Today we had a lecture where we were taken through a journey of Nature – everything that it encompasses and represents, the challenges it poses, the ways artists have either fought against the concept, or embraced, or worked alongside. We were invited to watch the presentation, to note our thoughts, feelings, responses down on paper without talking in between, and then at the end to share what we all thought and experienced. By not talking in between each piece that we were shown, I actually felt more immersed in what I was watching/listening to; I also felt more drawn in and interested in the works as I had no previous context or expectations. Each seemed to follow on from another and flow; in turn, my responses flowed onto the paper. I will discuss works here which stood out to me most.
We began the lecture by meditating. We followed a guided meditation session online by Fiona Robinson called Mycorrhizal Meditation – it followed the path of journeying through the human body, relating it to the outside environment of soil and roots. I found it a really valuable session where I felt my body unwind, my mind slow down, and felt at one with the ground and environment around me.
We first watched a video called In Ictu Oculi by Greta Alfaro, 2009, in which a table and chairs sit lavishly set with food, wine and glasses in a field. I began watching the video pondering how odd the table looked against this field with trees, and started to wonder whether human existence is taking over, or indeed already taken over nature.
Then a flock of vultures arrived and began attacking the food, the tables, the glasses and wine – they gorged themselves on everything in sight until nothing was left, and we watched until the last vulture had left. Although quite humorous to watch, I did feel quite threatened by the sheer strength of the mass of birds. I was left wondering whether humans have really evolved at all – the vultures are no more really different than you or I, if left to our basic instincts.
We then watched a video produced by the National Theatre of Scotland, which was a euphony of various nature sounds and calming music set against a beautiful natural backdrop. What struck me most about the video was the importance of touch in nature, and how each person seemed to become the landscape itself.
We also watched a video of a barn, which was filled with the real-time noises of the bees working in the smaller replica barn outside. This was fascinating to watch, and really put into perspective the phrase ‘Worker Bee’ – I was driven to quickly sketch a shape, filled with the vibrations of the bee noises as they busily worked away. http://ludwigberger.com/index.php/works/bien/
This piece by Ludwig Berger is a field recording of a melting icecap – I was struck by the power, the force and the tension of the possible breaking point. I felt very taken with these dynamic sounds, it felt as though the landscape had a voice and was speaking to the audience. It made me want to explore sound, as it is such a powerful tool for life. What secrets could be unlocked if we truly listened to what is around us?
This photograph depicts my four responses to four different videos – when looking at the words written as a whole, it becomes clear that things that stood out to me when examining Nature is how insignificant we as humans actually are. The enormity of the world and all that’s in it, combined with the fragility and non-permanence of the Human Condition makes one feel tiny, and often without point. These emotions were heightened after watching Jan Švankmajer’s Faust (1994). As a juxtaposition, watching a video which described New York Earth Room, built in 1977 by Walter De Maria, and the peace which it gave to the man who works for the room Bill Dilworth is entirely soothing, and made me realise the joy of being at one with nature. The act of preservation of nature in the urban jungle New York, is wonderful to view. I have put the links to both videos below.
The videos started to change from being about life and positivity of nature, to rather dark and end of life/more threatening in subject. This was particularly apparent in the video of Frankenstein’s monster waking up, and the silent film Nosferatu (1922). It made me wonder if humans have all become Frankenstein’s monster – we are just a product of another and another, and we still seem to be learning how to function and behave on Earth to protect it. This was exemplified with the scenes at the end of Nosferatu, where the woman wakes up, and in a dreamlike state lets in the vampiric monster.
Although we seem to be waking up to what is around us – we are still not changing our negative impact on Earth.
I would say that the two videos which stood out to me the most when watching the presentation, was the clip from The Elephant Man (1980), and an interview with the artist Agnes Martin – ‘Beauty is in Your Mind’. The two clips were like a complete paradox – The Elephant Man showed a side of nature that was unpredictable – the anomalies in the usual pattern of nature – they should be appreciated and seen as the beautiful. Instead it showed a complete loss in humanity, something which was far more unnatural and terrifying to watch than the much feared at the time, deformities of Joseph Merrick. What came as a complete juxtaposition was the work of the artist Agnes Martin, who completely represented the joy and beauty of nature. It showed the importance of noticing what is unnoticeable, and focus on what cannot be seen. A quote which particularly caught me was: “The beauty is not in the rose, it is in your mind”.
