Mel Chin

Artist with a long-standing interest in social and political issues, as well as issues affecting the environment

Mel Chin

Mel Chin was invited by Cape Farewell to participate in the Carbon 14 workshop (November 2011). As an artist Mel has demonstrated a long-standing interest in social and political issues, as well as issues effecting the environment.

Since the Fall of 2011, when he participated in Artifariti, the international Art and Human Rights Meeting in the Western Sahara, Mel has been engaged with Saharawi refugees and their leadership on The Potential Project, a project to help the People of the Western Sahara achieve their goal of independence and a real means of self-determination by developing both their own currency and an economy “backed not by gold or gas, but by the sun.”

For Cape Farewell’s Carbon 14: Climate is Culture exhibition at the ROM, and by way of introducing the larger project, Mel is collaborating with Markus Kayser of MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Materials Group to create The Saharan Sand Dollar Exchange Machine, a solar powered and fully active money exchange machine. Visitors are encouraged to exchange Canadian currency for the face value of the first tests of solar fused coins made of Western Saharan sand. This dispensing prototype encourages the first international monetary exchange of solar-backed as opposed to gold-backed money. Proceeds will be extended to support the effort of a currency based on imagery developed from different generations of Western Saharan citizens.

Also featured is a schematic model of Potential Project’s Stand Alone Power Plant and transmission system is being developed by Dr.Richard Corkish, Head, School of Photovoltaic & Renewable Energy Engineering and Chief Operating Officer, Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics, of the University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia and his international student, Jonathan Teo.


Mel Chin was born in Houston, Texas in 1951. Mel’s art, which is both analytical and poetic, evades easy classification. He is known for the broad range of approaches in his art, including works that require multi-disciplinary, collaborative teamwork and works that conjoin cross-cultural aesthetics with complex ideas.

Mel insinuates art into unlikely places, including destroyed homes, toxic landfills, and even popular television, investigating how art can provoke greater social awareness and responsibility. He developed Revival Field (1989-ongoing), a project that has been a pioneer in the field of “green remediation,” the use of plants to remove toxic, heavy metals from the soil. From 1995-1998 he formed the collective, the GALA Committee, which produced In the Name of the Place, a conceptual public art project conducted on American prime-time television. His film, 9-11/9-11, a hand-drawn, 24 minute, joint Chilean/USA Production, won the prestigious Pedro Sienna Award, for Best Animation, National Council for the Arts and Cultures, Chile, in 2007.  Mel’s work was featured in the popular PBS program, Art of the 21st Century.

A multi-award winning artist, Mel has received awards and grants from organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council for the Arts, Art Matters, Creative Capital, and the Penny McCall, Pollock/Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Rockefeller and Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundations, among others.

The Potential Project
About Carbon 14: Climate is Culture

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