Among the leading pioneers of the eco-art movement, the collaborative team of Newton and Helen Mayer Harrison (often referred to simply as “the Harrisons”) have worked for almost forty years with biologists, ecologists, architects, urban planners and other artists to initiate collaborative dialogues to uncover ideas and solutions which support biodiversity and community development. Their visionary projects have focused on watershed restoration, urban renewal, agriculture and forestry issues among others. Results included changes in governmental, environmental policy and have expanded the conversation around previously unexplored issues leading to practical implementations throughout the United States and Europe.
The Harrison’s concept of art embraces a breathtaking range of disciplines. They are historians, diplomats, ecologists, investigators, emissaries and art activists. Their work involves proposing solutions and involves not only public discussion, but extensive mapping and documentation of these proposals in an art context.
The Harrison collaboration begins in 1969-70 with a mapping they made of endangered species around the world for an exhibition called “Fur and Feathers” at the Museum of Crafts in New York City. They then collectively made the decision to do no work that did not benefit ecosystems. Their collaboration was almost immediately successful. Ultimately it led to the first husband and wife shared professorship at the University of California, San Deigo.
In the early 70’s their work was about urban farming. They constructed fish farms, portable orchards and flat pastures in such places as the Hayward Gallery in London and the New National Gallery in Berlin, The Houston Museum of Contemporary Art, The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and various university galleries. Over time, a considerable body of literature on their work emerged and they became widely known as pioneers in the field of activist art with a focus on Art and Ecology, utilizing a whole systems perspective while collaborating extensively with members of the scientific community as well as urban and regional planners.