A Visit to the Eco-Doctor

Doling out environmental prescriptions on a recycled raft

| May 31, 2007

In New York's East River, on a raft made of pop bottles, sits Dr. Natalie Jeremijenko in a white lab coat and knee-high rubber boots. The engineer/artist/environmental activist is on the maiden voyage of her mobile Environmental Health Clinic -- the floating version of her New York University art department clinic that aims to transform people's environmental malaise and helplessness into constructive action. 'Patients' bob on the floating office -- where the impact of environmental degradation is at arm's reach in the water below -- and describe their environmental concerns. Then they return to the riverbank with concrete solutions.

'People come not with their health concerns but with their environmental health concerns,' says Jeremijenko (whose Dr. title comes from a Ph.D., not an M.D.) in a video accompaniment to a story in Good profiling her work at both the land- and water-based clinics. 'Instead of walking out with a prescription for pharmaceutical drugs, they walk out with a prescription for design interventions, data collection, and things they can do to address their local environmental issues and have them amount to something.' Good writer Anna Weinberg further explains: 'Concern about lead in the neighborhood might call for a prescription for planting sunflowers to detoxify the soil in the park where children play. The clinic then might ask for samples of the flowers to determine how many chemicals the plants had absorbed, while keeping detailed records that are available to the public.'

Recognized by MIT's Technology Review in 1999 as a top young innovator, Natalie Jeremijenko has a long history of using technology and art to increase public participation in engaging ways. Take, for example, her Feral Robotic Dogs project, which converts unwanted electronic robot dog toys into pollutant sniffing tools used by students and environmentalists to detect chemicals in their community. Or the How Stuff is Made project, a 'visual encyclopedia' that tracks how various products are made as well as the labor conditions and environmental impacts springing from their production. You can learn more about Jeremijenko's projects and conceptualization process at her website. Or, read a recent piece she penned for SEED detailing the innovative efforts of other artists trying to break through our collective fog on climate change with engaging new projects.

Go there >> Mad Scientist

Go there, too >> Artspeak

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