People are the driving force behind sustainability at SAIC. Discover a few leaders who are spearheading change on campus and beyond. 

Sustainability in Practice 

Faculty, staff, and students integrate sustainability into their practice in unique and innovative ways. Sustainability in Practice highlights a few sustainability champions and their work. 

Claire Pentecost

Claire Pentecost

Claire Pentecost is an American artist, writer, and professor in the Department of Photography at SAIC. She has been at the school for 20 years and is currently the Chair of Photography. Pentecost’s interdisciplinary practice integrates the imaginative and institutional structures that organize divisions of knowledge, often focusing on nature and artificiality. Artistic practice becomes positioned as a research practice with Pentecost advocating for the role of the amateur in the collection, interpretation, and mobilization of information.  

EDUCATION: BA, 1978, Smith College, Northampton, MA; MFA, 1988, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn; 1983, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture; 1988–89

EXHIBITIONS: dOCUMENTA(13), Kassel, Germany; 13th Istanbul Biennial; WhiteChapel, London; Higher Pictures, NY; DePaul Art Museum, Chicago; Murray Guy, NY; Orchard, NY; Corcoran Museum, D.C.; Transmediale 05, Berlin; American Fine Arts, NY.

PUBLICATIONS: Scapegoat; Undoing Property(?); Radical History Review; Tactical Biopolitics; Talking with Your Mouth Full (coauthor).

BIBLIOGRAPHY: The New York Times; New York Magazine; Art & Text.

AWARDS: Bellagio Residency, Italy; Banff Center for the Arts; Illinois Arts Council; Chicago Public Art Commission.


Q: What is your current focus?

CP: Since ‘97 I have been interested in agriculture as the primary way that humans change the earth. I have done work involving food systems, agriculture, and soil. The focus of my inquiries since 2011 has been soil and eco-sensitive agricultural practices. My current interests are our ecological history and current predicament. I have come to see everything through the lens of climate change. 

Q: Do you consider yourself an activist?

CP:Although I do not consider myself an activist, I do believe all art is political. Art and activism are two categories of human activity. They work in different ways but they can work together, at times so much so that the line between them is blurred. Sometimes I think people call me an activist because I have opinions, and traditionally art is not supposed to have opinions, or at least not to reveal them! 

Q: Can you talk about your relationship to sustainability and how that impacts your work as an artist and professor?

CP: People hate to be told what to think and they have negative associations with environmentalism and the term “sustainability.” I believe change has to come out of love, love that’s bigger than love for yourself and not restricted to humans, but rather love for our home the earth, and all the miraculously interconnected biodiversity that constitutes our relations.

I am open to where my students are, I don’t have an agenda, but I want them to figure out what they care about. Regarding an art practice: what is going to sustain you in the long run? If you are making work that comes from a place of your deep commitments, your work will be more satisfying and will also be a more substantial contribution to your culture.

Q: What do you think about material and concept? Can you comment on your material choice? 

CP: My work is about our relationship to the natural world. I’m interested in institutions that mediate between humans and nature, including photography itself as such a mediator. But photography is about images, and the image generally elides materiality. I’m very interested in working with specific materials that have meaning in themselves. To me, materials and concept are interdependent, you have to consider what you are trying to say. 

Q: Can you talk about one of your most recent works?

CP: Last summer I finished a piece for the MoCP’s (Museum of Contemporary Photography) show about petcoke and other forms of dirty energy. My friend Duskin Drum talks about the way that many First Nations people speak of themselves as no different from significant features making their environment: “I am the mountain” or “we are the caribou…” In this sense what are we? Duskin says, “I am petroleum,” and in many, many ways it’s true. 

So I made what I called A Library of Tears, consisting of tear-shaped sculptures and glass vessels. The vessels were filled with different forms of fossil fuels and their by-products. A tear is a human fluid that is both physical and emotional. Even if we are grieving for our ruined earth, our tears can’t cleanse us because we are all part of the problem. We need to want to be something besides petroleum.

