Category Archives: Nature

‘Desert Breath’: A Spiral of Infinity by Arteam

desert breath

Desert Breath is a huge, stunning piece of spiral Land Art located at El Gouna, Egypt, where the immensity of the Red Sea meets that of the eastern Sahara desert. It was created in 1997 by a collective called D.A.ST. Arteam, whose members include installation artist Danae Stratou, industrial designer Alexandra Stratou and architect Stella Constantinides. The land art, breathtaking in its vision and scope, was intended as an exploration of infinity: ‘The project is rooted in our common desire to work in the desert. In our mind’s eye the desert was a place where one experiences infinity. We were addressing the desert as a state of mind, a landscape of the mind’ (Stratou 1998).

The spiral of Desert Breath covers an area of 100,000 square metres. In creating it, 8000 cubic metres of sand were displaced to create 89 positive and 89 negative cones of sand which become increasingly larger the further away they are from the centre. The 89 cones and 89 matching depressions spiral out from one another in two geometrically precise arms that increase in diameter progressively. In the centre is a 30m diameter vessel filled to the brim with water. The spiral is logarithmic – that is, one generated through an equation (though such spirals, also called miracle spirals, occur in nature).

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The work can be explored in two ways: as a visual image from a vantage point on a hill, and from the ground, walking the spiral pathway as a physical experience. From the vantage point, the shape of the spiral reveals itself fully, imagined by the artists as a kind of ‘breath’ in the desert. From the ground, the viewer walks from the outside inwards. At the outermost point, the sand cones are twice the height of a person and have a diameter of 15m, but walking towards the centre, they successively diminish in scale, though this happens so gradually the viewer often doesn’t notice. At some point, the viewer realises they are now about the same height as the cone, engendering the curious, almost Alice in Wonderland, sensation that they have shifted in scale, grown larger as they walk.

Numerous small-scale experimental models were initially made by Arteam in Greece before the piece was finally constructed in Egypt. The actual work was undertaken by a large Egyptian construction company, supervised by Arteam.

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Made in 1997, Desert Breath still exists, slowly disintegrating, so an instrument to register the passage of time. It can be seen on Google Earth at coordinates 27°22’54.59″N, 33°37’48.46″E. A video of the artwork and its construction can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZbTWE5XWoU

 

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Windspirals and hanging pods: the art of Bromwyn Berman

The Australian artist Bromwyn Berman makes public and installation art as well as sculpture, drawings and paintings. Her alluring works relate intimately to, and reflect on, the natural world. The art seeks to ‘encourage a respect for our place in the evolution of landscape as part of the processes of nature.’ Organic signs and symbols recur – spirals, circles, pods, mandalas, honeycomb forms – and she uses a variety of materials, including copper wire, aluminium, stainless steel, stones, mulberry paper, bees wax, tree roots, charcoal, plant remains from rivers. These natural and man-made materials ‘evidence our interface with nature.’

Berman 3

Windspiral 2006

Berman windspiral

Her public artworks and larger sculptural installations focus on landscape and natural systems; they speak to what she calls ‘our inner knowing of the earth body.’ Her studio practice, paper works, drawings and small sculpture explore ‘the simplest and most basic signifiers of natural systems’; they inquire into ‘archetypal forms of geometry as well as themes of the recurring mysteries that form the foundation of our experience.’ She believes in a deep collective consciousness, which art can put humans in touch with. Some might say this puts her within a visionary or spiritual aesthetic tradition, though her work is viscerally grounded, in roots, branches, copper wire, mulberry paper.

The breathtaking ‘Windspiral’ (2006), made of aluminium and stainless steel with timber support (120cm x 300cm x 300cm), was installed at the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition, Sydney, 2006. Berman says, ‘The shape is that of the wind, the colour and texture are the Australian bush where things are silvery and scratchy.’ The inspiration for this work came from living high on a cliff in the Australian bush as well a joyful day spent making artwork with a friend in this special windy place. She has made various other ‘Windspirals’ for different locations.

Berman 2

Banksia Women

Her series of ‘Banksia Women’ (2011), pods woven from copper with river stones (140cm x 50cm x 50cm), were exhibited in various locations across Australia. The pod, Berman believes, is a deeply ‘known’ form, an ‘encapsulation of life to come, a concentration or distillation of all that is complex in nature, containing seeds of new life or… the promise of transformation to new form.’

Berman - the Portal

The Portal

‘The Portal’ (2013) is a circle of aluminium and stainless steel (120cm x 120cm x 20cm) suspended in woodland. Again, we have an organic form that may elicit a response from an ‘inner knowing’; and a form that suggests a liminal place or doorway with all the associations of transition and transformation. The work was exhibited at Sculpture at Scenic World, 2013.

