Wednesday, 31 October 2018 10:12

Let it Rain: Stacy Levy, environmental artist

Artist reaching up to touch her mobile sculpture hanging from the ceiling in blue balls.

Stacy Levy: “It feels good to go back into Pittsburgh. I’ve done a lot more in Pittsburgh since I’ve moved to Central PA –I am glad to come back in this period because Pittsburgh needs all the liveliness, warmth and togetherness that it can have.” Stacy Levy will be live on stage with Walter Hood and Alisha B. Wormsley on Thursday, November 8, 2018 at Hill House for Green Building Alliance's Inspire Speaker Series. Tickets and information, here.

JS: Your art embodies how nature works and not just as an illustration - like Rain Ravine for the Frick Environmental Center. What do you hope your work actually does?
SL: It’s a real collaboration with nature. A lot of artwork pictures how nature works, but I’ve also really tried to move my work so that it’s both collaborating with natural forces and in some cases, working to fix some issue in the landscape.

The first thing is that Rain Ravine was very much a team process. I am a big believer that some of the next environmental artworks are going to be generated in these multidisciplinary settings, because nobody has all the answers in their discipline anymore. You have to share your head in order to come up with new solutions, because the old solutions are not solving the issues. We need new solutions for how we live with nature, in the city. It’s not going to be just engineers who decide where the rain goes – because they’ve been putting the same wine in new bottles for too long – they haven’t been coming up with enough good answers. They need to open up their thinking to engage in new approaches and this is something that artists can offer engineers, architects, and landscape architects. For Rain Ravine, I worked with these three groups and they are all essential to creating a sculpture that looks good and works well.

The Frick Environmental Center project was “can you help make a building and its surrounding landscape be sustainable” because it is a Living Building Challenge. This is the second one in Pittsburgh, the first one being the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps. The idea of sustainability, I think, is best characterized by equity between nature and people, so that people are sharing their landscapes with the natural function of the Earth.

So, rain is something that happens, and thank God it does happen, because all of this moisture is what makes this landscape what it is – it sustains all of the life we have in this biome. But, we treat fallen rain like it’s a toxin – once it hits the asphalt, it something we don’t want, and that’s a big mistake, to turn something precious into a kind of pollution. This is a misdirected idea.

cascading steps with rain flowing down them, in between a building and a hillside

JS: How do you feel Rain Ravine helps people think differently about rain?
SL: Rain Ravine (pictured, above) carries the rain that has fallen onto the building’s roof down to the treatment wetlands. It’s a conveyance that allows you to see the action of the rain, how much rain there is, and it reveals the extraordinary flow of fresh water that happens between the sky and the ground. I think there is real joy to watch that water rushing down the stairway of stone. I also think it is essential to understand the presence of rain even when it’s dry and nothing is happening: the artwork is waiting to carry the rain when it does fall – like an anticipation – so the artwork has to be evocative even when it’s dry, and to create a place to sit and walk and play.

But, it’s also a magnification of the local geology and the rock formations that you see once you get into the more wild areas of the park. Rain Ravine makes a pattern that magnifies this very specific geological formation. It’s like a giant drawing of something you might miss because it’s small in the rocks that make up the stream bed - the artwork riffs on the form of exfoliating stone in the creek.

JS: On November 8, you’re going to share the stage with landscape architect Walter Hood and artist Alisha Wormsley. What do you feel are some intersections in your work and what do you hope to accomplish with this conversation?
SL: Well, I am very invested in a particular kind of equity that is about humans sharing the city with nature. And, doing a more fair distribution of what nature gets to use and what humans get to use. We’ve been building as if we’re slicing the pie and giving nature only one tiny slice and we get the rest. And, in order to live with nature, especially with the increased rains of climate change, we will have to give rain some serious real estate – more space – so it can soak in.

Blue and purple amorphous blobs in a plan showing a place for water and a place for people to coexistI think that Walter’s work shows a tremendous sensitivity to people who are moving through the space. They are not meant to be seen from a helicopter - they are great to move through. His landscapes are compassionate to people who are on the ground. He is thinking about what people want in their own experiences as they are in the landscape. I’ve looked at some of his projects and they set the stage for human interaction.

JS: Your work is about awareness, despite those who don’t believe in climate change. How can we move people from awareness to action? As artists, how can we be the change?
SL: My job as an artist is to introduce people to what nature is doing, and to celebrate it so that people want to know more about it. I want to give people a way to understand other patterns that are happening in the world that they might not have understood before. If I am really successful, I hope I make them fall in love with nature in the city, and the next time there is a zoning meeting, they stand up for the need for water to soak into the ground instead of being piped offsite. I am creating places that people and rain can share – and sharing the urban space with nature is absolutely critical and becoming even more important as we face greater frequency of storm events and a greater amount of rain that falls per storm. We used to be able to kind of ignore run-off, but it’s coming back to haunt us – the rain draws the maps, now.

Stacy Levy is an environmental artist. Her rain-based works include Rain Ravine at the Frick Environmental Center in Pittsburgh and the Rain Yard at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Philadelphia, allowing nature to show its very own patterns to the viewer. Stacy graduated from Yale University with a BA in Art and a minor in forestry.  She earned her MFA from Tyler School of Art, Temple University. She is a recipient of the Pew Fellowship in the Arts.  Ms. Levy lives in Central Pennsylvania in the Penn’s Creek Watershed.


Published in The Arts Blog