Category Archives: the sea

‘Desert Breath’: A Spiral of Infinity by Arteam

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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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Filed under Art, Arts, contemporary art, Earth, Environmentalism, imagination, installation art, Myth, natural world, Nature, Photography, public art, the sea, Uncategorized, Water

The strange, poetic world of Catrin Welz-Stein

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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.

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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/

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Ana Mendieta’s Siluetas

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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.

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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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