Jeff Lovett makes some of the most unsightly, tragic parts of Appalachia appear beautiful. A graduate student in sculpture and expanded practice, he spent last summer capturing images of acid mine drainage from abandoned coal mines, which can pollute regional watersheds.
“Attention needs to be drawn to this,” Lovett says. “These towns became this way because of short-term, profit-driven thinking. One hundred years later we’re suffering environmental damage.”
Lovett displayed this work last fall in “The Crude and the Rare,” a group exhibition on extractive industries and the value of natural resources at the Cooper Union, a college in New York City.
The runoff from century-old mines is highly acidic and full of heavy metals, which can give the streams an orange or white tint. Lovett wanted to document that damage “in a way that’s fair and that also shows problems with documentation,” he says.
To create the most neutral images possible, he removed his point-of-view. He took the lid off his scanner, Velcroed it to the back of his tablet PC, and connected the two. He next placed the laptop beside streams and scanned the three-dimensional environment. The resulting images combine rich textures and colors with lines and errors from the machine.
“There’s a really nice honesty in that record,” Lovett says.
The act of creating art out of the region’s concerns was also a way of going beyond himself. Because he tends to view art as self-referential and self-involved, Lovett says he favors science. However, science has its disadvantages as well, he notes: “Science fails because it describes things in too much detail, in a way you can’t relate to. Art gives you a portal.”