Artists have always been inspired by nature, but now they are using it to remind people that nature still exists—in a still beautiful, but increasingly fragile state. The 10 tree stumps shipped from Ghana to London, then on to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (December 7-18, 2009), by Scottish artist Angela Palmer is one of many example of artists using nature in art to raise environmental awareness.
Earthworks/Land Art/Earth Art
Rather than place sculptures in a landscape, the Earthworks, Land Art or Earth Art movement, which began in America in the late 1960s and early 70s, uses landscapes as the means of artistic creation. Instead of copying nature, these artists take it and add a human twist, often by adapting existing landscapes or creating new ones in unexpected places. Palmer’s Ghost Forest could be described as the latter.
Angela Palmer: Forest Art
Palmer’s Ghost Forest, complete with roots, was sourced in cooperation with Ghanaian logging authorities, who ‘log-by-numbers’ with strategic replacement of saplings. By highlighting Ghana’s loss of 90% of its primary rainforest during just the past 50 years, the project aims to encourage new anti-deforestation agreements to be made at the Copenhagen Conference.
Andy Goldsworthy: Coils and Arches
One of the most famous non-American land artists is Andy Goldsworthy of the United Kingdom. Famed for his arches and spiral shapes, Goldsworthy invented the rock balancing technique, which involves counterbalancing rocks in precarious formations without any other structural support. Using additional natural materials close at hand, such as leaves, twigs and snow, his artworks are left to naturally decay and fall apart, until the only record of their existence is through photographs. A great introduction to his work is the award-winning film, Andy Goldsworthy's Rivers & Tides.
Richard Long: Walking Trails
Also focusing on the placement of natural materials in landscapes, Richard Long forms lines or circles during walks through different environments around the world, from Scotland to the Sahara. By following in his footsteps, viewers can experience nature from his point of view.
Robert Smithson: Floating Island
In contrast to Long, Robert Smithson takes nature to the people. One example is his mini floating island of trees, pulled along the Hudson and East rivers on a barge September 17-25, 2005. Though the island was still in the design stages upon Smithson’s death in 1973, his wife Nancy Holt brought Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan Island to life. What better way to remind the city’s inhabitants that not every island is made of concrete. Smithson is also famed for his Spiral Jetty installation of basalt rocks at the edge of Utah’s Great Salt Lake.
Agnes Denes: Manhattan Crops
Another artist intent on bringing nature to people in cities is Agnes Denes, who planted two acres of wheat on a Battery Park landfill in New York City’s financial district in 1982. Addressing human values and misplaced priorities, the 1,000 pounds of wheat harvested from Wheatfield—A Confrontation traveled through 28 cities worldwide in the International Art Show for the End of World Hunger, and was replanted around the globe. Denes’s Tree Mountain—A Living Time Capsule—which started in 1992 with 11,000 people planting 11,000 pine trees in a circular pattern on a disused quarry in Finland—is an example of a continually growing work of art.
Richard Solomon: Planted Messages
Following the planting theme, Richard Solomon’s EarthWords™ are messages sown in the ground by seeds, which then grow to reveal such messages as “Please do not litter me (signed) Mother Earth,” and “Earth Day Every Day.” Any message can be planted by anyone in any language. What better way to get people interested in nature and art than engaging them in the creative process?
Earth art is one of the most natural forms of eco-activism as it brings nature back to the people and takes the people back to nature. The planet’s not made of steel and concrete after all; beyond the cities and skyscrapers there are fields, below the roads there is soil, and above the perfume and smog there is fresh, life-giving air. Every pattern and irregularity in nature is a piece of art in and of itself.
So grab the chance of free entry to nature’s ongoing exhibition. And let the inspiration it provides spur you to action on behalf of the Earth—before it is too late. What a shame it would be if nature’s awe-inspiring art show ended forever.
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