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Tag Archives: environmental art

Artist-Gardeners

Horizon scanning trends in contemporary art and artist-gardeners are becoming a more common feature. Until recently gardening in European art, even great gardens, was considered a branch of architecture and design. What has made gardening contemporary art?

The most dramatic change in the visual arts, in the last century, has been in the media and medium: from a limited range of ‘artistic materials’ to unlimited choice including ephemeral, readymade and conceptual. This expansion of artistic materials has changed art history and brought contemporary art closer to gardening. Combined with increased environmental awareness and the urgent need for a more sustainable way of living artist-gardeners are both aesthetically and politically relevant.

There are artists already working in this direction most notably the French artist and botanist Patrick Blanc. Blanc is the creator of “les murs vegetal” (vertical gardens) whose works include the vertical garden at Melbourne Central in Melbourne, Australia, 2008. And NSW artist Ken Yanetoni’s “Sweet Barrier Reef” is a Zen garden made entirely of sugar, raked sugar and icing sugar coral formations. “Sweet Barrier Reef” may not have any plants but it does involve environmental themes and eating cake covered in icing. Ken Yanetoni has been chosen to represent Australia in the satellite exhibition to be held in conjunction with the 2009 Venice Biennale.

There are also many local artist-gardeners: Dylan Martorell, Penny Algar (Orr St. Garden), Matt Shaw’s underground gardens at Platform and Patrick Jones blog Garden of Self Defence.

Artist-gardners have resonances and traces in art history that include Jeff Koon’s Puppy; the English Surrealist, Edward James’s sculpture garden Las Pozas (“the Pools”) near the village of Xilitla, Mexico; Antoni Gaudi’s art neuevaue architectural Park Güell in Barcelona; Monet’s garden at Giverny; and, further back, the famous English garden designer Capability Brown. Street art has also had an influence on the artist-gardeners with New York’s guerrilla gardeners and also in Toronto, Canada and the UK. and Eyeteeth reports on guerrilla flowerboxes by Toronto, street artist Posterchild.

The artist-gardener combines installation art, process art, sculpture, and site-specific work. They could also include, performance art and culinary arts. The future of artist-gardeners is full of great possibilities to create beauty (both natural and artificial) and a better environment. The artist-gardener combines environmental awareness with artistic exploration of new syncretic combinations of traditional and contemporary ways of living.

Combining the interest and necessity for a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle, a love of gardens and food makes the artist-gardener economically sustainable. Artist-gardeners have access to multiple, meagre income streams from commissions to create public and private gardens, to art and plant product sales. There could be garden restaurants serving food grown and cooked on site. There are art materials that could be produced in a garden and manufactured in the kitchen. But I’m just throwing ideas up in the air now – I should be getting back to work on some unfinished projects in my garden.

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Once was a beach

The skull of a blue tongue lizard, partially mummified by the hot desert air, is a natural sculpture. Jan Learmonth’s “Once was a beach” at Mailbox 141 is a superb exhibition with a strong environmental theme perfect for this record breaking hot summer.

Using found materials and the red sand from the Tanamai desert Learmonth has created beautiful, evocative dioramas in each of the mailboxes. The dioramas of a dry desert world that Learmonth has created are stark and terrible in their beauty.

The scenes include the activities of humans. Humans are clearly responsible for some of the sculptural elements in her landscapes. The bare desert environment makes simple sculptural forms even more powerful. The piles of seeds, stones, the rusting metal and the boats are evidence of their actions. And are humans also the creators of this desert environment?

Boat forms are Learmonth’s sculptural trademark, in this exhibition they are as small as jewellery. They hang or are balanced on wooden poles above the red sand. Learmonth’s boats in the desert are the perfect symbol for a disastrous environmental change.

These miniature worlds depict a harsh desert world where there once was a beach; inspired by the ancient seabed that now forms the Tanamai desert in central Australia. Are Learmonth’s scenes scientific warnings about our future? Has the Australian beach culture of sun, surf and sand created a desert of just sun and sand? 


First Site & Platform

I haven’t been doing my regular day of visiting galleries in the past three weeks. I have been busy with home renovations and the Taoist Jihad exhibition at Brunswick Arts. Catherine has been writing a blog about our home renovations – Under Construction (emulating the diary of Samuel Peeps, in a small way but with more digital photos). I have been meaning to write something for that too.

