Aaron Dysart on sustainability and art

Aaron Dysart on U.S.S. Soap Boat 
Aaron Dysart on U.S.S. Soap Boat 
Photo by Mark Jackson

Aaron Dysart, whose Celebrate sculpture made a splash at this year's Northern Spark Festival, is giving two presentations this week. Tonight, he's at Amsterdam Bar for a Beaker and Brush talk with Dr. John Schade (associate professor of ecology at St. Olaf College) about the relationship between art and science. On Thursday, Dysart will give a longer lecture with Guy Snover at Franconia Sculpture Park, where the two are currently artists in residence.

Artificial Limb by Aaron Dysart 
Artificial Limb by Aaron Dysart 
Photo by the artist

Dysart has always been interested in science. In 2008/2009, he received a fellowship from Public Art Saint Paul to research sustainability. He then received another fellowship to lead Hunting and Gathering Walks, a program where he led walks with scientists. That's where he met Dr. John Schade, and began having deeper conversations about science and sustainability. "My work has always been trying to figure out how it relates to my surroundings," he says. "I feel somehow distanced from them even though I'm an animal, and I'm interested in what problems that causes."

Dysart thinks about sustainability along the same lines as William McDonough, who wrote the book Cradle to Cradle Design. "If I asked you about your relationship with your partner, and you said you 'were sustaining,' I would feel bad for you," Dysart says. "You want to progress it. The notion of sustainability has been coached into more of a diet mentality, with people assuming they can go back as soon as they've reached their goal." Instead, he says, sustainability should be something people want to do, rather than something done out of guilt. 

Dysart explores issues of sustainability by creating extreme examples of human error in trying to "fix" the environment. For example, one recent work of his, which currently can be viewed at Silverwood Park, features an artificial limb for a tree he had made of fiberglass. The tree had lost its limb, so Dysart created a new one. "It looks goofy," he says, "and it doesn't benefit the tree. I'm earnestly doing things, but a lot of them fail."
Regrowth by Aaron Dysart 
Regrowth by Aaron Dysart 
Image by the artist

In a similar project, Dysart created a boat out of soap, which he rowed along Mississippi River. "I'm trying to bring awareness to the knee-jerk reactions of doing good," he says. "I'm always scared that what we do as a species, thinking it's for the good of the environment, but it's actually biased toward what we think is good for ourselves." Luckily, the soap wasn't actually bad for the river, as he did quite a bit of research to make sure he wasn't polluting. In the end, he was trying to bring awareness to how we should think solutions all the way through.

In a recent project, what Dysart had thought would be a gaudy ended up being rather beautiful. For this year's Northern Spark Festival, he decided to give a giant maple tree at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts a party. "It deserved it because it is so beautiful," he says. He hung five large disco balls in its canopy, and installed professional spotlights in the tree as well. Though he thought it would be rather garish, the end result ended up turning meditative, subtly referencing light coming through the leaves. "It was mesmerizing and transfixing," he says, which was not his intention. The unexpected benefit was that people appreciated the tree when they had never noticed it before. 

"Throughout all my work I'm trying to get the human ego out of things," he says. "The fact that it didn't come out exactly as I thought it would -- that's okay. I don't know exactly what's going to happen." 

The lecture tonight at Amsterdam Bar with John Schade is going to be about Dysart's conflicted emotions on how the individual fits into everything. "I feel that I need to be more of an animal within the system," he says. "How do we revert back and think back as animals and push past our impulses as well?"

Celebrate by Aaron Dysart 
Celebrate by Aaron Dysart 
Photo by Jayme Halbritter

On Thursday, he will be lecturing along with Guy Snover for Franconia Sculpture Park's 3D symposium series. Dysart is a resident artist at Franconia through July. The piece he's working on involves cutting down a limb from a cottonwood tree that's dying because it's infested with ants. He plans to make a fiberglass shell around the tree, after which the tree will be removed, and lit internally. "I see it as a ghost tree," he says. "It'll be glowing at night, referencing the trees around it."


Beaker and Brush
Featuring Aaron Dysart and John Schade
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 10
Amsterdam Bar
6 W. Sixth St., St. Paul

3D Symposium
Franconia Sculpture Park
29836 St. Croix Trail, Franconia
8 p.m. Thursday, July 12
You may also reserve a spot for dinner before hand at 6 p.m. by calling 651.257.6668.
The lecture is free; dinner costs $10

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Franconia Sculpture Park

29836 St. Croix Trail
Shafer, MN 55074


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