Environmental art  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The term environmental art is used in two different contexts: it can be used generally to refer to art dealing with ecological issues and/or the natural, such as the formal, the political, the historical, or the social context.

Depending upon how you look at its definition, earlier examples of environmental art stem from landscape painting and representation. When artists painted onsite they developed a deep connection with the surrounding environment and its weather and brought these close observations into their canvases. John Constable’s sky paintings and Monet’s London Series also exemplify the artists’ connection with the environment.

It is possible to trace the growth of environmental art as a "movement", beginning in the late 1960s or the 1970s. In its early phases it was most associated with sculpture—especially Site-specific art, Land art and Arte povera—having arisen out of mounting criticism of traditional sculptural forms and practices which were increasingly seen as outmoded and potentially out of harmony with the natural environment.

In October 1968 Robert Smithson organized an exhibition at Dwan Gallery in New York titled Simply “Earthworks”. All of the works posed an explicit challenge to conventional notions of exhibition and sales, in that they were either too large or too unwieldy to be collected; most were represented only by photographs, further emphasizing their resistance to acquisition. For these artists escaping the confines of the gallery and modernist theory was achieved by leaving the cities and going out into the desert.


Environmentalism into art

In identifying Environmental art a crucial distinction lies between environmental artists who do not consider the damage to the environment their artwork may incur, and those who intend to cause no harm to nature. Indeed, their work might involve restoring the immediate landscape to a natural state. For example, despite its aesthetic merits, the American artist Robert Smithson’s celebrated sculpture Spiral Jetty (1969) involved inflicting considerable permanent damage upon the landscape he worked with. Smithson using a bulldozer to scrape and cut the land, impinging upon the lake. This Environmental Art also raised awareness of the importance in recycling materials.

Alan Sonfist, with his first historical Time Landscape sculpture, proposed to New York City in 1965, visible to this day at the corner of Houston and LaGuardia in New York City’s Greenwich Village, introduced the key environmentalist idea of bringing nature back into the urban environment. Today Sonfist is joining forces with the broad enthusiasm for environmental and green issues among public authorities and private citizens to propose a network of such sites across the metropolitan area, which will raise consciousness of the key role that nature will play in the challenges of the 21st century.The sacredness of nature and the natural environment is often evident in the work of Environmental Artists.

Indeed, such criticism was raised against the European sculptor Christo when he temporarily wrapped the coastline at Little Bay, south of Sydney, Australia, in 1969. Conservationists' comments attracted international attention in environmental circles, and lead contemporary artists in the region to re-think the inclinations of Land art and Site-specific art. Chris Drury instituted a work entitled "Medicine Wheel" which was the fruit and result of a daily meditative walk, once a day, for a calendar year. The deliverable of this work was a mandala of mosaiced found objects: nature art as process art.

In comparison, a committed Environmental artist such as the British sculptor Richard Long has for several decades made temporary outdoor sculptural work by rearranging natural materials found on the site, such as rocks, mud and branches, and which will therefore have no lingering detrimental effect. Crop artist Stan Herd shows similar connection with and respect for the land. While leading Environmental artists such as the Dutch sculptor Herman de Vries, the Australian sculptor John Davis and the British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy similarly leave the landscape they have worked with unharmed, and in some cases have in the process of making their work revegetated with appropriate indigenous flora land that had been damaged by human use. In this way the work of art arises out of a sensitivity towards habitat.

Perhaps the most celebrated instance of Environmental art in the late 20th century was 7000 Oaks, an ecological action staged at Documenta during 1982 by Joseph Beuys, in which the artist and his assistants highlighted the condition of the local environment by planting 7000 oak trees throughout and around the city of Kassel. In the last two decades significant environmentally-concerned work has also been made by Rosalie Gascoigne, who fashioned her serene sculptures from rubbish and junk she found discarded in rural areas, Patrice Stellest, who created big installations with junk, but also pertinent items collected around the world and solar energy mechanisms, and John Wolseley, who hikes through remote regions, gathering visual and scientific data, then incorporates visual and other information into complex wall-scale works on paper. Environmental art or Green art by Washington, DC based glass sculptors Erwin Timmers and Alison Sigethy incorporate some of the least recycled building materials; structural glass.

Renewable energy sculpture

Renewable energy sculpture is another recent development in environmental art. Representing a response to the increasing urgency in the global climate change debates. Generally the practice is evolving in public sculpture and to an extent in experimental architecture. The response is make an explicit intervention at a functional level, merging aesthetical responses with the functional properties of energy generation or saving. Practitioners of this emerging area work to ecologically informed ethical and practical codes that conform to Ecodesign criteria.

As the definition of “”Environmental Art”” can be interpreted in different ways it may be useful to define some categories and examples of artists working in those ways.

Landscape Manipulation

Intersection of Environment and Human Activity

Artist as Individual and Relationship to the Land

Environment as Ecosystem and Socio-Political Realities

Land as Metaphor or Signifier

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Environmental art" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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