A good question, really....
I am often asked how I would define ‘environmental art’. It is a good question.
According to art critical thinkers Environmental Art, as we think of it now, has evolved from Land Art, a movement in the 1960s as a form of conceptualised landscape art. Artists, such as Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson, no longer wished to represent the landscape but wanted to leave their mark on it. The landscape became the medium. As the works were often created in areas of isolated wilderness and therefore inaccessible to the general public, mapping, photographic documentation and text-based accounts became an intrinsic part which could be shared in galleries or other platforms.
An increased environmental awareness and political thinking about man’s impact on and relationship with the landscape gave artists a new direction, a sense of responsibility to speak out. The physicist and ecologist, F. Capra, explains that “Deep ecological awareness recognises the fundamental interdependence of all phenomena and the fact that, as individuals and societies, we are all imbedded and ultimately dependent on the cyclical process of Nature.”
This ‘new’ awareness raises questions about the role of the artist and the function of art at a time when the impact of humankind becomes all too visible on our planet. Environmental artists are often expected to produce ‘useful’ art, which makes ethical comments often providing a platform for activism. There is an increase of initiatives that recognise the interdependence of art, environment and society/community. These projects are typically site-specific and demonstrate that an intense localism helps to better understand wider relationships.
Art can offer different ways of experiencing and understanding the world and our place in it. Projects use environmental art as an educational and participatory tool to create a sense of place, a pride in the community and through that a wider understanding of global issues.
I remember a discussion evening, which I attended, at the Barn in Banchory, Aberdeenshire, in March 2019. It invited audiences to share their views on art and climate change.
There was a lively exchange in which individuals expressed their genuine concern but also that art has a great role to play in the discussion about climate change: It creates empathy, special awareness and a sense of proportion. It can offer alternative research methods, for which scientific or economic research does not have any room. One of the advantages mentioned was that art has a willingness to play and experiment, and is allowed to do so, in order to find solutions. There was a general agreement that science and art are intrinsically interlinked and thus form our culture. One argument stuck in my mind because it was different from the others who all placed humankind into the centre of the life-web as a dominant factor that can destroy or heal. This argument suggested that the feeling of urgency and increasing panic over climate change inhibits us from finding feasible solutions, because we are trying to fix things rather than learn to adapt and live with it. An interesting thought which places man into the periphery of the eco-system. After all, we are part of nature and like all other creatures compete for survival and territory the best we can and in order to do so exploit the resources available to us. We are part of the food chain, or at least we should be. However, as intelligent and sentient beings we have the responsibility to carry the consequences for our actions and use our foresight and abilities to ensure sustainability of the planet.
I often struggle with the idea that environmental art should be activist. I would not consider myself to be an activist by nature. Does that mean that my art cannot be environmental?
Another question for another blog post!