A public garden & cultural center

Jackie Brookner

Of Nature
Glyndor Gallery | September 13–December 4, 2016  

Pictured above: Jackie Brookner, Laughing Brook, 2002 ̶ 2009. Salway Park Wetland + Stormwater Filtration Project, Cincinnati, OH. © Estate of Jackie Brookner.

Of Nature is the first retrospective to trace the expansive work of Jackie Brookner (1945-2015), an artist focused on environmental issues. Her groundbreaking, remediative sculptural environments were designed as ecological filters to cleanse gray water, urban storm water and agricultural runoff. The exhibition includes early bronze sculptures and drawings from the 1980s, as well as the seminal Of Earth and Cotton project, which traveled through the American south in the 1990s. Her biosculpture I’m You, 2000, created for Wave Hill’s exhibition Abundant Invention, is reinstalled alongside documentation of her public projects in San Jose, CA; West Palm Beach, FL; Cincinnati, OH; Fargo, ND; and Salo, Finland. Not only did she make environmental concerns visible, but she increasingly catalyzed people in a process to define spaces in their communities.

Jackie Brookner was based in New York for her entire artistic career. She received a BA in art history from Wellesley College in 1967, and completed all but her dissertation for a PhD in art history from Harvard University from 1968 to 1971, before shifting her focus to sculpture. She came to New York and lived in SoHo, then an emergent artist neighborhood. She experimented with sculpture in steel and cast bronze as well as drawing in graphite, charcoal, ink and gouache. She studied at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture and was acting dean in 1987 to 1988. A passionate teacher, she inspired students at Parsons School of Design from 1980 until her death. From 2000 on, she created public projects for wetlands, rivers, streams and storm-water runoff that unite water remediation and public art. Throughout her career, she exhibited widely and has been included in many publications on the topic of public art and environmental remediation.

Curated by independent curator Amy Lipton and Wave Hill Senior Curator Jennifer McGregor.


For more information about the artist, click here

Remediate/Re-vision: Public Artists Engaging the Environment
Glyndor Gallery | August 1 – November 28, 2010

Veden Taika is sited in a large lagoon that was once used in the sewage treatment processes of the Salo Municipal Sewage Treatment Facility. Characterized by very poor water quality, it has been described as a “sewage lagoon.” Since being decommissioned, it has been designated a European Union directive conservation site because so many migrating birds nest in the area.

She observed how floating islands function in natural marshes, and adapted this idea to construct three floating islands vegetated with plants to extract pollutants from the water and sediment, a process called phytoremediation.


The central island provides an avian nesting site safe from land-based predators and contains light-weight fabricated rocks that serve as a nesting habitat. Materials for the islands construction were sourced as locally as possible, with an emphasis on their recyclability.

Success. At the end of the first nesting season, there were approximately 250 laughing gulls and common terns, and 30 nests.

During the summer months, a cloud of mist is produced to emanate up and over the islands at regular intervals, alerting the casual visitor that these are no ordinary islands. Rocks were designed to provide shade and weather protection for the chicks and were carefully structured in such a way as to avoid attracting predatory birds. The result is a public art project that cleanses the water, provides much needed nesting habitat, and promotes public understanding of natural filtration processes and the regeneration of biodiversity.

Brookner worked with volunteers, regional science experts, the students and faculty of the Salo Polytechnic Institute, and a local artist, Tuula Nikulainen, who managed the project, to empower each group and ensure the community’s investment in the project’s success.

Transporting the support structures to the lagoon. Fabricated rocks are placed onto the islands. 

Jackie Brookner on Veden Taika
My practice as an ecological artist evolved over time and continues to evolve. I went to college sure I was going to be a biologist, but ended up going into art history. Just before writing my PHD dissertation I started sculpting. It took about 20 years and several transformations to realize I could bring everything I loved together, catalyzed by building a cabin in the Adirondack woods (1985) and editing an issue of Art Journal on Art and Ecology (1990–92). Then I knew I needed to create work that would have beneficial ecological functions.

During my first twenty years as a sculptor, a period of introversion, I learned to listen subtly and responsively to the materials I was working with and to the concepts, images, emotions and physical energies within myself. The work explored the energy of growth in plants, how collective psychology is projected onto nature and my own personal psychological stuff. Through research for the Art Journal issue I realized my work could be “of” nature, rather than “about” it. Over the next twenty years I have learned that beyond the science and the practical function, successful ecological restoration/remediation demands addressing the societal/cultural values that have allowed humans to dissociate from and be at war with the natural systems of which we are part. To bring about change, these values need to be addressed at the societal, community and individual levels.

Veden Taika was designed to be effective at the ecological, conceptual, social and expressive levels. How much have people in the locale of a project been engaged in creating, enjoying and maintaining it? Are there demonstrable ecological benefits? Is the system working biologically, mechanically and socially? Does it move people to think about what the “being” of human means? Is it transformative? It is too early to assess the long-term success of this project, but it is off to a very good start.

Jackie Brookner is a New York–based artist who creates public projects for wetlands, rivers, streams, and storm-water runoff that unite water remediation and public art. She has exhibited widely and has been included in many publications on the topic of public art and environmental remediation.

The Arts at Wave Hill are supported by the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc.; Michael J. Shannon; Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; New York Community Trust Edward and Sally Van Lier Fund; New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; The Pollock-Krasner Foundation; The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation; and by the Cathy and Stephen Weinroth Commissioning Fund for the Arts.