Conceptual artist Mary Ellen Carroll discusses her new project "Indestructible Language," a 900-foot long installation built to call attention to climate change.
GELLERMAN: Okay here’s a riddle: what’s eight feet high, 900 feet long, bright red, but green all over? Here’s a hint: it is green thinks nature even in the dark. Okay, I’ll repeat that. It is green thinks nature even in the dark. Give up?
Well, it’s called Indestructible Language. It’s a colossal new piece of conceptual artwork created by Mary Ellen Carroll. Ms. Carroll joins me on the line. Ms. Carroll, thank you very much.
CARROLL: Hi thank you.
GELLERMAN: Well, let’s help our listeners out with our riddle here. It’s 8 feet high 900 feet long and bright red but green all over. What is it?
CARROLL: My piece is a conceptual work of art. It takes the form of a neon sign comprised of 8-foot characters that roughly run about 900 linear feet on the American Cans building in New Jersey City, New Jersey
GELLERMAN: So what the red letters in neon spell out is “It is green thinks nature even in the dark.”
CARROLL: Yes, there’s a special typeface it makes it highly legible from up to four miles away. Something that you’re in an airplane flying into Newark or driving along Polaski Fifth Highway or on the Jersey Turnpike it’s going to be visible.
GELLERMAN: What’s the overall message there?
CARROLL: Well, the message is green. You know that we know global warming and global climate change exist. Green has a number of meanings and connotations. I mean we can talk about green colloquially, right, as money. And one of the big issues in terms of global climate change is the amount of money that’s being invested.
GELLERMAN: So, it is green refers to both money and environment. Thinks is about, well, thinking right?
CARROLL: What distinguishes human beings from other animals? I mean it’s the ability to engage in cognitive processes. And I think that given the amount of information it’s important to bring it back to the individual.
GELLERMAN: Nature obviously nature.
CARROLL: Well, nature we needed, you know there had to be another way of making it larger in the sense of being surrounded but then also to put it back to an exterior or something that was outside of ourselves.
GELLERMAN: And even in the dark.
CARROLL: It’s a question of having the information and how you choose to react or not to react. So do you choose to remain in the dark or do you choose to somehow affect the problem in some way?
GELLERMAN: Do you think people are actually going to get the message? Are they going to go, “huh?”
CARROLL: Oh, well, that’s a good question. You know one of the things that I keep hearing is the head scratching. It’s better to be scratching your head than I guess other parts.
GELLERMAN: Where did you get the idea for indestructible language?
CARROLL: Ahh It took a long time. Basically what I did was I created excel spreadsheets and came up with over 200 phrases. This was one of the top 5 in terms of being the most effective. You know, as an artist I’m not creating slogans or jargon. I mean that would be advertising. And it’s also not poetry. There’s a specificity to what it’s supposed to do and how it’s supposed to read.
GELLERMAN: I can just see a pilot coming in from some distant country flying into Newark airport for the first time and seeing, you know, “it is green thinks nature even in the dark” in bright neon letters on this old can company.
CARROLL: Uh huh.
GELLERMAN: And going, “what?!”
CARROLL: We can only hope that he makes an announcement over the PA system.
GELLERMAN: Marry Ellen Carroll is a member of the Precipice Alliance, a group of artists that’s using their artwork to draw attention to global warming. The collaborator’s first piece called “Indestructible Language” can be seen on the New Jersey Turnpike right near Newark airport and the Polaski Skyway.
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