Joan Linder Takes on the Atrocities of Toxic Waste in Beautiful Ink Drawings

  • Installation view "Project Sunshine," on view at Mixed Greens, New York, 2015. Courtesy Mixed Greens. Photo by Etienne Frossard.

A master of ink, artist Joan Linder uses small tools to tackle big issues. In her new solo show at Mixed Greens, titled “Project Sunshine,” Linder uses her precise penmanship to illuminate the dirty history of the toxic waste sites and brownfields that poisoned the ecology of her current hometown, Buffalo, New York, during the 1960s and ’70s.

  • Installation view "Project Sunshine," on view at Mixed Greens, New York, 2015. Courtesy Mixed Greens. Photo by Etienne Frossard.

Literally seeped in history, Linder’s process started with research. Her first discovery, the Love Canal—a block along the banks of the Niagara River where the Hooker Chemical Company unloaded over 20,000 tons of toxic waste—inspired the artist to dig deeper. Traveling around to historical societies, libraries, and former dumpsites, Linder spent years tracking down declassified documents and memos in order to gain a greater understanding of these local environmental atrocities. In “Project Sunshine,” Linder shares her findings with the viewer directly and indirectly, through a combination of small and large works on paper.

  • Installation view "Project Sunshine," on view at Mixed Greens, New York, 2015. Courtesy Mixed Greens. Photo by Etienne Frossard.

Linder’s desk-like vitrines, which house the documents that she painstakingly copied by hand, are perhaps the bluntest, most searing works on view. Maps marking radioactive storage sites and memos on human uranium injections are just a few of the unsettling details one finds when combing through the artist’s near-perfect facsimiles. Sometimes working from copies, Linder faithfully mimics the faded touch of a Xerox machine—presenting the documents to viewers almost exactly as she found them.


On the walls of the gallery hang Linder’s large-scale drawings of earth mounds, which she encountered during her many dumpsite visits. Operating almost like memorials, these one-to-one scale compositions depict the budding foliage that now masks the dark history that lies beneath. Additionally, the allusion to grass roots environmental activism does not go unnoticed.

While indirect, the most jaw-dropping element of Linder’s show might be her landscape drawings of landfill sites, which the artist penned across several Moleskine notebooks during her stakeouts. Lined up as one continuous image, the accordion-style display feels at once intimate and expansive. These sculptural works act almost like artifacts, small tokens commemorating Linder’s first-person account of discovery and activism. Like her meticulous drawing skills, Linder’s commitment to her subject matter leaves the viewer feeling inspired.


Kat Herriman

Project Sunshine” is on view at Mixed Greens, New York, Oct. 15–Nov. 15, 2015.

Follow Mixed Greens on Artsy.

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