Osborne’s ‘Reclamation’ exhibit offers hopeful vision of humanity, planetary future

Bat Gate Cave

John Sabraw, “Bat Gate Cave AMD Seep, Sulfur Springs, Ohio,” photo courtesy of Ben Siegel 

Story by Madeleine Boyson and Shelby Skumanich

Complex problems require creative solutions, and artists are visionaries by nature.  

Resource extraction created the world as we know it, yet our technologies have come at great cost to global ecosystems, climate stability, and human health. In industrial vernacular, “reclamation” is a process by which post-extraction landscapes are returned to “natural” or economically viable states. So what might happen if artists — instead of or alongside mining companies, engineers, and scientists — were given the opportunity to re-envision resource removal and extraction sites?   

This is the driving question behind the exhibition Reclamation: Recovering Our Relationship with Place, the brainchild of Erika Osborne, associate professor of painting, and part of the global art intervention Extraction: Art on the Edge of the AbyssReclamation features the work of celebrated artists Matt Kenyon, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Mary Mattingly, John Sabraw, “Ecosexuals” Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens, and Cedra Wood. These visionaries use humor, poetry, and science to present futures in which humanity reimagines its relationship to the land, and extraction no longer decimates ecosystems. The exhibition is now open to the public at the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art (GAMA), presented in partnership with Colorado State University’s Energy Institute, with programming held in collaboration with the CSU Department of Art and Art History 

Reclamation curator Osborne’s own artwork deals with cultural connections to place and environment. She has exhibited nationally and internationally — with more than 10 solo exhibitions and over 80 group exhibitions in recent years — and has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including a recent Fulbright fellowship. She teaches painting and drawing at all levels alongside interdisciplinary field courses. 

We caught up with Osborne to learn more about the exhibition and her role in the larger Extraction project. 

Ecosexuals installation

Installation image of “Ecosexuals,” Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens’ performance ephemera, image courtesy of Erika Osborne 

Q: How did you first get involved with the global project Extraction: Art on the Edge of the Abyss?  

A: I was contacted early on by Peter Koch, who originated of the concept of putting together a “ruckus” — as he calls it — surrounding the issue of extraction. Peter was very connected with book artists and writers but less so with artists outside of his area. Bill Fox, the director of the Center for Art and Environment [at the Nevada Museum of Art], put the two of us in touch. Through this, I became a consulting artist and also committed to putting together an exhibition in my region based on the subject matter. 

Q: How did you choose the artists/work for the exhibition at GAMA?  

A: I was keenly aware that many of the regional and global exhibitions tied to Extraction would focus on the myriad issues caused by extraction industries, both historically and contemporaneously (and of course, there are a lot of issues!). In my own artistic practice, I had been thinking quite a bit about hope, the future, and how to love a planet in peril. So I think I wanted to take that inquiry into my curatorial efforts for the Extraction project. Because I am an artist who works within the context of environmentally based arts, and because I teach courses on the topic, I have catalogued a long list of artists and practitioners that I admire. I started to go through that list, searching for artists who are forward-thinking and solution-based. I also wanted to make sure I represented different regions of what is currently the United States through a variety of voices. The artists and individual works I landed on I feel create a holistic exhibition that looks to a post-fossil fuel future through a diverse lens.  

Muscle, Bone & Sinew

Cannupa Hanska Luger’sMuscle, Bone & Sinew” (2021, regalia on mannequins) and “Shadow holding shape to experience the energy of the sun” (working title) (2021, digital video), image courtesy of Madeleine Boyson 

Plot, by Cedra Wood

Plot (Kluane), by Cedra Wood, 2018, graphite on paper, 45 x 45 in., image courtesy of the artist 

Q: Why is it important to show Reclamation at CSU?  

A: CSU is well-known for its environmentally and sustainability focused research, teaching, and management practices. The School for Global Environmental Sustainability is a great example of this. Oftentimes the focus of such research and teaching resides in the STEM fields, but I think it is hugely important to highlight the work that is being done by some of the highest caliber cultural practitioners in the arts. I think this exhibition has so much to offer all disciplines at CSU, and I hope that our entire community can take advantage of the exhibition and all it has to teach us.  

Q: Is your own artwork included in Extraction 

A: My own work has been highlighted in several of the Extraction publications, and of course on the website. I am also going to have work in a large, survey exhibition this fall at the Phoenix Art Museum titled Landscapes of Extraction: The Art of Mining in the American West [on view Nov. 7, 2021 – March 6, 2022].

Q: Reclamation and Extraction are inherently collaborative, as are some of the works in the exhibition. What can we learn from artistic collaboration, and how can we apply this to issues like resource extraction and climate change?  

A: There is a history of artists collaborating with other artists, and scientists collaborating with scientists, but it has only been within the last decade or so that interdisciplinary collaboration between the humanities and the sciences has taken hold. I think this is happening because we realize now that in order to truly find, and implement, solutions to the very large and complex problems our planet is facing, we need to act collectively — utilizing the specialized knowledge of all the disciplines. You see examples of this happening in Reclamation where John Sabraw (artist) and Guy Riefler (engineer) work together to turn Acid Mine Drainage into paint pigment, or when the Ecosexuals bring activists, scientists, policy makers, and the public together in their performances. By doing so, the impact and the reach of the work they are all doing is much greater. 

Q: What do you hope visitors will take away from this exhibition?  

A: I really want people to come out of this exhibition feeling like there IS a future, and that we, as humans, can either choose to be a part of it or we can continue as we are, eventually writing ourselves out of the story.  

Reclamation exhibit

Installation of Reclamation wall text and John Sabraw’s Chroma series, image courtesy of Madeleine Boyson 

Reclamation: Recovering Our Relationship with Place offers visitors a vision of humanity and planetary future that is ultimately hopeful. The exhibition engages with thoughtful solutions by encouraging collaboration between science and the humanities. And by approaching the complexities of climate change with an artist’s vision, Reclamation marries poetry and practicality to reimagine a world where humans live in alignment with nature and change our relationship with Earth’s resources. 

Reclamation will be on view in GAMA’s Griffin Foundation Gallery until Sept. 19. The museum will also host a series of related programs in connection with the exhibition and in collaboration with the Energy Institute and the Department of Art and Art History. “Ecosexuals” Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens’ 2017 film Water Makes Us Wet is scheduled to screen Sept. 9 at The Lyric, followed by an “Ecosex Walking Tour” with the artists along the Cache la Poudre River on Sept. 10 from 4 to 6 p.m. On Sept. 17, GAMA will feature a program by Cannupa Hanska Luger, and on Sept. 18, the museum will host Family Day with the Little Shop of Physics and the Energy Institute. Additional support for Reclamation is provided by the FUNd Endowment at CSU, the Lilla B. Morgan Memorial Endowment, Colorado Creative Industries, and the City of Fort Collins Fort Fund.