Maria A. P. Woolson
Art in Public Spaces

The Gift of a Different Gaze: A Social-Environmental Imagination of Collective Meaning in Helen Escobedo’s Open-Space Installations, 1997-2010

At the turn of the 21st Century, ecocriticism has broaden its analytical lens, from nature-writing to  other forms of artistic expression. Important contributions in eco-critical analytical include a shifting visibility to contemporary issues of temporality, environmental justice and (in)equality among other things. This paper examines the open-air installations of Mexican sculptor Helen Escobedo, from 1997 to the year of her death, and explores how these artworks act as interventions in physical and discursive landscapes that by nature embed and encode a series of ontologies and epistemologies. Reversing the observer’s expectations as if by accident, Escobedo’s works are aesthetically in search of a language capable of transforming material space into a metaphor. Contextually conceived, aesthetically stimulating and situated in dialogue with the place and community where each piece is envisioned, this epistemological-aesthetic intersection functions as an assemblage of referential information bound to be reconstituted, reinterpreted and resignified by the observer. Ultimately, the central participatory role conferred on the viewer reveals an understanding of the role that collective meaning plays in seeking sustainable living: one that integrates “Us” with “Others.” Rather than presenting the pieces as objects of concrete visibility to the spectator, her pieces generate processes that involve public’s participation. In this way, the meaning is neither predetermined nor in search of an audience, but produced in dialogue with the audience. Offering a different gaze, the artistic works  of Helen Escobedo become a communal experience of environmental imagination: while the dialogue may have a beginning and an end, the meaning that is produced lives on.
Natura Loquens/Natura Agens. Carmen Flys & Juan Ignacio Oliva, Eds. Forthcoming.