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New Hampshire artist puts an environmental spin on art

By Matt James

Contributing Writer

Tim Gaudreau, a devoted and well-known environmental artist and activist, sat down for an interview Friday in Portsmouth’s White Heron Coffee and Tea.  He was sporting a full, light-brown beard, a ponytail, and a plastic cup that held his coffee. He usually brings a mug from home, but had forgotten to that day.

“I’m just a guy trying to do the best I can,” said Gaudreau.  “I’m part of the culture that is screwing things up, and I have to admit that.”

That plastic cup Gaudreau was drinking out of was just one example that he used to explain he’s just a regular person, though he tries to set a good example with his life and art.

At 46-years-old and as a vegetarian of 20 years, Gaudreau currently owns 100 acres of land in Barnstead, 15 of which is used to feed himself and his wife and daughter. He has a number of environmentally engaging art projects under his belt one of which is called, “Green Furniture.”

Yep, you guessed it, it’s furniture literally made from the Earth. 

Gaudreau’s inspiration for this piece came from his “search for a commercially manufactured couch made from sustainable, non-toxic materials.”  These couches, bursting with green grass for cushions, can be seen and used for leisure in both nearby Portsmouth and Newburyport, Massachusetts.

“Nature has become an abstract concept; something that we see through a car window, passing at 55 mph,” Gaudreau states on his website. “With ‘Green Furniture’, I aim to inspire deceleration, a pause to look and observe a landscape while literally asking a potential sitter to embrace the cool, green, comfortable grass.”

One of Gaudreau’s most well known projects is called, Self-Portrait: 365 Days of Considered Consumption and can be seen at New England Institute of Art in Brookline, Massachusetts.

This work consists of 365 days of Gaudreau photographing everything that contributed to his carbon footprint with such things as, “driving to the store; the cost of growing the food [from the store, which includes fuel, fertilizer and pesticides; the packaging; the transportation of the products to the store, the utilities to keep food fresh; electricity for my own refrigerator; and finally, the disposal of the remaining packaging.”

As the overlapping photos on the high walls of the Institute of Art prove, Gaudreau literally tracked everything that contributed to his carbon footprint, every day.  He even calculated out such carbon emitters as his breathing impact, electrical and heating use, and mailing/shipping contributions. 

“I’ve always had an instinct to communicate something,” said Gaudreau on Friday afternoon.  “I see myself as an interpreter of the science and one would hope with some emotional impact.”

Gaudreau chooses to take a more self-analytical approach to his work by critiquing himself and presenting it through his art. 

He stated, “I would love to have permission to tell people what to do, but even a little success with that wouldn’t be long-lasting.  I just want to set a good example on how one should live.”

Not all of Gaudreau’s work critiques only himself, but also the society in which we live.  An example of this could be seen in a previous type of experimental art called Suburban Sprawl Development “Phase I at Branch Hill Farm 2003.”

This project took place at Moose Mountain Regional Greenways in Milton Mills.  It consisted of Gaudreau and a number of community volunteers staking out housing development plans on this protected conserved land.  Dressed to fit the part of housing and roadway development workers, the volunteers and Gaudreau himself, pounded in stakes and little orange flags to imitate the “rampant housing developments quickly spreading across New England.”

“I try to include some kind of sense of humor into all my work,” said Gaudreau.  “It’s a disarming device.”

Community members not involved in the project witnessed this imitation development occurring and came over to find out what was happening to their protected land.  After Gaudreau and his staff informed that it was only a spoof to get people to “wake-up,” they received a pamphlet on the effects of development and what they could do to slow it in their area.

“I strive to educate and advocate without pissing people off,” said Gaudreau.  “We need real, bold action now.”

A UNH graduate of 1992, Gaudreau came to this place of activist artistry around 10-11 years ago during George W. Bush’s presidency, a time when as he put it, “any activism, environmental or political issue that didn’t match up with the party in power was demonized and shut down.”  His art, at this point, changed its tone.

“These issues need to be discussed and my job is to do just that,” said Gaudreau.  “I came to this place where I’d say, ‘I don’t care if you don’t like my work, I don’t care if you don’t like me.”

A project called “h(B.E.E.)” took place in Boston at the Museum of Science and the Boston Center of the Arts.  Here, posing as the C.E.O. of a company advocating for artificial pollination rather than through the work of native bee’s, Gaudreau tried to convince the audience to invest in such a company.  Incorporating dancers to present the artificial and “ritualistic pollination” of prop trees created a sense of beauty to it all.  Really there was nothing beautiful to it because this type of business is what destroys the native honeybee populations and that is what Gaudreau tried to ultimately get across.  Gaudreau finished the whole presentation without coming out of character even throughout the audience questions at the end about what exactly they would be supporting.  In an email, Gaudreau said the “reaction ranged the full spectrum from anger to awe,” of the performance.

As an “activist-artist”, Gaudreau must be willing to accept criticism and people constantly watching to point out when he is flawed.  A number of State Legislators rejected Gaudreau’s work and tried to say it was not art after he received the NH State Council Artist Fellowship Award in 2003. 

Bringing into light and presenting your own opinions of controversial topics is exactly what keeps Gaudreau going.  You can bet that there will be plenty more controversial works and awareness project ideas coming out Gaudreau’s barn studio on his farm in the near future.

“I demand that everybody work on this problem from whatever vocation they are,” said Gaudreau.  “Very few people understand we do not need technological innovations to save us from climate change, we have the tools we need now.”

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