In the mid 1990s, environmental artists Newton and Helen Harrison were asked by the Dalai Lama to create a work of art titled “Tibet is the Higher Ground.”

The piece they created was exhibited for a number of years at the Tibet House—a cultural center in New York City founded by a group that included, among others, actor Richard Gere and composer Philip Glass.

It was also showcased as the backdrop for speakers Al Gore and the Dalai Lama at a 1987 press conference in Washington D.C. for the Tibet Freedom Concerts.

“Tibet is the Higher Ground” is just one sample of the Harrisons’ work that will be on display at UCSC’s Sesnon Gallery in the upcoming exhibition, On Mixing, Mapping and Territory, opening on February 6. 

Leading pioneers of the environmental and ecological art movement, the Harrisons are known for their use of maps as narratives to track climate change and ecosystems.

For the past four decades, they have supported biodiversity and community development for the future health of the planet by collaborating with a wide range of biologists, ecologists, urban planners, and governments.

They are also residents of the Central Coast.

The Harrisons relocated in 2004 after retiring as professors in UC San Diego’s Visual Arts Department.

They now serve as professors-in-residence in the UC Santa Cruz Arts Divisions’ Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) graduate program.

“These are international artists sitting under the radar in the community of Santa Cruz,” noted Mark Shunney, co-curator of the exhibition with Sesnon Gallery director Shelby Graham. 

“They’ve worked with mapping as a way to educate the public about climate change and the rise in water levels that the world will experience,” he added.“

“The maps have that graphic power where you can really understand what they’re predicting the water levels to be.”

The Sesnon exhibit will also feature a handmade book that recreates one of the Harrisons’ best known early works.

“The Lagoon Cycle” is a complex photo mural 360 feet long in 60 parts, that was exhibited at venues such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and La Villette in Paris, before it was acquired by the Centre Pompidou as part of the French collection.

The Book of Lagoons will be shown in its entirety at the Sesnon, and in addition, each of its 45 images will be displayed as well on the walls of the gallery.

Shunney added that the Sesnon exhibition is designed to raise questions about the environment and the position of art to effect change.

He quoted the Harrisons:

“The human species should treat the planet as sculpture, lovingly, with great care and consideration. Such an idea strikes many people as absurd, but humans are clearly modifying the ecosystem and changing the fragile biosphere of the planet.”

On Mixing, Mapping and Territory opens on February 6, at the Sesnon Art Gallery, located in Porter College at UC Santa Cruz. The opening reception will be on February 6, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the gallery.

Prior to the reception, Newton and Helen Harrison will present a lecture from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at the Digital Arts Research Center (DARC 108). The exhibition runs through March 15. Admission to all events is free and open to the public. For more information and related events, call the Sesnon Gallery at (831) 4593606 o visit the Sesnon Gallelry web site.