CONVERSATIONS WITH THE NATURAL WORLD
This section presents a variety of artworks, exhibitions and practices that show the ways artists (and writers) have responded to the idea of nature over time. Some of this work depicts natural environments - both real and imaginary - , some reflects on the natural world in an appreciative, escapist or meditative way, and some is related to our differing relationships with ecologies and natural histories around the globe.
THE BOTANICAL MIND
This is a new online exhibition at Camden Art Centre, it features an incredibly rich and diverse selection of artwork, including painting, sculpture, audio, video as well as interviews with the artists. The introductory video above gives an insight into the included material. "Drawing on indigenous traditions from the Amazon rainforest; alternative perspectives on Western scientific rationalism; and new thinking around plant intelligence, philosophy and cultural theory, The Botanical Mind Online investigates the significance of the plant kingdom to human life, consciousness and spirituality across cultures and through time. It positions the plant as both a universal symbol found in almost every civilisation and religion across the globe, and the most fundamental but misunderstood form of life on our planet."
Image: (Included in the exhibition)
Ernst Haeckel, Peromedusae. Public domain.
Nan Shepherd (1893 - 1981) was a Scottish writer based in Aberdeenshire. The link above is to a BBC Radio 4 programme where Robert Macfarlane explores her work.
"Her book The Living Mountain, a work of poetic prose exploring her close relationship with the hills, was written in the 1940s, though not published until 1977. Hill-walking was Shepherd’s great love; her single collection of poetry In the Cairngorms (1934) expresses an intensity of deep kinship with nature. They are poems written with the perception of one who has climbed the mountains and truly knows them." (Scottish Poetry Library)
Image: Nan Shepherd on the Royal Bank of Scotland note.
Image: Nan Shepherd's stone slab outside the Writers' Museum in Edinburgh.
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Suter’s work is inspired by the tropical landscape of Panajachel in Guatemala, where she lives and works. The environment plays an important role in the making and development of her work. She leaves her artwork outdoors to be exposed to the elements so that natural substances, such as volcanic and botanical matter, are incorporated into the work.
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Connected to the land
Aguilar was the daughter of a first-generation Mexican-American father. Her mother is of mixed Mexican and Irish heritage. She had auditory dyslexia and developed an early interest in photography as a medium.
Aguilar was active as a photographer from the 1980s on. She was mainly self-taught, although she studied for a time at East Los Angeles Community College and participated in The Friends of Photography Workshop and Santa Fe Photographic Workshop.
Aguilar worked primarily in the genre of portraiture. Her work centres on the human form and challenges contemporary social constructs of beauty, focusing upon Latina lesbians, black people, and the obese.
In her series Nature Self Portraits and Grounded, Aguilar incorporates her beautiful large, brown body into the southwest North American landscape. The motivation behind these works is often described as Aguilar’s way of coming to terms with her own body while also negotiating a space for the unseen, namely large women of colour. These images can also be seen as referencing her Mexican ancestry.
Aguilar stated that her artistic goal was to create photographic images that compassionately render the human experience, revealed through the lives of individuals in the lesbian/gay and/or persons of colour communities.
This film from KCET explores the natural beauty of California and how historically it has inspired artists from around the world, from 19th-century plein air painting of pastoral valleys and coasts to early 20th-century photography of the wilderness (embodied famously in the work of Ansel Adams) and the birth of the light and space movement in the 1960s. Today, as artists continue to engage with California’s environment, they echo and critique earlier art practices that represent nature in “The Golden State” in a particular way. Featuring artists Laura Aguilar, Richard Misrach and Hillary Mushkin.
If you're looking for more
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ART IN THE LAND
Some artists work directly with their environment; both on a large scale and by making more subtle interventions. It's difficult to visit most of these artworks at the best of times, but we can see photos and videos of many of them.
"Nancy Holt was an American artist most known for her public sculpture, installation art, concrete poetry, and land art." (Wikipedia) Her interventions into the land often address scale, time and how we perceive different intensities. The earthwork Sun Tunnels (giant concrete tubes installed into the desert in Utah with constellations of starts made from drilled holes) create an inverted version of seeing the stars at night; sun beams through the holes during daylight and projects patterns within. Click HERE for a clip of the Sun Tunnels film (which shows the process of producing the artwork).