The last two video clips I want to discuss were both from films- one is The Road, made in 2009, and the other is The Revenant, made in 2015. Both film clips showed the intensity of the human will to survive. Although previously I felt insignificant against the power of environmental nature, the clips made me realise the sheer strength of human nature. Another aspect which stood out to me from The Road is the reliance on the continuum of nature – we do not truly appreciate it when everything is going well, but we realise how much it is needed when disasters strike. It makes me question why we, as human beings, fight against the natural world so much? For example, our part in global warming and climate change. We need to look after the world we have and see all the joy and positivity in nature. I feel now that I have a deeper understanding of Nature, whether it be Human or Environmental – is there even a difference…
This week has been really useful for generating ideas to explore further in my project. I have come up with several ideas which I am looking forward to experimenting with. The concept behind my project is examining the impact that the Coronavirus has had on Nature. This can be looked at from several angles; such as the impact on Human Nature. This is a monumental impact – for example, the huge amount of people who have been ill from the virus, and consequently suffered. The virus seems able to take a healthy strong body and destroy it, chipping away at every fibre until it cannot hold together anymore – it is devastating to think of a body which is not so strong up against it.
Is the Coronavirus a part of Nature? We seem to have little control over it, much like environmental nature such as the sea, weather and land. This is an interesting concept – have humans created diseases or would they have existed without our presence? Either way – again, as I have said throughout my project so far, I feel powerless to the strength of nature.
Another way in which the Coronavirus has had an impact on Human Nature is the way that we have all become because of it. I find people have lost humanity because of this disease – instead of making us stronger and more resilient it has often done the opposite, destroying relationships and breeding hate in communities. For example, I have witnessed people watching someone fall over and not rushing to help them up, for fear of getting too close, there are neighbours who are waiting to phone the police as they have seen too many people go into a house, there are friendships ruined as one does not agree with another’s reaction to the pandemic. I realise this seems like a negative viewpoint, but it is the way I often feel when thinking about the lockdown and the pandemic in general.
There is also the impact that COVID19 has had on Environmental Nature. This is also huge, and deeply related to Human Nature – everything is so interlinked with the subject of Nature as it underpins our entire lives. The sheer amount of waste which has been a result of the pandemic is on another scale. It is deeply saddening – I feel like it came at a time when we were just waking up to the plastic waste crisis and masses of people were trying to change their lifestyle by not buying single use items, reducing their carbon footprint, the surge in refill stores. Now, it seems we have gone back to square one. Disposable masks litter the streets everywhere, small plastic bottles of hand sanitizer sell out as quickly as they come in, people are afraid to use anything more than once. I recently stayed in a hotel where in my room I was given 2 plastic cups, which were wrapped in cellophane, instead of ceramic mugs that could have been washed (the reason being COVID19). It makes me absolutely infuriated. This is something I feel I have to explore in my project – I want people to interact with my work and once again wake up and stop this crisis which is happening around us.
Some experimentation ideas :
This experimentation idea was inspired by Joseph Cornell’s Shadow Boxes. In previous work I have created my own shadow boxes and really enjoyed the creative process of building on a miniature scale. I find it really focuses your mind on the detail and smaller elements which come together to make something very impressive. My idea for the boxes is to create many different ones, each designed of a room in a house. In each room would be one person. This is to represent the way that throughout lockdown, many people became very isolated and lonely, trapped in their house or sometimes even just a bedroom. To connect all of these boxes (and people) together, I have visions of displaying them on a clean white wall, with ivy or trailing plants growing around and through them. I do often find in my reflections that I see Nature as a sign of strength and hope which can combat the bad. As it is coming to Winter I feel it would be hard to grow plants, and so perhaps I could do an animation of the plants growing instead. I have included the link to a page about Cornell’s Shadow Boxes: https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/joseph-cornell
The idea for this experiment is hard to depict on paper as it is more conceptually based. It would involve asking a certain amount of people to donate an item which they feel epitomises their experience of lockdown and the pandemic; for example, my Mum for a long time hated wearing a mask – the feeling, the limitations of conversation, the constant reminder whilst it is on that the world has changed – therefore she would perhaps donate a mask. I hated the constant news articles and daily briefings; I found they filled me with a sense of anxiety, and so that would be my item. I would collate these items together, and document why I have them, and then put them into a large shallow box with soil. My plan would be to find plants such as cress which would grow easily – hopefully eventually the items would be covered with beautiful nature, just like we hope this virus will disappear. I would take photographs three times daily to document the growing process. A large limitation of this idea is that as it is Autumn/Winter, it is difficult to grow things at the moment, and so I may not achieve the wild, overgrown appearance I want.
