Monday, April 20, 2020

Land Art Project: Art meets Nature

Remote Learning: 9-12th Ceramics/Sculpture
by Michele Ogilvie, MFA. •  Visual Art Upper School Faculty

It’s surreal to sometimes think of how things go on this planet, within our world, our place that we call home. To go beyond the why of things can often send us into a whirl of confusion. It is sometimes easier to look for distractions. I am an artist and teacher of art. I am searching to strike a balance within the frame of education and the challenges we all face right now during this pandemic. I look up often these days to notice large billows of clouds that go from grey to pillow white against a backdrop of rolling hills behind my house. The rain has been generous this year and every branch holds tender new leaves. I am in awe of this beauty, this quiet that our neighborhoods have not seen for decades. I understand that there is a price for this rebirthing. People are suffering, businesses are closing, so many are losing their jobs, homes, and sometimes their lives. This confrontational paradox and social distancing have us spinning in place. Our physical periphery has grown smaller, while our confounding predicament expands to every nation on the globe. This crisis is existential and beyond that—lies the inevitable realization that our lives and our entire world is changing. There will be much repairing to do. Politically, educationally, economically, emotionally and spiritually. There are remnants of optimism—some scrounge for the hope that we will bear witness once again to humankind’s tenacity, and resilience. So many are saying, “History repeats.”
As I teach my remote art classes, I spend time with a generation of people that will no doubt eventually save this world. They are so strong, intelligent and earnest. They meet me on Zoom conferencing, which at first felt strange, but we are all quickly adapting to this way of connecting. We have been talking a lot about the creative correlations between art and nature. I encourage them to go outside and look for beautiful things: flowers, trees, sunsets, clouds. We share our snapshots with each other in albums on Schoology. We study land art artists such as Andy Goldsworthy (b.1956), Dietmar Voorvold (b.1957), Robert Smithson (1938-73), and Nancy Holt (1938-2014) and how they relied upon nature to construct sculptures that shed light on the transience and existential aspects of life on earth. We discuss how these artists developed an intimate understanding of how things in nature function: the ebb and flow of seasons; the acceptance of change and uncertainty; how the rush of rivers, the shifting tides, and erosion can alter or wipe out a constructed sculpture made from fragile, meticulously placed interconnected natural found objects such as twigs, vines, leaves, icicles, and stones—within an instant. We discuss how all of these things refer to the precarious function of balance and play a metaphorical role in representing the full cycle of life: birth; existence; and transitions that take us back to a beginning.
Observing and taking part in this trial and error process is a bridge that leads us towards creativity. We notice that this represents a willingness to take a leap of faith into the unknown and accept that outcomes can often be unpredictable. We acknowledge the subtleties of our own personal perceptions—what is it that we sense; how is that we feel; what is that we want to convey? Within this process, there is always something to be learned about ourselves and our relationships with each other and the world. Voorwold talks about aspiring to find a place of stillness with complex and simple shapes by setting them in serene environments while allowing the forces of nature to intervene. He describes that in the human condition there is a struggle, there is a breakthrough, and there is serenity. He explains, “Nature is full of truth, fully in the moment, nothing artificial about it.”
My 9-12 grade students have been creating their own land art sculptures. I am blown away by the depth and conceptual understanding that they have brought to this project. I am sincerely moved by their willingness to fully dive into this experience of exploring the connections between emotions, art, and nature and I believe that for many it has been a healing and comforting experience. We hope you take the time to notice how precious and profound these pieces are.