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Barbara Hepworth (1903 – 1975) was a British modernist artist. Based in St Ives for the latter half of her life, her large sculptural pieces were carved from wood, stone and also cast in bronze. These sculptures have resonance with nature, sometimes being quite figurative, however the shapes are often abstracted and the presence of space and light within the forms is striking. The link above is to Figures in a Landscape, a 1953 documentary by Dudley Shaw Ashton, showing Hepworth at work and the sculptures positioned in the rugged landscape.
The video above shows her Sculpture Garden in St Ives. Click HERE to see more about the restoration of her studios and garden.
Image: Barbara Hepworth (1966) by Erling Mandelmann. CC BY-SA 3.0.
THOMAS A CLARK
Image: Thomas A Clark. Peter Foolen Editions 2020. Copyright Thomas A Clark. Courtesy of the artist.
Thomas A Clark was born in Greenock, Scotland.
His poetry has been consistently attentive to form and to the experience of walking in the landscape, returning again and again to the lonely terrain of the Highlands and Islands.
In 1973, with the artist Laurie Clark, he started Moschatel Press. At first a vehicle for small publications by Ian Hamilton Finlay, Cid Corman, Jonathan Williams and others, it soon developed into a means of formal investigation within his own poetry, treating the book as imaginative space, the page as a framing device or as a quiet around an image or phrase, the turning of pages as revelation or delay.
From 1986, Laurie and Thomas A Clark have run Cairn Gallery, one of the earliest of "artist-run spaces", specialising in Land Art, Minimalism and a lyrical or poetic Conceptualism. After many years in the Cotswolds, the Clarks moved in 2002 to reopen the gallery in Pittenweem in Fife.
In addition to his books and smaller publications, Clark has also made site-specific installations in galleries, in gardens or in the landscape, and has many works in permanent collections world-wide.
In addition to his work with Moschatel Press, Thomas A. Clark led a group of artists installing artworks in the new Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow for its opening in 2009.
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“For over forty years, Patricia Johanson has patiently insisted that art can heal the earth. Her designs satisfy deep human needs for beauty, belonging and historical memory, while also answering the needs of birds, insects, fish, animals, and micro-organisms. Her art reclaims degraded ecologies and creates conditions that permit endangered species to thrive in the middle of urban centers.”
— Caffyn Kelley, Preface to Art and Survival
Patricia Johanson (born September 8, 1940, New York City) is an American artist. Johanson is known for her large-scale art projects that create aesthetic and practical habitats for humans and wildlife. She designs her functional art projects, created with and in the natural landscape, to solve infrastructure and environmental problems, but also to reconnect city-dwellers with nature and with the history of a place. These project designs date from 1969, making her a pioneer in the field of ecological-art (or eco-art.) Johanson's work has also been classified as Land Art, Environmental Art, Site-specific Art and Garden Art. Her early paintings and sculptures are part of Minimalism.
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IAN HAMILTON FINLAY
Ian Hamilton Finlay was born in Nassau, Bahamas in 1925 and brought up in Glasgow and the Orkney Islands. In the 1960s he emerged as one of the leaders of the concrete poetry movement and over the next 40 years became one of Scotland's most distinguished artists: a poet, philosopher and gardener with work exhibited in the great museums of the world despite Finlay himself rarely leaving the home in the Pentland Hills where he lived from 1966 until his death in 2006. He is probably best known for Little Sparta, the classical garden he built in the midst of a bleak Scottish moor - a fusion of so many of his artistic ideas and principally of his concern with man's relationship to nature. With the assistance of his collaborators, Finlay translated his proposals into myriad different objects. From sculptures in stone and glass and neon, to postcards, prints and booklets, they are united in diversity by their place in Finlay's fundamentally poetic view of the world.
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Agnes Denes (Dénes Ágnes; born 1931 in Budapest)] is a Hungarian-born American conceptual artist based in New York. She is known for works in a wide range of media - from poetry and philosophy writings, to complex hand and computer rendered diagrams (which she terms Visual Philosophy), sculpture, and international environmental installations, such as Wheatfield -- A Confrontation (1982), a two-acre wheatfield in downtown Manhattan.
After months of preparations, in May 1982, a 2-acre wheat field was planted on a landfill in lower Manhattan, two blocks from Wall Street and the World Trade Center, facing the Statue of Liberty. Two hundred truckload of dirt were brought in and 285 furrows were dug by hand and cleared of rocks and garbage. The seeds were sown by hand and the furrows covered with soil. The field was maintained for four months, cleared of wheat smut, weeded, fertilized and sprayed against mildew fungus, and an irrigation system set up. The crop was harvested on August 16 and yielded over 1000 pounds of healthy, golden wheat.