Finally today I did get some time to go to the city. At First Site at RMIT I saw Kate Hansen exhibition “(re) surfacing”. Hansen’s paintings are beautiful surface textures inspired by the urban environment but that is all they are – surface.

Also at First Site Andrea Kaliviotis is exhibiting “Beyond the wall”. It is a boring example of what you can do with a piece of string; the most minimal exhibition that I have seen in a long time.

At Platform Bernadette Trench-Theideman “Eat The City”, is an exhibition of photographs and live plants growing in architectural models of the city blocks. The didactic panels are very didactic, educating the viewer with bits of information. The photographs are large format and look like staged propaganda. The message was clear; growing your own vegetables in the urban environment makes good sense. However, this was not supported by the choice of inedible plants in the exhibition – it is amazing that plants would grow under the fluorescent lights of the subway. Various northern suburbs organizations, Ceres and the ILma Lever Garden, were involved with the exhibition, along with Whitemoss, the florists. And even as I prepare lettuce from my garden for dinner I don’t think that it is art.

At Vitrine (part of Platform) artist and designer Paul Spence is showing great retro-futuristic night-lights. The centrepiece of the exhibition was the Vagyro; a night-light was a combined technology and eroticism. The exhibition space and the bed in the installation detracted somewhat from the elegance and quality of the night-lights.

In Sample (also part of Platform) Jody Cleaver ‘Flowered’ something to do with Pope Benedict XVI and, according to Cleaver “how faith and systematic beliefs relate to nature and sexuality in Australia.” The installation looked good with a DVD animation in a floral frame but ultimately had a confused or confusing message. Why a sculpture puppet of a pope on wheels?


Sculpture & Sustainability

The fuse had blown at Andrianakis Fitzroy Gallery when I visited but enough light was coming in through the skylights to see the art. Andrianakis Fitzroy Gallery used to be called The Fitzroy Gallery, directed by Peter Andrianakis. It has been around for since 1992 and little appears to have changed except the exhibitions. Three artists, Samara McIlroy, Jean-Jacques Lale-Demoz and Victoria Nadas, were exhibiting amidst the small maze of partitions that make up the gallery space.

Samara McIlroy bronze statues are dramatic and mythic; they are so much better, even in small forms, than her paintings. As sources material for her sculpture her paintings and drawings are interesting. The horned Feralman appears in her paintings and sculptures and I would like to see her use her Scenes at the Circumlocution Office for more sculptures rather than using classical themes, like Actaeon. Jean-Jacques Lale-Demoz is also exhibiting oil paintings and sculpture. Again, his sculptures are far better than his paintings. ‘Madam Jule Verne’s Kitchen’, a found object assemblage, is a masterpiece of combining fascinating objects. Victoria Nadas is, perhaps, the best painter of the three artists exhibiting but her monoprints are far more exciting.

At Area Contemporary Art Spaces Liz Walker is exhibiting ‘sustainable sculptures’. ‘Sustainable sculptures’ is an environmentally aware way of describing sculpture from found, recycled materials. On the subject of sustainable art, the gallery known Artholes has now become Panelpop. Tony Knolls is producing glass-free, paper-free framed supports suitable for painting or printing photographs from recycled material. There are a large number of photographs printed on this sustainable support on display in the windows.

But I digress, back to Liz Walker’s sculpture exhibition: ‘You can’t argue with dust’. The politics of sustainability are played out on a chessboard between white sustainable pieces, with fluorescent bulbs for bishops, and black pollution, with black garbage bags for castles. Wall hanging sculpture concentrate on the aesthetics of decay, the beauty of rust is on show in ‘After the rain’. The central series of 13 giant handbags made of riveted recycled metal, like corrugated iron or wire mesh, are elegant and fun. If we don’t learn to live in a sustainable way we will end up like Walker’s Advance Australia Where? – empty chairs and bones.

I hope that all of these artists continue to exhibit their sculpture. There are a lot of prizes and exhibitions for sculpture; Australia is in desperate need for more sculptors, there are not enough sculptures in cities. It is more difficult and expensive to have a sculpture studio, to manufacture and store sculptures. But there are so many painters and not enough sculptors.


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