Operation Sunshine’s Joan Linder talks environment and art in Faulconer

Photo by Takahiro Omura

By Michael Cummings

cummings@grinnell.edu

Faulconer Gallery was packed Thursday afternoon for an Artists@Grinnell talk with Joan Linder ’92, the department chair of art at the University of Buffalo in New York. Linder, whose project “Operation Sunshine” focuses on the environmental impact of toxic waste in the former neighborhood of Love Canal near Niagara Falls, was also speaking as part of the Rosenfield Program’s symposium on technology and human rights.

Linder began with a brief history of her professional life as an artist, in which she has experimented with many different artistic styles. One style of drawing, which makes up a significant portion of Operation Sunshine, involves copying printed documents by hand. Linder first began experimenting with this technique in 2008.

“I started to think about my mail, and my mail as a kind of self-portrait … and thinking of print as this kind of dying form and so I decided I was gonna draw mail.”

This technique would later lend itself to meticulously copied drawings of Government records, propaganda put out by chemical companies and even Wikipedia pages about the Love Canal.

The Love Canal incident occurred in 1980 when people living in the Love Canal neighborhood, who had been complaining of high incidences of medical issues such as cancer and miscarriages, found out that the land they lived on had been used as a toxic waste dumping ground for Hooker Chemical company in the first half of the 20th century.

“Eventually, the community organized … [and] brought the EPA in, and had a lot of testing done … And Jimmy Carter agreed to move … the people to be relocated,” Linder said.

Linder’s work examines the Love Canal incident, as well as other incidences of human exposure to toxic and radioactive environments, in great detail. In fact, the name of the exhibit is derived from Project SUNSHINE, a US Military operation in the 1950s intended to test the effects of radiation on humans. In addition to drawings of important documents, the exhibit also features drawings of the relevant locations.

Operation Sunshine will remain in Faulconer Gallery until March 19.