By Suzie Newman (MA ’19) 


Falak Vasa

Falak Vasa

As stated on his website, Falak Vasa is an interdisciplinary artist from Kolkata, India, currently residing in Chicago andstudying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (BFA 2018). His work intertwines differentmedia such as performance, video, installation, photography, and technology to investigate hisrelationship with ecology through the lenses of spirituality, science, mythology, philosophy, andpersonal narrative. 



Q: Can you talk about your relationship to sustainability and how that impacts your work as an artist?

FV: In ecologically questionable times, both in the US and Chicago, there is a sense of removal from cause and effect. In Kolkata, you see the trash on the street as a reminder. Here the way we approach conservation and sustainability, especially recycling, tries to appease our conscience so we can continue to consume, unchecked, giving permission to exploit and be reckless. What is needed is fluidity in the ways we perceive where things come from and where they go. We need an understanding that everything we consume is connected to larger economic, social, cultural, and political networks and that subversion of these systems is needed to affect change and work towards a truly sustainable world.

In thinking about my own practice, I started with an ecological mindset that came from a religious framework, Jainism, which holds as its belief extreme non-violence towards all life. It encompasses a complete form of selflessness to the point that one’s own body can be harmed to protect something else. In addition, there is a belief that killing anything living is a sin, making the simple act of breathing a sin as it inevitably kills microorganisms. Subsequently, I am always trying to make up for past sins, [and] living in a continuous state of penance. It is important for me to investigate Jainism and accompanying pillars since it has formed my identity. Jainism has become a jumping point for me to understand how I exist in relationship to ecology and specifically how I relate as a brown man studying in the city of Chicago.

Q: Do you consider yourself an activist?

FV: My work comes from a very personal place but is always in conversation with larger systems. In that, it is political. Perhaps it takes the form of some sort of personal activism. 

Q: What is your current focus?

FV: I have recently been responding to the current political climate as a brown man in America. The question of how can I still talk about ecology within this larger context of politics has become increasingly more important in the post-Trump world. In my most recent project, I am carrying the shavings of my beard in a bag around my neck, exploring my identity as a brown person with a beard passing as a stereotypical Muslim. This act is a form of embracing, rather than rejecting, the misinformed identity. To be honest, after the election I felt the need to protest as an artist. In the future, I aim to return to my ecological work with an intersectional lens, considering the many aspects of my identity in relationship with my definition of ecology. 

Q: What do you think about material and concept? Can you comment on your material choice? 

FV: I have predominantly worked with video, video installation, and performance. The material of technology that I use to disseminate my work is the camera. In my own work, I have investigated the relationships that occur around technology, defining [that] “a cyborg is hybrid of technology and human” and “a chimera is a hybrid of technology and non-human”; the two can communicate through technology. We are surrounded by invisible technology that influences us and changes our behavior whether we like it or not. I’m very interested in the impact of cameras and technology on the human mind. I have come to see devices and technology as rhizomatic, omnipresent networks. To answer the question, I cannot separate my ecological lens from my use of material. 

By Suzie Newman (MA ’19)   

Sustainability Fellows 

Sustainability Fellows are change agents for sustainability at SAIC. Roles include communicating sustainability initiatives to peers and implementing behavior-change campaigns across campus.

Suzie Newman (MA '19)  

Art Therapy and Counseling

Other activities: Resident Advisor, co-leader of the ping-pong club 

What does sustainability mean to you? Sustainability encompasses a recognition of potential that subsequently results in action, which serves to assure future endurance and functioning of the self, community, and world. To me, it's about wellness, legacy, connection, purpose and intentionality. 

Favorite Quote: "trust the process" - Shaun McNiff    

Casey Yasuda (BFA '18)

Fiber & Material Studies & Art Therapy 

Other activities: Student Leader of Chop Suey

What does sustainability mean to you? Being born and raised in Hawaii amongst a Native Hawaiian community, sustainability means to m?lama ??ina. This traditional concept of respecting and caring for the land that nourishes and provides, has made me understand the significance of ensuring that natural resources will be readily available to future generations.  

Favorite quote: "Ua mau i ke ea i ka ??ina i ka pono." [The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.]