Nature versus Art

Whenever I can catch Recreating Eden, a television program series celebrating great gardens, landscaping architecture and gardening, I do. This morning whilst looking for a bit of news which I have neglected for the last few days, it being so often all the same – a few stabbings, a bit of war bombings, the latest exposure of corporate fraud or greed and some in-your-face commiseration with the family of some tragic car accident victim – I found that Recreating Eden was on at this early hour.

I got caught up in the world of Charles Jenks and his creations – marriages of science, art and gardens. The gardens are very formal, very obviously constructed and grandiose in size and style. It’s a curious mix, incorporating representations of major recent scientific discoveries into a man-manipulated nature and a wild bit of planned garden plantings.

Jenks described four categories or levels of natural environments: wild untouched nature;hunter/gatherer man-altered nature (fields, husbanded forests, etc); gardens; and planned landscaped environments with the marriage of art, science and landscape.

I found his work fascinating, awe-inspiring and emotionally meaningful, not to mention the cerebral underpinnings that have triggered his design concepts.

Thinking of this and recent conversations on the validity or appropriateness or worth of art-altered nature, i had to dig a little deeper into my thought processes. Does one’s approval of “environmental” art, landscape art or architecture depend on how much one likes it?

Jenks’ work is certainly disruptive of the natural environment; but I like it. Mind you, I would have been mightily upset if he had needed to destroy a forest to create his built environment. I presume, though, that he was starting with an environment that had already been altered centuries before by man’s hand.

Is it only when we have something that is shocking in the environmental scape that it becomes objectionable? If you’ve been following this tennis match blogging between Art is Eternal (in defense of some thoughts and artworks of an experimental bent) and Forestrat.wordpress.com, (in defense of Nature as it is), then perhaps you have some comments to add.

I have no answers, I realize.
Forestrat referred to an artwork installation that included brightly coloured plastic forms of rats hanging from the trees in a natural environment. I’m sure I would find that shocking but it would make me wonder what the artist was trying to say and I might look further into it. I would also hope that the display was temporary, as many art installations are. I think it would distress me if it were left permanently.

And yet, the Inushuk stone piles of the Innuit – they seem almost mystical to see in the rocky, snowy environment in which they were created. Having them there permanently does not offend me aesthetically and it’s doing no damage to it’s natural surroundings.

On the other hand, when I see one of these Inushuk plunk in the middle of a city, I shake my head. They jar with the cityscape. I also object to the ones made in Inushuk workshops on municipal beach edges surrounded by bikini clad bathers. They are equally jarring when constructed by Ferry Terminals. They don’t fit. It would be more contextually apt to construct a sandcastle! If these misplaced Inushuk topple back into their stony components on the ground, I’d be happy.

So is our appreciation of things based on our liking of things? Or is there more to it than “I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like”.

Can we apply some criteria to our judgment, or if you like, our appreciation, of new forms of art work?

Who gets to judge whether or not an installation can stay in a natural environment or not? Does it depend on who owns it? For example, if one owns large fields and chooses to create a maze or a crop circle, is there any regulation that would prevent a person from doing that? But if it was in the middle of a state or national park, obviously someone in the park administration would have to evaluate and pronounce on one’s right to proceed with a similar alteration of the landscape.

Is it alright if it doesn’t permanently damage the landscape? If it’s a pick up and go kind of work (like filling a rock pool with a vibrant and clashing red colour or like Christo’s wrapped environments that get unwrapped at the end of the day with nothing damaged in the end)? Many of the installations are temporary with the only lasting record being photographs once an installation has been set up.

As I keep thinking about this idea, I keep coming up with more questions than answers.

Is anyone listening out there? Do you have some wonderful examples of installations in nature that you think should be left there permanently? Or ones that you think are there to stay that you’d like to tear down in the middle of the night when no one is looking?

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One Response to “Nature versus Art”

  1. forestrat Says:

    Interesting questions. Whenever I find cairns built in the forest, I take them down and distribute the stones as randomly as I can. Someone’s art might be building these hideous things – mine is deconstructing them.

    Just this past week I found that someone had built an entire bench seating system in front of a waterfall. Why are you going out into nature if you can’t be without your sofa for a hour or two? Stay home and watch a TV program about waterfalls instead.

    On the other hand, I have no problem with ancient cave paintings or structures built by aboriginal peoples. Strange. I’ll have to think about why.

    It also doesn’t bother me to run across on old rusting piece of farm machinery in the woods – I might even photograph it. On the other hand, I would like to boil in oil anyone that would purposely drive a car into the woods and dump it there.

    It seems that the difference for me might have more to do with times and intents more than the actual object itself.

    MDW

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