sulfur cycle

Sulfur Cycle (1994) is a multifaceted project that tracked several different environmentally relevant events in Chicago including:

1) The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)–development of the world’s first pollution rights trading market implemented by the Chicago Board of Trade. This market was established to promote the buying and selling of one-ton sulfur dioxide emission "rights".

2) The related (but institutionally separate) development of  “captured” sulfur from the emissions of local coal-burning power plants, being channeling into the wallboard industry. This sulfur was chemically bound with a limestone slurry as part of the coal emission "scrubbing" process. This sulfur, now a component of “synthetic” gypsum was utilized in the local manufacture of gypsum wallboard by USG Corporation.

3) The construction of the new Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. This new construction provided an occasion to embed sulfur that had been diverted from the atmosphere into museum walls where it rests silently today. 

Sulfur Cycle was realized as a solo project, Options: 48, at the MCA and was among the last exhibitions at the museums former site on Ontario Avenue. The project in the museum's second floor gallery consisted of seven one-ton stacks of gypsum wallboard that collectively contained one ton of captured sulfur. A six page brochure (reproduced here) accompanied the exhibition along with a certificate confirming a “transaction” from the SO2 sulfur emission rights trading market at the Chicago board of Trade that authorized the museum to emit one ton of sulfur into the atmosphere. This one-ton emission right expired in 2001–meaning  that this sulfur was “prevented” from being emitted into the atmosphere.

The current status of the Sulfur Cycle project is that the single ton of sulfur that was exhibited in the former museum, and that now resides in the walls of the current museum, was never acquired by the museum as an artwork, or identified as a fixture of the building. Permanently in place, and invisibly on display, the project rests in a state of limbo.

Project curated by Lynne Warren. Brochure essays by Lynne Warren and Dan Peterman


High sulfur coal at Bailly Power station

Bailly Power station, Chesterton Indiana

7 one-ton stacks of synthetic gypsum drywall

Exhibited drywall containing one ton of diverted sulfur

model of new museum w/ sulfur location indicated