Sustainability director depicts ephermeral art, encourages “creative problem solving”

Geneseo holds a true diamond in the rough on its campus. Dan DeZarn is the college’s director of sustainability and the former chair of the art department. But chiefly, DeZarn is an artist who strives to create sustainable pieces. DeZarn and the Office of Sustainability have partnered with Geneseo’s Art Club, Nature Walk Club and the Roemer Arboretum to host the Ephemeral Art Festival, a three-part event beginning with a lecture on sustainable art by DeZarn himself.

The talk, which took place on Wednesday Oct. 19, had DeZarn discussing his own work as well as the Earth Art of the late 1960s, both of which he hopes will serve as creative inspiration for the second leg of the festival. The second part was an art-making session in the Roemer Arboretum on the south side of campus. The final event of the festival will be an exhibit of the art made at the Arboretum on Thursday Oct. 27 at Cricket’s Coffee Shop.

DeZarn will expectantly share some of his skills and techniques during the creative session at the Arboretum. He wants his viewers to “not know [his art] is art”—a goal that is easily achieved through his exclusive use of natural and recycled materials. The pieces—which are not meant to last forever—have focused on gradual natural processes, with the goal to bring the viewer back to each piece repeatedly, allowing them to observe the phases that each go through as their natural materials change and deteriorate.

His piece “The Bridge That Connects Two Places That No Longer Exist” was a bridge constructed of metal dripping with a honey-like candy. Over time, the candy eventually fell completely from the bridge, leaving the metal structure to stand alone.

“A Study of Lightness, Proximity and Function” was composed of several wooden structures in the likeness of power lines, built to mimic DeZarn’s own measurements. Attached to these were sets of helium balloons that then carried the sculptures away across the landscape. DeZarn captured their flight with photography, but never knew where they ended up.

In addition to his individual pieces, DeZarn has participated in collaborative projects, such as “Pulled Resources,” which he worked on with Thomas Sturgill. A series of large-scale ephemeral pieces, the project focused on reacting to issues of climate change and processing those issues through an artistic lens.

In particular, one piece aptly titled “Bootstraps” critiques the lack of help given to those affected by Hurricane Katrina during the first few weeks of the storm, the people who were told to “pull up their bootstraps” and to help themselves. The piece takes the form of rafts and stilts built from the wood of a demolished house.

Sustainability is not just an artistic interest for DeZarn, however; he is constantly integrating it into his personal life, as well. He built his entirely sustainable house from the ground-up with his wife, who is also an artist, and is still working on it today, constantly making updates.

With the house, the two are striving to achieve “a beautiful means of living,” one that is completely hands on. As the building progressed, many of its elements actually doubled as minimalist pieces exhibited in galleries. Of this work—which arguably is largest to date—DeZarn said, “It’s a freaky and weird way to make art; it’s become bigger than me.”

DeZarn laments the scarcity of art on the campus. He is a true believer in the power of artists as “creative problem solvers.” His involvement in the Ephemeral Arts Festival plays a vital role in bringing creativity back to Geneseo. He hopes the program will inspire students to think about what we use and what we leave behind. With his help, the upcoming festival events should prove to do just that.