Her ‘River to River: Interwoven Landscapes’ exhibitions at the Penrith Regional Gallery, Australia (2014), included various wonderfully titled sculptures and artworks: ‘Murmurings’ (215cm x 215cm x 30cm) is a mandala made from fragments of Casurina (River Oak) roots nailed onto paper; ‘There is another alphabet’ (25cm x 22cm x13cm) is made of Japanese mulberry paper, Moulin Delaroc paper and waxed Linen thread, with the paper contact-printed with plants from the Nepean River; and ‘You and I have floated on the stream’ (300cm x 60cm x 50cm) is an animated river of paper contact-printed with plants from the Nepean River and with Casurina roots.

Berman - The Murmurings

The Murmurings 2014

Berman - there is anothe alphabet

There is another alphabet 2014

berman - you and I have floated on the stream 2014

You and I have floated on the stream

 

Berman’s beautiful, enigmatic art changes the viewer, inspires them and engenders reflection; her pieces speak of the natural world and our place within it, using a language rooted in a material alphabet, one of paper, tree branches, thread, wax.

More about the artist can be found on her website (where quotes here were taken from) http://www.bronwynberman.com.au

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The strange, poetic world of Catrin Welz-Stein

catrin Whale-watching

Catrin Welz-Stein creates strange, magical images from combining old photo fragments, paintings and illustrations. She originally trained as a graphic designer and illustrator in Germany and then worked in graphic design. During a break from work to bring up children, she began in 2009 to create images based on digital collaging in Photoshop. She has said she felt compromised by professional graphic design, having to make art that is ‘forced to explain itself from the beginning’. In Photoshop she began to produce images with a dreamlike quality instead, an art that comes from ‘inner feeling which we hide in our daily lives’. The time spent with her children also re-introduced her to fairy tales and the fantasy of children’s literature.

Welz-Stein’s work draws on the many photographs, paintings and illustrations that she stores on her computer. She produces the images by cutting, copying, transforming little pieces of images and blending them with others, sewing all the fragments together to create something new. Motifs recur: keys, moons, birds, flowers, leaves, trees, bird cages, fish, words, houses, butterflies, water, balloons. Each image tends to focus around one figure (sometimes a few figures), predominantly women, though there are men, children and birds, too. Around, and sometimes within, the figure, fabulous and odd things take place: a woman stares at a huge fish floating across the sky with a whale roped to its underbelly; a girl walks across a tightrope high above a city, holding the earth as a balloon; a woman’s long hair protrudes almost horizontally behind her, and from it hangs a moon, a cloud, a bird cage; a man in a top hat stands beneath a streetlight, the light inside which is the crescent moon. The costumes worn by the figures are often extravagant: a woman’s dress is made from flowers or leaves or buildings, a girl wears an Edwardian dress with keys dangling from its rear.

Catrin-Welz-Stein_9600_803Catrin Welz-Stein - German Surrealist Graphic Designer - Tutt'Art@ (53)

The images engender a poetic world reminiscent of fairy tales and surrealism; some are unsettling, others more whimsical. Each picture seems to tell a fragment of a story, one based on an unconscious truth. Welz-Stein cites her contemporary influences as artists and illustrators like Kelly Rae Roberts, Okaf Hajek and Natalie Shou; more historical influences include Botticelli, Otto Dix, Rene Magritte, Frida Kahlo and Gustav Klint . Certainly Magritte’s impact is evident, with his depictions of ordinary objects in a strange context to engender poetic realities; and that of Frida Kahlo too, with her women in odd scenarios, dressed in extravagant costumes, closely linked to the earth, vegetation and animals.

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Catrin Welz-Stein’s work became well known through social media. She now has 27K likes on Facebook and over 2000 followers on Instagram. More about her can be found from her website http://catrinwelzstein.blogspot.am/

Catrin Welz-Stein 34catrin man

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Slate Whirlpools – the Environmental Art of Chris Drury

Chris Drury (1948-) is a British artist who creates site-specific land art and installation art using natural materials which are locally sourced. He also produces videos, sculpture, mixed media works, prints, and paintings. His work explores the connection between realms – nature and culture, microcosm and macrocosm, the inner and the outer, the fluid and the static. He likes to work collaboratively – with scientists, technicians, native peoples, anthropologists, geologists  – and his work reflects on the nature of place and of humans within that.

