Faces on Fifth: Colleen Flanigan at IMC Lab + Gallery

In this installment of Faces on Fifth we speak with the conceptual artist Colleen Flanigan, whose “Trash Tara: It Starts With In An Inhale” is on view at IMC Lab + Gallery at 56 West 22nd Street, 6th Floor.   A participant in IMC’s Co-Create residency program, which pairs artists with technologists to create interactive and socially conscious art, Flanigan’s show reflects her abiding interest in and concern for the state of the world’s oceans.

“I want to bring the realty of coral reefs into a forum that’s more accessible,” Flanigan said. “Sea environments and our ability to restore them is not something everyone thinks about, yet all species share and need the earth. I’ve been developing ways to juxtapose my underwater coral restoration work with human health and breath.”

An inaugural member of TED Fellows (2009) and TED Senior Fellows (2010-2012), Flanigan’s focus is on creating “art as ecology.” The first visual artist to be certified in mineral accretion by the Global Coral Reef Alliance, Flanigan has a BA in Design from UCLA and a post-baccalaureate degree in Metals from the Oregon College of Art and Craft. She has exhibited internationally, including Europe, US, Indonesia, Canada, and Mexico.

For her project at IMC, she has worked with IMC technologist James Tunick to create an interactive chamber of the sea. Life support and symbiotic breathing are among her inspirations; fellow Co-Create resident Dan Baker’s hanging, resin-coated trash (found in waterways) adds to the sense of  aquatic immersion. Among her works are an underwater DNA-inspired sculpture that will stimulate coral reef growth; produced with a team of scientists, environmentalists and divers, these are pictured at the gallery and to be installed in the Museo Subaquático de Arte (MUSA) in the National Marine Park of Cancun, Mexico.

Complementing this work, Flanigan has created the persona of TrashTara, a variant of the bodhisattva Green Tārā, a spirit of enlightened activity. TrashTara, Compassionate Deity of the Dregs, wanders New York’s neighborhoods picking up discarded cigarette butts and catalyzing conversations with passerby about recycling and pollution. “I wanted to do something that would be a fun way to enter into the conversation,” Flanigan says. “Something approachable and unpreachy.” Flanigan points out that cigarette butts are the single most littered object in the world. “Most people don’t know cigarette butts are toxic to the environment once littered, or that they can be recycled at TerraCycle in NJ.”

Flanigan has enjoyed her time at IMC’s Co-Create, a program whose other 2014 participants include Iviva Olenick, Dan Baker, Omer and Tal Golan. “It’s been incredible to work with IMC and the other artists: there’s a real sense of generosity to the program and a great opportunity for cross-pollination.”

Trash Tara: It Starts With In An Inhale” continues on through December 2, with Colleen Flanigan sitting the space during public hours. Visit the IMC Lab + Gallery website for more information.

TrashTara, Compassionate Deity of the Dregs, is made possible in part with public funds from the Manhattan Community Arts Fund, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and administered by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

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