Experiencing art need not be limited to visiting museums, marveling at impressive architecture, gazing at marble sculptures, or viewing street murals.
Eco-friendly land art, also known as environmental or earth art, involves creating artistic installations or interventions in natural landscapes using organic materials found on site. This form of art emphasizes a harmonious relationship between the artwork and the environment, often with the intention of raising awareness about environmental issues or promoting a deeper connection to nature. These artists collaborate with nature and use its gifts to create a world of mystery, wonder and incomparable beauty.
Aspects of this natural art form include,
- Use of natural materials: Artists use materials readily available in nature, such as rocks, leaves, branches, soil, and water. These materials are often left in their natural state or minimally altered to create the works of art.
- Temporary installations: Most of these creations are temporary and designed to interact with the environment for a short period of time. This allows for the work to naturally decompose or be reclaimed by the landscape.
- Site-specificity: These works of art are often created in response to specific landscapes, considering their topography, and local flora and fauna. This site-specific approach contributes to a unique and immersive experience for the viewers.
- Low environmental impact: Artists strive to minimize their impact on the environment while creating land art. This might involve using non-invasive techniques or ensuring that the artwork doesn’t disrupt the local ecosystem.
- Conceptual and expressive: Eco-friendly land art often conveys deeper meanings or concepts related to nature, human interaction with the environment, or ecological issues. It invites viewers to contemplate their relationship with the natural world.
Andy Goldsworthy, an eco-friendly land artist, sculptor, photographer and environmentalist stresses the importance of touch, the transient passage of time and the weather that surrounds us. He says, “The weather—rain, sun, snow, hail, calm—is that external space made visible. When I touch a rock, I am touching and working the space around it. It is not independent of its surroundings and the way it sits tells how it came to be there.” Goldsworthy uses materials like leaves, stones, and ice to create intricate, site-specific artworks that interact with the elements. In Iris Leaves with Rowan Berries, he has used green long iris leaves floating in a dark still pond. These leaves form abstract grids in the water, with red cherries floating inside these grids. The shadow of trees, the sky, and their natural colors comprise the art.
Icicle Star, joined with saliva is another one of Goldsworthy’s art works. It’s a star made out of an icicle installed in a snow-covered part of a hill.
Richard Long’s work involves long walks through landscapes, during which he arranges natural materials to create patterns or circles. His sculptures, “textworks” and drawings become a record of his journey and the environment he traverses.
Nils-Udo creates large-scale installations using natural materials, often integrated seamlessly into forests, bodies of water, or open fields. His works include art in urban spaces and paintings that evoke a sense of wonder and connectedness to the environment. He describes his works as, “Drawing with flowers, painting with clouds, and writing with water.” His website features several beautiful photographs of his works.
Patrick Dougherty creates whimsical and intricate sculptures using branches and saplings. His sculptures often resemble structures from folklore or mythology, blending art and nature.
Chris Drury uses natural materials to create intricate patterns and designs. His installations highlight the interconnectedness of ecosystems and the delicate balance of nature. Edge of Chaos is a boxed book featuring 45 years of his art works. In his words, “I also work in art and science. I make installations inside and make works on paper, works with maps, digital and video art, and works with mushrooms. My work makes connections between different phenomena in the world, specifically between Nature and Culture, Inner and Outer and Microcosm and Macrocosm. To this end I collaborate with scientists and technicians from a broad spectrum of disciplines and use whatever visual means, technologies and materials best suit the situation.”
While not exclusively eco-friendly, Robert Smithson’s most famous work, “Spiral Jetty,” is a prime example of land art. This massive coil of rocks and earth extends into the Great Salt Lake in Utah, U.S., and has become an iconic piece in the land art movement. Tragically Smithson died at the age of 35 in an aircraft accident when he was surveying the site for another earthwork in Texas. The two following quotes provide some insight into Smithson’s perspectives on art.
“I am for an art that takes into account the direct effect of the elements as they exist from day to day apart from representation.”
“By excluding technological processes from the making of art, we begin to discover other processes of a more fundamental order.”
For many years, the narratives surrounding land art were dominated by men. Groundswell: Women of Land Art, an exhibition scheduled between September 23, 2023 – January 7, 2024 at the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, TX intends to shift this focus by featuring land art works by 12 American women artists, whose careers ran parallel to their male counterparts, and yet have received way less recognition and representation in museums and exhibitions.
New York’s Sculpture Center and The Brooklyn Museum have also attempted to correct the gender bias in land art by highlighting women artists who have been instrumental in the development of this art form.
Agnes Denes, Nancy Holt, Alice Aycock, Lita Albuquerque, Beverly Peper, Mary Miss, Ana Mendieta, Maya Lin, Michelle Stuart, and Beverly Buchanan are some of the female land artists who have been featured. They each excel in diverse approaches and their artistry can bee seen here by Artsy.
Sun Tunnels, the best known piece by Nancy Holt is set in the Great Basin Desert of Utah and consists of four 18-foot-long tubes that perfectly frame the sunrise and sunset during the summer and winter solstice. The perforations on top of each cylindrical tube project the constellations Draco, Perseus, Columba, and Capricorn during the daytime.
Eco-friendly land art invites viewers to see nature in new ways and contemplate humanity’s role in preserving and respecting the environment. It’s a unique form of artistic expression that brings attention to the beauty and fragility of our natural world.