Art. What’s the first thing that speaks about art? Is it the old cave paintings of the then Homo Erectus or the creative and biblical visions that gave birth to the Renaissance? Is art what we see today as flashes of red strokes on a blank canvas? A tear in the image? Or just a statement made right in the face of the public realm through Graffiti? As deep and vague as the question seems, so do the answers which can be thought of. How can art be defined? Although there is no universal definition of visual art, there is a consensus that art is the conscious creation of something beautiful or meaningful using skill and imagination. Etymologically speaking, “art” is related to the Latin word “ars” meaning art, skill, or craft. However, the word art and its many variants (Artem, art, etc.) have probably existed since the founding of Rome.
Tracing back to the first sentence of this article – Philosophers have argued over what constitutes art for millennia. The most fundamental query in the philosophy of aesthetics is, “What is Art?”, which essentially means, “How to define what is considered to be art?”, This indicates two subtexts: the fundamental character of art and its significance (or lack thereof) in society. Three categories have traditionally been used to define art: representation, expression and form.
The First Cries and the Heed for Nature
With time progressing, the biggest and the most cliché yet recurring revolutionary term used in the 21st century is – Global warming and environmental issues. As worries about the condition of the environment grew, artists started to modify their depictions and emotions of nature, whether it be serene landscapes or breathtakingly violent storms. Artists started creating pieces that conveyed and drew attention to the problems of pollution and climate change, frequently working in conjunction with the natural world. This gave rise to Environmental Art.
The portrayal of the natural world has always piqued artists’ curiosity throughout the history of art and its many forms. Environmental Art, also known as eco–art, is a form of artistic expression that emerged in the 21st century as a response to the growing concern over environmental issues. It encompasses various artistic practices that address ecological themes, raise awareness about environmental challenges, and promote sustainable living. One of the key characteristics of environmental art is its engagement with the natural world and its ecosystems. Artists in this field often use the environment as their inspiration and medium, creating site-specific installations, sculptures, and performances in outdoor and indoor settings, respectively.
Until just before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics of 2016, Jardim Gramacho, the largest landfill in the Americas, still existed on the outskirts of Rio. “Catadores” made a living by obtaining and reselling recyclable waste from landfills. Vik Muniz, a Brazilian artist learned about these individuals and decided to ask them to be his models. With their help and corporation, he created the seven artworks in the Pictures of Garbage series using the debris the individuals gathered. The artworks in the series aim to shed light on the lives of the garbage pickers, challenge societal perceptions of waste and value, and advocate for social change, climate consciousness and recognition of the individuals working in challenging environments.
Forest for Change – Es Devlin
Forest for Change is a large-scale installation by renowned artist and designer Es Devlin for the London Design Biennale in 2021. The installation was located in the courtyard of Somerset House in London, UK, and aimed to raise awareness about the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development and the need for collective action to address global challenges. As artistic director of the biennale, Es filled the historic courtyard of the Somerset House with a forest comprising 400 trees, with 23 different species commonly found in the UK and Northern Europe. At the forests’ heart rested the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development, a plan agreed upon by world leaders to end extreme poverty, conquer inequality and solve the climate crisis by 2030.
Accompanying the forest, a soundscape composed by the artist Brian Eno played, incorporating voices of activists, poets, and scientists to amplify the intent and the narratives behind the Global Goals. The installation also featured Augmented Reality (AR) component, allowing visitors to access additional information and interactive content using smartphones. “Forest for Change” visitors were encouraged to take action and contribute to a more suitable and sustainable future. It emphasised the value of shared accountability and the potential significance of modest individual acts in resolving global environmental issues. The pavilion effectively illustrated the pressing need for environmental preservation, social equality and sustainable growth.
Waterfall – Olafur Eliasson
The Waterfall is an art installation created by Olafur Eliasson in 2001. It was displayed at the Tate Modern in London, UK, as a part of his exhibition “The Weather Project” along the main axis of the Gardens of Versailles, a tall, narrow waterfall plunges into the Grand Canal’s basin. A tower with a latticework design made of yellow steel girders supports the waterfall, and pumps send water up via heavy black pipes to a platform at the top of the tower, from where it cascades into the canal far below. The Waterfall’s obvious structure draws attention to the fact that both the artwork and the surrounding gardens are man-made. The gushing water draws attention to the presence of more powerful natural forces that have an impact on this artificial environment, such as the speed and direction of the wind and the quality of the light at a given time.
Eliasson’s Waterfall called attention to the natural element of water and how it can shape perceptions and interactions with the environment. It also encouraged contemplation of the relationship between human beings and the forces of nature. By bringing a waterfall indoors, Eliasson challenged expectations and disrupted the boundaries between the natural and built environments. The installation played with the notions of scale, illusion, and the power of artistic interventions to transform spaces and provoke new ways of seeing and experiencing nature and the world.
A Plea for Nature
The 21st century has seen a significant rise in environmental art as artists respond to the pressing need for environmental awareness and sustainability. Environmental Art and installations show how creative environmental challenges are addressed by artists, inspiring viewers to consider their relationship to nature, waste disposal, climate change, and sustainable practices. This enhances potent experiences that unite art and environmental activism via the medium and language of art forms, fostering a greater comprehension of ecological problems. By integrating art and ecology, environmental artists aim to inspire change, foster dialogue, and encourage responsible stewardship of the planet. As an end note to the article, a quote by Olafur Eliasson goes – “I can use the camera to make a place or landscape; the camera to a greater extent projects rather than takes in or reproduces. The camera, or the eye, produces the impression of the place: I as a photographer, am not passively taking in; I am active as a subject generating the object”.
- Artincontext (2022) Environmentalism art – the importance of climate change art, artincontext.org. Available at: https://artincontext.org/environmentalism-art/ (Accessed: 18 June 2023).
- Cajsa Carlson |1 June 2021 Leave a comment (2021) Es devlin designs forest for change at london design biennale as ‘A place of transformation’, Dezeen. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2021/06/01/es-devlin-forest-for-change-london-design-biennale/ (Accessed: 18 June 2023).
- Forest for change – somerset house 2021 (no date) Es Devlin. Available at: https://esdevlin.com/work/forest-for-change-somerset-house-2021 (Accessed: 18 June 2023).
- Moakley, P. (2011) ‘waste land’ shows artist Muniz transform lives with trash, Time. Available at: https://time.com/3775724/portraits-with-purpose-vik-muniz-in-waste-land/ (Accessed: 18 June 2023).
- Mother & Children (suellen) (pictures of Garbage) (2021) Taguchi Art Collection. Available at: https://taguchiartcollection.jp/en/works/tac116/ (Accessed: 18 June 2023).
- Rima Sabina Aouf |6 June 2016 6 comments (2019) Olafar Eliasson installs hovering waterfall at Palace of Versailles, Dezeen. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2016/06/06/olafur-eliasson-installs-giant-waterfall-palace-of-versailles-exhibition/ (Accessed: 18 June 2023).
- Vik Muniz (no date) Sikkema Jenkins & Co. Available at: https://www.sikkemajenkinsco.com/vik-muniz (Accessed: 18 June 2023).
- Waterfall • artwork • studio Olafur Eliasson (no date) Studio Olafur Eliasson. Available at: https://olafureliasson.net/artwork/waterfall-2016/ (Accessed: 18 June 2023).