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Winnemucca Whirlwind, 2008

Drury came of age at a time of land art giants such as Robert Smithson (1938-73). Like Smithson, his art addresses our relationship to the natural world, meditating on ecological, historical, and cultural themes. Winnemucca Whirlwind (2008), a work 300 feet across and based on a native American basket design, was raked by hand (over 18 hours) into the dry lakebed of Lake Winnemucca, Nevada. Although placed on Government land, it was only visible from a high point on the Paiute Indian Reservation. The work eventually disappeared into the dusty desert air, leaving nothing behind. ‘The drawing metaphorically reclaimed the land for the Paiute Nation since all of the land was once their hunting grounds. In the 1800’s Winnemucca was a shallow lake, rich in fish and wildfowl, but in the early 1900’s the government diverted part of the Truckee river, which flows into Pyramid and Winnemucca lakes, for irrigation of farming lands. This ecologically insane idea resulted in Pyramid Lake dropping 80 feet and Winnemucca drying out. The devastation this caused to vital Paiute fisheries is still felt today and the Paiute Nation continue to fight for their water and fishery rights through the courts’ (http://chrisdrury.co.uk/winnemucca-whirlwind/#)

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Winnemucca Whirlwind, 2008

Carbon Sink (2011), placed on the grounds of the University of Wyoming, hit a raw nerve with the local coal industry and state legislators – Wyoming is home to the US’s largest coal mine and the state benefits from the taxes on this industry. Carbon Sink is a tangible, concrete metaphor of the destruction of forests by pine beetles due to climate change. The piece, 14m in diameter, is made from beetle-killed pine logs and coal. Both these materials, once living trees, died during times of climate warming.  At present, the burning of fossils fuels is giving rise to ‘warmer winters in the Rockies, as a result the pine beetle survive the winters and the forests in the Rockies are dying from New Mexico to British Columbia – a catastrophic event…Children born now will never know what a wild Mountain Forest looks like, and there will be fires and erosion in the mountains which will effect all living things’ (http://chrisdrury.co.uk/carbon-sink/)

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Carbon Sink, 2010

As well as large outdoor works with environmental and cultural resonance, Drury creates impressive sculptures and installations for galleries, again from natural materials. Mushroom Cloud (2010, 2.3m x5m) was made from 6000 dried fungi slices set in acrylic and suspended by nylon wire from a steel shell at The Malaga Costa Barn, Sella Arts, Sella Valley, Italy. A beautiful, haunting work that looms above the viewer and draws associations between natural and human realms – the mushroom and the atomic bomb.

mushroom cloud

Mushroom Cloud, 2010

Heart of Stone (2004, 500x830x30 cm), exhibited in the Stephen Lacey Galley, London, uses thousands of fragments of slate laid within a wood frame. The whirlpool form of Heart of Stone is taken from blood flow patterns in the heart, and is similar to a public artwork Drury created at the Russell Hall Hospital, Dudley, UK.

heart of stone

Heart of Stone

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Ana Mendieta’s Siluetas

Silhueta series

The Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta (1948-85) is known for her performance art, ‘earth-body sculptures’, photographs and video work, much of which centred on her own body. She was born in Havana, but during the political upheaveals of the early 1960s, she and her sister (along with many Cuban children) were sent to the United States under ‘Operation Peter Pan’, ending up in an orphanage. This dramatic exile, separating her (at age thirteen) from family and homeland, had a formative influence on her art.

Mendieta’s haunting ‘Siluetas’ (1973–81) are among her most powerful works, a fusion of performance and earth art. In these untitled sculptures, Mendieta burnt, dug or otherwise shaped her own silhouette into different outdoor sites. Often she filled in the silhouette with ephemeral materials – flowers, twigs, leaves, fire, gunpowder, candles. Sometimes her body itself, covered with flowers or mud, formed the silhouette. Interested in the earth as a site to address feelings of displacement, she recorded the presence of her body – or the imprint it left – within various environments.

Silhueta series

In a 1981 statement about the work, she wrote: “I have been carrying out a dialogue between the landscape and the female body (based on my own silhouette). I believe this has been a direct result of my having been torn from my homeland (Cuba) during my adolescence. I am overwhelmed by the feeling of having been cast from the womb (nature). My art is the way I re-establish the bonds that unite me to the universe … Through my earth-body sculptures I become an extension of nature and nature becomes an extension of my body.”

The Silueta works – about a hundred in total – were performed as she traveled between her home in Iowa and Mexico during the period 1973-81. As the sculptures were transitory, the documenting photographs and films are considered the artworks.

In the photographs, red flowers or red powder glow against sand, soil or stone; flames burn against the earth. Mendieta drew on knowledge about indigenous rituals and beliefs, including the deities (orishas) of the Afro-Cuban religion of Santería. One beach sculpture consists of red bouganvillea blossoms in the shape of the artist’s body with arms raised; another shows incoming waves covering the silhouette on the sand. For those familiar with Santeria, the symbolism is apparent: Chango, a principal orisha, is represented by the colour red; his mistress, Yemaya, is orisha of the ocean – the frothy white waves represent her lacy petticoats.

