29
Aug 12

Into the Woods

Part three of three — Into The Vermont Woods.  ©Leili Towfigh, 2012. All rights reserved.
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Maidenhair fern.

 

More lacy ferns.

 

 

Magic hour.

 

 

Tinder Polypore fungus – whilst on the tree. Amazing!

 

Tinder polypore whilst off the tree. Look at all the tiny pores.

 

Tinder polypore broken in half. Each needle-like thing is a “pore”, in stria.

 

More of the tinder polypore, called “amadou” in Europe, and used as … tinder.

 

Bearded hipster bark.

 

Rushing river.

 

Suffused with light.

 

TinyHenge.

 

Erosion from Hurricane Irene. There was a huge oak at the bottom of the ravine.

 

I liken lichen.

 

Glinting, late-afternoon light in the woods.

 

Heather in the magic hour …. Tall grass in the field.

07
Jul 10

Listening to Waves – Part 2

 

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.”

 

 

“Listening to Waves”, 2004, S. Takayuki. Sand-glazed stoneware.

 

 

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”.

 

S. Takayuchi, 2008. Vessel with diagonally-incised cascading folds. Glazed stoneware.

 

 

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.

 

 I’m so partial to this image I don’t know what to do with myself.

 

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.

 

Stunning, meditative, freehand labor of love. Look at the scale!

 

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.

 

Horseback Mountain

 

 

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.”

 

Elephant. Colleen Plumb, “Animals are Outside Today”.

 

 

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.

 

Denevan

 

 

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.

06
Jul 10

Listening to Waves – Part 1

I first saw this photograph (by David Martin of the AP) in June: spilt oil forms a delicate pattern in waves hurtling toward the Alabama coastline:

Blobs of oil hurtling toward the sand of an Alabama beach. Photo: David Martin/AP

I have seen a number of photographs, all terrifying, of oil-covered pelicans and brown waterscapes in the Gulf region. More than others, however, this photo spoke volumes for me. For those of us who do not live in a Gulf state and don’t see the damage in front of our faces, it is perhaps difficult to comprehend the devastation the spill has caused to wildlife, livelihoods, ways of life. I think about the Exxon Valdes disaster, its attendant photos of oil-soaked birds, and the vague (if erroneous) perception that in time, it was cleaned up, bird populations have bounced back, etc. That may not have happened, and I fear it has not, but as the disaster faded from memory and from the consciousness of those of us living far away, that was the assumption.

The photo by Martin bears witness and gets my attention in quite powerful but understated way – it looks beautiful at first glance, before one is able to process it. Is that – seeweed floating in the water? No, it’s thick blobs of brown, iridescent oil that choke and cloud the water. As the wave crashes to shore, it will seep inches deep into the sand on the shore.

Never mind the more fundamental questions about greed, irresponsibility, prevention and the causes of this environmental disaster. Everyone is wondering: Will it ever be cleaned, in water or on land? How? How long will it take? What will the pervasive oil do to people’s and creatures’ physical health? What obvious, and what hidden effects will there be, and how long will it take for these impacts to emerge?

The image sticks in my head. Soon I’ll be sharing some other images as a counterbalance to the feeling of pessimism that accompanies this one. I’ll feature works by artists who have been inspired by nature. Their work, although it carries contradictions and ambivalence, is infused with their love of the earth, and their work intensifies my love for the earth.

“‘The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established,’ Bahá’u’lláh wrote. ‘The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.’  The major issues facing the environmental movement today hinge on this point. The problems of ocean pollution, the extinction of species, acid rain and deforestation – not to mention the ultimate scourge of nuclear war – respect no boundaries. All require a transnational approach.

This dichotomy between spirituality and materialism is a key to understanding the plight of humankind today. In the Bahá’í view, the major threats to our world environment … are manifestations of a world-encompassing sickness of the human spirit, a sickness that is marked by an overemphasis on material things and a self-centeredness that inhibits our ability to work together as a global community.”

(From the Statement on Nature, Bahá’í International Community)


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