A Visit to the Eco-Doctor

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.

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