The idea for this experiment is to take a mask and cut it into a circle. I would then sew a long stitch around the circle and tighten the thread, gathering the mask into a small pot shape. I could then use the mask to grow from, as though it is a pot. I like this idea and the simplicity of it, as it gives a new purpose for an otherwise waste product, but I feel it needs developing more. Looking at my simple design idea I feel it looks slightly like the coronavirus image – perhaps I am going insane?
For some reason this week I have been very much drawn to artists who work with the idea of Nature and Decay. I wonder why this is, perhaps because I feel passionate about the increase of plastic waste and single-use consumption over the pandemic – the way that these items will not decay and do not have a life cycle. This may have encouraged me to search for artworks that show the opposite – decay and nature’s reclamation.
This installation by the artist Anya Gallaccio really struck me when I first saw this. Gallaccio took over 800 hundred red gerbera flowers, and sandwiched them between 2 panes of glass. It was first installed in the window of Karsten Schubert gallery in London, so that the flowers were looking out at everyone walking down the street. The installation was a process, almost like a long performance of a participation piece with everyone who would have regularly walked past it. I can imagine simply looking at the two photographs – the first one with its beautifully red new flowers, and the second the withered, decaying flowers, is not enough when compared to the experience people would have felt from witnessing the process. The title Preserve ‘Beauty’ is interesting as it reminds one that beauty cannot be preserved, it is fleeting – people will age, flowers will die, land gets destroyed.
Gallachio has reconstructed the installation many times in different locations – this is due to the natural process of decay. I can imagine the experience is heightened by the smell – pleasant when the installation is fresh, and worsens as the decay takes place. I question my response to the installation; should I be saddened by the process of decay and the end of beauty? I do not find myself so, I actually think the organic process and themes of renewal, time, life and death comforting, particularly in this time of being surrounded by such unnatural amounts of plastic waste which does not decay.
This is Hase which is alternatively called Rabbit, made by the art collective Gelitin. It is a 200 foot long by 20 foot tall knitted pink rabbit that was placed in the Italian Alps. It was laid to rest in 2005 on a mountainside and left to decay, occasionally being revisited by Gelitin to photograph it. Humorously, it was actually knitted by grandmothers over the course of five years. Like a giant pillow, it lies on the ground with ladders around it, so that visitors can walk atop of it and even lie down if they wished.
I find this piece absolutely fascinating – the random placing of the rabbit, the kitschness of the knitting by grandmothers, the way it evolves from comforting and friendly to decaying and slightly terrifying. The ageing and decaying of the rabbit is like a record of the elements of nature – the erosion and damage that is caused by rain and wind. It is like a depressing cycle of life and death – a quicker version of a human life span. The huge size of the rabbit makes it look like a hot pink island, which seems to shrink away the more it decays.
“The things one finds wandering in a landscape: familiar things and utterly unknown, like a flower one has never seen before, or, as Columbus discovered, an inexplicable continent;
and then, behind a hill, as if knitted by giant grandmothers, lies this vast rabbit, to make you feel as small as a daisy.
The toilet-paper-pink creature lies on its back: a rabbit-mountain like Gulliver in Lilliput. Happy you feel as you climb up along its ears, almost falling into its cavernous mouth, to the belly-summit and look out over the pink woolen landscape of the rabbit’s body, a country dropped from the sky;
ears and limbs sneaking into the distance; from its side flowing heart, liver and intestines.
Happily in love you step down the decaying corpse, through the wound, now small like a maggot, over woolen kidney and bowel.
Happy you leave like the larva that gets its wings from an innocent carcass at the roadside.
Such is the happiness which made this rabbit.
I love the rabbit the rabbit loves me.”
– Gelitin, taken from their website.