Mel Chin

Mel Chin was born in Houston to Chinese parents in 1951, the first of his family born in the United States, and was reared in a predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhood. He worked in his family’s grocery store, and began making art at an early age. Though Chin is classically trained, his art is both analytical and poetic and evades easy classification. Alchemy, botany, and ecology are but a few of the disciplines that intersect in his work. He insinuates art into unlikely places, including destroyed homes, toxic landfills, and even popular television, investigating how art can provoke greater social awareness and responsibility. Unconventional and politically engaged, his projects also challenge the idea of the artist as the exclusive creative force behind an artwork.

“The survival of my own ideas may not be as important as a condition I might create for others’ ideas to be realized,” says Chin, who often enlists entire neighborhoods or groups of students in creative partnerships. In Knowmad, Chin worked with software engineers to create a video game based on rug patterns of nomadic peoples facing persecution. Chin also promotes works of art that have the ultimate effect of benefiting science or rejuvenating the economies of inner-city neighborhoods. In Revival Field, Chin worked with scientists to create sculpted gardens of hyperaccumulators—plants that can draw heavy metals from contaminated areas—in some of the most polluted sites in the world.

Chin received a BA from Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1975, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988 and 1990. He lives in North Carolina.

Links:
Artist’s website
Fundred project website

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Conversation Starter

How can art be a tool for civic engagement?

Investigating stories of silenced or marginalized communities, artists have employed their practices as tools for effecting change.

Interview

Mel Chin’s Fundred Project Takes the Next Step

Mel Chin discusses the evolution of the Fundred Project, an art initiative that has expanded nationwide to end lead poisoning.

Teaching with Contemporary Art

Creating a Platform for New Voices

Art21 Educator, Marie Elcin, describes the impact of the social practice artworks and being inspired by the work of Mel Chin.

Teaching with Contemporary Art

Decay: Ecology of a Nurse Log

Educator-in-Residence Tricia Fitzpatrick uses the curiosity of a student to prompt a lesson on sustainable ecosystems.

Deep Focus

ICP’s Momentous and Magnificent Perpetual Revolution: The Image and Social Change

Rachel Heidenry reviews the exhibition “Perpetual Revolution: The Image and Social Change” at the International Center of Photography, 2017.

Interview

“Knowmad”

Mel Chin discusses his 1999 interactive video installation KNOWMAD.

Interview

“Revival Field”

Artist Mel Chin discusses the inspiration for his 1991 land art piece, Revival Field.