by Jessica Goldschmidt
U.N. pronouncements on climate change as a backdrop to this third week of the Next Wave Festival, it seems the time is right to do some soul-searching about when and how our country's relationship to the environment got so convoluted. Cue Documerica, a world premiere by string quartet ETHEL that takes as its inspiration an EPA project of the same name.
Documerica (the project, not the production) was a landmark collaboration between government and visual artists, echoing the Farm Security Administration's documentation of the Great Depression.
On the surface, Documerica was meant to portray what project director Giff Hamilton called "the human connection" to the environment. More than 70 photographers were contracted by the EPA over a period of six years (1971—1977) to photograph America's relationship to our land. Cities, farms, small towns, industrial hubs, and national parks: all were fodder for the artist's interpretation, and all were considered part of the American "environment."