Tag Archives: Politics

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.

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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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Filed under Art, Arts, Earth, Environmentalism, imagination, installation art, natural world, Nature, public art, Sculpture, Uncategorized

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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Filed under Art, Arts, Environmentalism, imagination, Mexico, natural world, Nature, Performance art, Photography, Sculpture, sea, the sea

Hands of a Puppeteer

modotti hands of puppeteer

Italian-born Tina Modotti (1896-1942), a committed Communist and ground-breaking photographer, took images of working people in Mexico in the 1920s and 30s in a refreshingly non-documentary and aesthetic manner. Hands were a particular preoccupation of hers. Hands of a Puppeteer (1929), whose subject comes from a popular form of Mexican entertainment, is an intriguing, artful composition that blends formal elements and political concerns. Modotti’s skill as an artist is revealed in, say, the dramatic contrasts of shadow and light, the criss-crossing diagonals of the arms/hands and wooden puppetry bars, and the textural detail of the strings draped across hands or the man’s arm-hair and veins. But as a politically engaged artist, Modotti would have been aware of how the idea of puppetry could be a social and political metaphor – the hands symbolising those in power, pulling the strings of the powerless. At the time there was growing disillusionment in Mexico concerning reform or emancipation for ethnic groups and the working-classes. Hands of a Puppeteer (1929) hints at this political message in a non-didactic way while offering an original, striking image.

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Filed under Arts, Black and white photography, Hands, Mexico, Photography