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zeamays_degreasing_plate_with_soy_sauce July 20, 2012
Zea Mays, 320 Riverside Dr., Florence, Massachusetts

In connection with the Zea Mays Product Impact Research Study, Artists in Context is bringing together Zea Mays and Erin Mckelvy from the Beehive Design Collective located in Machias Maine for a public conversation at the Zea Mays Studio. Erin will talk about how The Beehive Design Collective works collaboratively to research difficult content about environmental issues and the process by which they graphically represent that content.

Zea Mays honors the rich tradition of printmaking by exploring alternatives that are safe for artists and the environment. "Zea Mays (Sweet Corn) is a plant known for its ability to extract heavy metal toxins from the soil through its leaves and roots. Just as this plant is being used as a natural way of restoring contaminated earth back to health, our mission is to restore the art of printmaking to a healthy art form."

The Beehive Design Collective endeavors “To cross-pollinate the grassroots, by creating collaborative, anti-copyright images that can be used as educational and organizing tools. We build, and disseminate visual tools with the hope that they will self-replicate, and take on life of their own.

zeamaysmeetingnoteZea Mays Product Impact Research

What happens when 15 brave printmakers from Zea Mays Printmaking collaborate with a materials scientist and environmental health practitioner?

As part of an investigative research and artmaking project facilitated by Artists in Context, a working group within Zea Mays Printmaking of Florence, MA will be venturing deep into the nebulous territory surrounding the labeling of artists products. The group has begun conversations with research scientists including David Hinkamp, Co-Director of the Health in the Arts Program at University of Illinois, Chicago’s School of Public Health about the effects that materials used in printmaking might have on the body. This kind of investigation is not new terrain for Zea Mays, a studio, workshop, gallery, educational facility and research center already dedicated to the safest and most sustainable printmaking practices available, but the project does represent a significant deepening of their research within the field. No longer content to rely on Material Safety Data Sheets provided by product manufactures, Zea Mays Director Liz Chalfin, and the group are actively looking for ways to go beyond the realm of studio inquiry and to invite scientists into their practice to ask tough questions about the materials they are using and how the unconventional manner in which artists use industrial products effects the impact of that
product on the body.

“We want to propose an investigative MODEL for artists researching the health safety of the products they use (how to break down products for more fruitful research, how to understand that research, and how to find useful resources and ways of using these products more safely) We are asking: how do we look at what we use? And, making ourselves aware of the vulnerabilities within the system.” Liz Chalfin, spokesperson for the working group.

Early conversations with Dr. Hinkamp have been revealing. For instance, manufacturers of products containing chemicals are required by law to give an MSDS sheet to their clients. The law, however, does not require the sheets to by accurate. Artists, and other consumers, should, therefore, be circumspect about how much to believe what is reported on these sheets. The ingredients in a product are required information, but First Aid, Hazards, and Precautions are not necessarily accurate or applicable to how using the product is used in practice.

With support from Artists in Context, Zea Mays will be looking to bring scientists to the studio for a day or two of public demonstrations of all processes to get their feedback and insights. From here, the group will focus on collaboratively creating a body of art that embodies the research, designed to travel into the world outside of the studio, perhaps taking the form(s) of a Chemical Dinner Party, portfolios of prints or a Cabinet of Discards.

If you would like to read more about health and safety for artists, Zea Mays recommends:

Artists Beware, Michael McCann
Artists Complete Health and Safety Guide, Monoma Rossol

Sources of information about Material Safety Data Sheets:

  • CDC—FAQ sheets about chemicals and environmental pollutants
  • NIOSH—Part of CDC; National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health;
  • ATSDR—Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry;
  • Chicago Artists Resource (not government):
    Website gives good ventilation options: