The heart-rending photo I posted yesterday of an Alabaman wave polluted by the Gulf oil spill prompted me to share some work by artists who evidently love nature, and whose work, I find, deepens my own love for nature and beauty.
Sakiyama Takayuchi is a Japanese ceramic artist who makes clay look like water and stone at the same time. Joan Mirviss says of his work, “Some vessels appear as if made from sand on the beach, the surface simply decorated by the current of the receding water. Others appear to undulate and twist in space as if in perpetual motion.”
This undulating, double-walled piece, entitled, Listening to Waves
“…gives material expression to the sensation of sound and the movement of water…. Waves swirl across the exterior, sweeping over the rim into the interior to create a fully integrated, organic form. Moss-colored glaze fills the ebblike grooves, leaving traces of sand on the surface of the vessel. This effect recalls the raked sand-waves of Zen kare sansui gardens, such as the sixteenth-century Ryoanji in Kyoto, which convey the expanse of the oceans, and ultimately the entire universe.” (From the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History on the Met’s site)
I love the idea that a humble lump of clay – skillfully-formed – can convey someone’s inner sense of the “expanse of the universe”.
Next up, Jim Denevan is an American “earth artist” who, like Takayuchi, evokes the grandeur of nature. He makes temporary drawings on sand, earth and ice that are eventually erased by waves and weather.
He claims to have made the world’s largest free-hand drawing. Is it bigger than the Uffington White Horse drawing etched in chalk in the English countryside? Possibly. I don’t really care. His drawings are sublime, and I love the fact that they are ephemeral. They fade away according to nature’s whim and schedule, covered by the tide, blown away by the wind.
Finally, there’s Colleen Plumb, an American photographer whose eccentric and surprising series of photographs, Animals Are Outside Today, examines the intersections between humans and animals.
This image is so arresting, it gives me the shivers. I can *hear* it. Plumb explains that she likes to study “how animals are woven through the fabric of culture. I began this project looking at fake nature, considering how substitutions for nature might satisfy people. Looking deeper I began photographing real animals, investigating how they provide intangible links to a deeper world of instinct and rawness.”
Now, I am not claiming that these three artists have some sort of pure, unambivalent “love for nature”. Love for nature can look like many things – sometimes the over-the-top awe and joy we feel for the natural world can be mixed with revulsion, fear or callousness.
We domesticate wild animals and keep them indoors. We adore the beauty of creatures, but one way of engaging with that beauty has been to conquer them and decorate our interiors with their hides and horns. We yearn to walk in an ancient forest, but we won’t directly miss it if it’s gone, thousands of miles away, and if it yields beautiful furniture and houses for us. Plumb says,
Contradictions define our relationships with animals. We love and admire them; we are entertained and fascinated by them; we take our children to watch and learn about them. Animals are embedded within core human history–evident in our stories, rituals and symbols. At the same time, we eat, wear and cage them with seeming indifference, consuming them in countless ways.
Our connection to animals today is often developed through assimilation and appropriation; we absorb them into our lives, yet we no longer know of their origin. Most people are cut off from the steps involved in their processing or acquisition, shielded from witnessing their death or decay. I am interested in moving within these contradictions, always wondering if the notion of sacred will survive alongside our evolution.
Plumb reflects on our relationships with animals, and underscores in her photographs the many contradictions and ambivalences that characterise those relationships. My starting point, the photograph of the oily wave, seems similar somehow. Although the image is not a traditional “nature” shot depicting a pristine ocean, I don’t doubt that the photographer loves nature and wants, through his work, to draw attention to its destruction. Denevan’s work is fleeting; it dies and fades away, underscoring the fragility of nature and a fascination with its manipulation. Even Takayuchi sets forth ideas with a sort of irony: he thinks about the expanse of the universe – in the form of a pot, made of mud.
What artwork have you seen that inspires your love for nature, contradictions and all? And don’t worry – there will certainly be ample discussion of Andy Goldsworthy in Part 3, coming soon.