The Counterforce Lab is an initiative by Professor Rebeca Méndez. It is a research and fieldwork studio based in the Design Media Arts department at UCLA, dedicated to using art and design to develop creative collaborations, new fields of study, and methods to research, create, and execute projects that investigate and mitigate the social and ecological concerns of the anthropocene era, a time when human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. 

Why the name Counterforce Lab?

The Counterforce Lab stands on the shoulders of several giants.

In 2012 the Nevada Museum of Art asked Rebeca Méndez to design a book proposal for a monograph on The Harrison Studio, the collaborative team of artists Helen Mayer (1927-2018) and Newton Harrison, pioneers of the eco-art movement, who lead the Force Majeure Center at UC Santa Cruz. In their fifty year career the Harrisons have regarded the earth to be their only client. Their works channel the agency of nature, and have influenced government policies worldwide.

“We define the Force Majeure as the pressure of global warming on all planetary systems, acting in collaboration with the industrial processes whose negative effects on the environment have more than co-equally accelerated over the past century. The Center is founded on our belief that we as a species must adapt ourselves to a very different world, and that is the basis for the research that informs our artmaking. We define the type of problem that the Center deals with as an ennobling problem, in the sense that the feedback from addressing issues at this scale confers benefits on the individuals involved, as well as on human culture and the planetary environment as a whole. In the present state, the Center proceeds on our assertion that ecologically based, large-scale systems of adaptation to the extreme changes in the ever-warming environment are necessary for collective survival and so must be invented.”
The Time of Force Majeure, After 45 Years Counterforce is on the Horizon

In “A Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century” they write:

We at the Center believe counterforces can be found
First understanding then collaborating with
Nature’s response to catastrophe
Which when energies are available
Recreates itself
Recreating order and complexity
Lowering entropy in living systems large and small

Yes, counterforces can be found easily enough
Harnessing them and co-creating with them
For the common good is the urgency at hand
So we at the Center conclude
That counterforces are available
That can in some measures mitigate a possible 6th mass extinction
But unless created over the next 50 years or much less

Informed and invigorated by the Harrisons Méndez formed the Counterforce Lab in 2015.

the team

Rebeca Méndez, Director

Rebeca Méndez is an artist, designer, and tenured professor at UCLA, Design Media Arts, where she is director of the CounterForce Lab, a research and fieldwork studio for art, design and environment. Her research and practice investigates design and media art in public space, critical approaches to public identities and landscape, and artistic projects based on field investigation methods. Méndez’s immersive video art installations are driven by her interest in perception and embodied experience. Since 1996, she’s led Rebeca Méndez Studio in Los Angeles and has received significant recognition including her recent inclusion into the permanent collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the 2017 Medal of AIGA, induction into the One Club Hall of Fame, New York, and the 2012 National Design Award in Communication Design. Her diverse works have been exhibited widely in significant institutions including solo exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Hammer Museum, Nevada Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Oaxaca, Mexico, and group exhibitions at the 55th Venice Biennial, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, El Paso Museum of Art, and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. Méndez is known for her career-long commitment to ‘design and art as a social force,’ and was awarded the ‘2016 Vision Over Violence Humanitarian Award,’ by Peace Over Violence, Los Angeles. Méndez was guest curator at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in ‘Rebeca Méndez Selects’ 2018–19, reviewed in The New Yorker magazine. She was co-chair for the 2018 National Design Awards, juror for the Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award, 2017 and 2018, was keynote speaker at the AIGA Conference 2019 / Design Educators, and member of the steering committee and co-curator of the 2019 Aspen Ideas Festival. Her interests and initiatives are a bridge between art, design and science, and demonstrate a commitment to the environment and a sustainable future.

Maru García, Graduate Student Researcher

Maru García is a Mexican visual artist, transdisciplinary researcher, educator and activist whose work is inspired to capture, understand, and question the relationship and place of humans within Nature. Through her transdisciplinary approach based on art, science, and technology, her work seeks to address environmental and social issues, particularly the protection of the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems.

Her frequent use of media includes installations, performance, sculpture, and video, usually with the presence of some kind of organic matter to help understand the biological processes occurring in complex systems. In this line, her pieces Just add Water and The Tank, talk about embodied interspecies relationships (with plants and microorganisms) that help her extend the definition of self to include better care of “the other”. Her newest project, Lead, explores the implication of contaminated ecosystems and how through symbiotic processes of bioremediation we can help heal a much-wounded planet.
Currently, she is an MFA Media Arts candidate (UCLA) and since 2017 has collaborated with Counterforce Lab (UCLA). She holds an MS. in Biotechnology (Mex) and a BS. in Chemistry (Mex).

Erin Cooney, Graduate Student Researcher

Erin Cooney is visual artist, educator, and activist. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, she has lived in Los Angeles since 2000. Her video, installation, and performance work centers around the embodied nature of point of view and strives towards a reconfiguration in the human relationship to the natural world. She received a BA in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and studied Graphic Design at Art Center College of Design. She is currently pursuing her MFA at UCLA.

Jason Lee, Designer

Koby Otsuka, Intern