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Chapel Hill, North Carolina Watersheds: The Visual Language of Environmental Degradation

Pictured to the right: Meredith Emery

Studio Art BFA, Geography Minor in front of 2018 SURF project

Faculty Advisor: Yun-Dong Nam, Department of Art & Art History, UNC Chapel Hill


Research Questions, Objectives, and Significance

My objective in undertaking this research project was to explore the effects of anthropogenic (human) activities on local Chapel Hill, North Carolina stream spaces. Through mixed media sculpture, I documented erosion and channel incision in streams from urban runoff. Additionally, I represented fractal textures and features within streams. The photographic component of my research was driven by the following questions:

   How do human activities shape natural areas, and vice versa?
   How do humans build their infrastructures around natural spaces?
   How are local streams connected geographically and aesthetically?
   How can art inform science, and science inform art?

Artistic representation of pertinent environmental issues encourages broader participation in the address of unsustainable human-environment relationships by taking science outside of the textbook and developing a visual language for environmental concerns. My body of work examines the ability of art to illustrate difficult scientific concepts in an approachable way, as well as the ability of art to heal environmental issues through its mediums and instruction.

Forest Hills, 2018; glazed stoneware, decal

Research Results

The product of my SURF research project culminated in 15, 16”x 18” ceramic wall tiles combining North Carolina clay with sediments from each stream site where photographs were taken. On the surface of each tile, a photograph from a local stream is glaze fired. The compositions of each image interact with one another from left to right on the exhibition wall, emphasizing the connectivity of both stream networks and stream degradation. These pieces are meant to be supplemented by cassette audio recordings of ambient sounds captured at corresponding stream sites, which audiences can listen to through headphones as they experience the works.

My artworks are important to scientific/artistic conversations concerning environmental degradation and human relationships to our natural world. Different departments of academia must understand and attempt to characterize human instigated environmental issues, especially in the age of climate change. My artwork embraces the challenge of communicating scientific issues in the public sphere to catalyze social changes and positive behaviors towards our local environments. Artistic representation of environmental issues also allows a broader community to enter the scientific and social discourse on human-environmental degradation by engaging image, tactile, and audio oriented varieties of learners.

Burlage, 2018; glazed stoneware, decal
Broad Acres, 2018; glazed stoneware, decal



Emory Woods, 2018; glazed stoneware, decal
Cobblestone, 2018; glazed stoneware, decal
Websters Road, 2018; glazed stoneware, decal
Tanyard, 2018; glazed stoneware, decal
Burlage II, 2018; glazed stoneware, decal
Swepsonville, 2018; glazed stoneware, decal
Briar Chapel, 2018; glazed stoneware, decal
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