Art into Environment

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Art into Environment

daya dissanayake

"Not everything to do with pollution is ugly", says Laurence Pope of the New Scientist, describing the abstract paintings of John Sabraw. An environmental engineer Guy Riefler makes oil paints out of iron sludge he collects from the water run-offs from abandoned coal mines, and artist John Sabraw, plays with the pigments and the paints to create abstract art. And they plan to sell the paint and use the money generated to restore the polluted rivers.

'Ecovention' is the term introduced by S. Spaid, in his 2002 book 'Ecovention; current art to transform ecologies', and he describes it as "an artist initiated project that employs an inventive strategy to physically transform a local ecology". Ecovention is where environmental artists orientate their work around the reclaiming of degraded threatened environments, landscaping post industrial sites, cleaning up rivers or replanting forests.

The UN had named 2011 as the International Year of the Forests. "Yet everyday man destroys 17 million trees, or in other words, 57 acres of rainforest are destroyed every minute", according to Andrea Rusin, in 'Art for the Environment', trying to raise environmental awareness among the public around the globe through the arts. To counter the murder of trees, even in a small way, from 1982 to 1987, Joseph Beuys, planted 7,000 oak trees, each with a basalt stone next to it, all around the city of Kassel, Germany. He called this urban landscaping as 'City Forestation instead of City Administration'.

'A song of our warming planet' is a musical composition by Daniel Crawford, a University of Minnesota undergrad. It is a unique cello piece, using surface temperature data from NASA from 1880. "Climate scientists have a standard tool box to communicate their data," Crawford had explained in the video available on Vimeo. "What we're trying to do is add another tool to that tool box, another way to communicate these ideas to the people who might get more out of this than out of maps, graphs and numbers." Awareness of the threat of global warming is an urgent need, so that all of us can try to cut down on the size of our Carbon footprints.

What has been created visually by climatologists, Crawford has created in what he calls 'data sonification'. "The temperature data were mapped over a range of three octaves, with the coldest year on record (–0.47 °C in 1909) set to the lowest note on the cello (open C). Each ascending halftone is equal to roughly 0.03°C of planetary warming." He also predicts "the planet will warm by another 1.8 degrees Celsius (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of this century. This additional warming would produce a series of notes beyond the range of human hearing." And anyway by that time man could be deaf with all the noise pollution, or become extinct, the way he is going about destroying his own habitat.

Desperate situations need desperate methods. Unless man can control himself, and minimize the wanton destruction of all natural resources which is turning Mother Earth into a hostile, uninhabitable place, there will be no future for mankind. All artists would have to rally round the scientists and environmentalists to create the awareness of the impending disaster, using whatever medium they can use.

Soundscape art has come alive, with "the aural portraits and sonic essays can remind us of ways that our vices may blend in more graciously, more respectfully, more receptively...we might once again begin to hear - and know ourselves as a part of - the eternal story, told in its original language", according to Jim Cummings, founder of He is trying to "turn the aesthetic experience of turning open ears to the world around us." It is on the World Soundscape Project, at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, founded by R. Murray Schafer, where Acoustic Ecology developed to study acoustic environments in natural and human settings.

Crawford and the soundscape artists are using Music. Patrick Marold is using visual images from the wind blowing on the slopes of the Rocky mountains. He has installed hundreds of small windmills and lights. The intensity of the lights change with the intensity of the wind. Marold compares it to a "flock of birds collectively swarming in the sky. The impressive living body of light provokes a deeper perspective of the wind as it passes by."

Tate Papers, Issue 17, Spring 2012, was all about Art & Environment. The articles look at "how the environment has been experienced and imagined from the eighteenth century to the present."

Using natural material around us to create works of art is also spreading around the world. Richard Shilling uses leaves and natural light to create works of art. Mitsuru Koga uses leaves and stones. The Spanish artists Lorenzo Manuel Silva creates leaf designs, by observing how caterpillars eat their way through a leaf. Michael Fleming use driftwood to create unique sculptures. John Dahlsen, was collecting driftwood and turning them into furniture, and this led him to collect other debris, from the beaches, most of it plastic. From these multicoloured debris he is creating works of art, through his "deep sense, care and concern for the environment".

The Centre for Research into Art and the Environment, of the University of Gloucestershire, uses photography, video, drawing, sculpture, painting, printmaking and performance to create an awareness of environmental issues. Several universities around the world have introduced post graduate degrees in Art and Environment.

We have our own Jagath Gunawardana, who has dedicated his entire life to protect our environment. He uses his pencil and paper to bring us closer to nature, that is true Art into Environment.

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