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------Art path of Hunter's Valley

Introduction to Nature Art

The wave of the flower power of the 1960s brought along a huge number of neo-pagan trends that received their inspiration from ecstatic primitive religions. A manner of art with a sharpened perception of environment began rapidly developing from Joseph Beuys’s shamanistic ritual works onwards. There were many who sought escape from the suffocating incubators of museums and galleries. Robert Smithson’s large-scale landscape installations, for example the huge “Spiral Jetty” in a salt lake, the initial purpose of which was to emphasise the pinkish hue of the bottom of the lake, used nature as a massive canvas that offers the viewers participation, unusual aspects and  a stage for meditation once inside the work.
   
    Later nature art cultivators have criticised this type of bulldozer land art work as aggressive acts of terrorism. The sacral and ritual elements are getting constantly denser in nature art. Many get their inspiration from Neolithic cult objects, dolmens and menhirs, e.g. Stonehenge, burial mounds, gigantic Nazca desert drawings or the Hanging Gardens of  Semiramis. Several artists have cultivated discreet landscape design in that spirit, such as Walter de Maria’s “Lightning Field”. He stuck 400 stainless steel lightning rods in a field sized 1 mile x 1 km in a New Mexico desert, the planet’s pole of thunder, where thunderstorms often rage in summer months. The field has become an exclusive place of worship. Dia Center for the Arts who commissioned and is looking after the work, books 24-hour visits to the place for groups not exceeding 6 people. The $300 ticket does not guarantee thunder.

    In the 1990s the centre of nature art moved to Europe and hence a significant change of paradigm took place. Nature is taken much more seriously, regarded as a partner rather than raw material.  The Brits Richard Long and Hamish Fulton persistently preach the intactness of nature. Richard Long’s objects and sculptures of displaced stones are taken back to nature after photographing. The photographs are the only trace left of the works. Hamish Fulton’s works constitute recordings of his walks in various wild places around the world. One journey usually produces a single large-format black-and-white photograph with laconic data about the trip – location, number of days spent there, kilometres. Nothing except footsteps are left behind in nature.

    Many artists, such as Andy Goldsworthy, create environmental installations of ephemeral materials: leaves, twigs, soil and clay – works like this are essentially temporal and last only during the photographing or the brief time of exhibiting, until they fall apart and decompose naturally, without a single mark left in nature. Organic progress is disrupted only briefly so it can renew itself. Goldsworthy’s mentor David Nash, however, has gone another way. He moved to North-Wales, to a marshy and impoverished area near a small town. His Thoreau-style life in the forest, making art and cherishing the environment have blended into one compact work of art that involves his whole way of life. David Nash ponders the environment around his humble abode and creates heritage landscapes. As park culture is traditionally popular in Europe, there are plenty of examples in that area. Jan Hamilton Finlay established the Stonypath Park in Lanarkshire in South Scotland. This is an extraordinarily witty postmodernist project where the park, allowed to grow wild under human supervision, is constantly supplemented by neo-classicist marble canons and polemical epigraphs and sculptures dating from the French Revolution.

    It is gradually becoming clear again that man cannot exist without adapting his environment, but the big question is whether to do this as an invader or by seeking resonance and harmony.