Silhueta series

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Mendieta died in 1985 when she mysteriously fell from a 34-storey building at the age of 36, just as her work was becoming recognised outside the specialised world of feminist art criticism. Her Silueta series in particular remains a powerful body of work, an evocative testament to the effects of displacement and to the importance for this artist of an emotional connection to nature.

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Taste the Rain: Anna Gillespie’s Sculpture

Taste the Rain, 2007 Bark, mixed media

Taste the Rain, 2007
Bark, mixed media

The British artist Anna Gillespie (1964) makes figurative sculpture based on the human form. The focus of her work is on emotion, simplicity of form and our relationship to and experience of nature. Antony Gormley is a significant influence as is Francis Bacon, whose paintings helped her clarify how emotional injury can be conveyed through figuration. Gillespie’s figures often reflect the fragility and vulnerability of human beings and being human.

Although she works in media like stone, bronze and even duct-tape, an emphasis has been on sculptures made from ephemeral natural materials. Taste the Rain (2007) is a beautiful example. “This is part of an ongoing series of work using material that has fallen from trees: acorns, beechnut casings, leaves, bark, sycamore keys….For this piece, I found the bark in a wood near my home in the south west of England, from a fallen tree.”

“All these works try to express a moment of connection to nature and this particular piece is about trying to draw the viewer into recalling what it feels like to stand out in the rain and engage their senses.”

“Trees have a skin and so do we. Trees stand up tall and so do we. Trees stand in the rain. This piece asks us to reconnect with this experience which we all share, narrowing the gap between the trees experience and our human experience of nature.”

The Gift Acorn cups, mixed media

The Gift
Acorn cups, mixed media

She also places an emphasis on honouring the unconscious processes involved in making artworks. “One of the crucial things about letting the unconscious have its say is that, being a sculptor of the human body, breathing ‘life’ into inert materials is at the heart of my work. I take inert materials, whether it be clay, masking tape, acorns or plaster, and I make something that for a moment people might believe is sentient, has feelings. Whilst actually what is happening is that our own feelings can be projected into an object, just for a minute the reality is different and a magic transformation happens. The object, the figure, contains life.”

Invisible Breeze, 2010 Acorn cups, mixed media

Invisible Breeze, 2010
Acorn cups, mixed media

More information and images can be found on her website http://www.annagillespie.co.uk

Autumn, 2007 Inkjet print

Autumn, 2007
Inkjet print

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February Oodlings and Doodlings

February Oodlings and doodlings: or some things I did and pondered in February (which may or may not be true…)

all tied up1 sepia

‘All Tied Up’

I saw a cloud in the form of a giant sky-turtle. I wondered about a dystopian world in which clouds are used as advertising billboards. I tweeted about imaginary essays by Jorge Luis Borges and about graveyards of red telephone boxes. I watched two mesmerising foreign documentaries, Nostalgia for the Light, and Le Quattro Volte, and wrote a song inspired by the former. I ate far too much chocolate, albeit dark, 85% organic. I sat by the river one night and spoke to a huge, gold-glowing magic fish in the water.

I celebrated writer Russell Hoban’s birthday on February 4th by putting quotes by him up around the village green and by the river. I listened to blue-tit and collared dove song each morning and wondered if birds sing in their dreams. I took photographs of knots and chains by the river’s edge and of silhouettes on a jetty; and I took a video of feet walking along a jetty. I had some funny conversations with a punning cat. I wrote most of a short story. I decided, in a pretentious moment, that reflections in windows at night intimate the real, slippery, multi-dimensional nature of reality far more than the clear light of day does. I rediscovered the beauty and eccentricity of singer-songwriter Regina Spektor.

I had an email correspondence with a friend about Keats’s art of negative capability, the ability to live with doubt, uncertainty and mystery – I concluded that I was aspirant but wanting in this respect. I spent quite a bit of the month in a bad relapse of the chronic illness I have, in significant amounts of pain, but congratulated myself on handling it with a degree of stoicism. I read an impressive surreal novel, Liquidambar, by the New Zealand writer Chris Bell. I had fish and chips at the end of a glistening road with my mother. I got angry yet again with the government for their treatment of the poor and sick, for their policies of austerity that are plunging the poor into greater poverty even as the rich stock up their coffers. I fell in love with life whilst watching the charming, gentle video of the Kings of Convenience’s I’d Rather Dance Than Talk with You.

(Note I got this summary-of-month idea from another blog I sometimes visit, tho that blog only does real events)

Cloud in the Form of a Giant Sky-Turtle?

turtle

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