with goods and resources.

Like all great art, this show makes you think. That said, the physical manifestations, both in and out of the gallery, making up this exhibition suggest how art can be a catalyst for environmental change. More than merely highlighting environmental problems, this show successfully demonstrates environmental solutions in the name of art.

Related Artists:

Michael and Yhelena Hall,