Seen from the sky, the rectangular shape of Central Park in New York City looks like one big nature painting. Central Park functions like a nature painting too. Or, more accurately, both the park and the nature painting borrow from the same body of research. This research has demonstrated, over and over again, that people are restored by experiences of nature – whether real or virtual.
So here is an invitation. Today when you go home, take a tour with a question in mind: How do the walls that surround me affect me? And if I can’t get to the park, is there any kind of facsimile role for depictions of nature?
The research on this subject is expansive and, quite frankly, breathtaking in its implications. Nature can dampen road rage, nature can boost the spirits, nature can improve attention capacity.
Have a crabby friend? Get them out of doors AND get them art that they can escape into. A 2002 study lead by Andrea Taylor and her team found that people with “greener views”scored higher on tests of concentration, inhibited impulsivity, and ability to delay gratification. Want a more peaceful domestic life? Think green, think scene. Think park visits, think art that depicts nature.
There is likely another rectangular painting-like entity in your life that competes for your attention, the television. Generally, it doesn’t compare, unless you’re looking at scenes of nature and looking at such scenes produces an intermediary result – somewhere between a blank wall and a view out of a window. The medium is the message. Research indicates that when views are NOT of nature the television actually prevents you from engaging in reflection – something the world is sorely in need of these days. Art can fix that! By the way people who have a television in their bedroom have 50% less sex than those that don’t!
So, let’s recap! No blank walls. Get Art!
If you can’t get outdoors, Get Art.
If you get art, art that depicts nature is a good decision.
Dan Nuttall A DUCK AND A HUNTER WALK INTO A CLEARING…
acrylic on archival paper, diptych
22 x 30″ each
I love a sense of humour. In this piece I didn’t necessarily want to tell a joke. But start one? That sounded like a good idea.
Hunting stories are often full of woodsy humour, adventure and friendship. They are also often about animals. So I decided that a hunting theme might be interesting – a very visual way to play out a well known joke format.
Some of our deepest fears are ecological. As with other fears, humans often deny or resist becoming conscious of their ecological fears because they threaten the “self”. Moving into the darkness to confront our ecological fears may be a step on the path to sustainability. If it is true that our separation from nature is one of the contributors to our current state of un-sustainability then we must devise various and new means of annealing the rift. How do we not just get closer to nature but actually re-stitch human animal culture back into the larger fabric? Is it by considering all living entities as vital and
invaluable partners to work with as we secure our coincidental fates? What living entities are of merit? In our hierarchical world with its arrogant and lethargic attitude to the conferring of rights, how long will it take and how malleable is our capacity to recognize the value and necessity of both the “self” and “others”?. What is our greatest ecological fear? I think our biggest fear is that we’ve gone too far. That we are no longer able to control what we have created – the oil spills, forest fires, biodiversity loss, habitat loss, famine and suffering. The fearful thing we have created – the ecological crisis – is coming out of hiding and is beginning to read its book of revelations.
Recent work by landscape architects and artists is questioning the future of our planet, and our relationship to nature, using the tree as a focus. Do these works, as a group, suggest a “broadened” acknowledgment of what we might consider as “other”? Or are these works just further examples of our romantic and resourcist views of nature (see above)? Is each and every form of life some kind of barometer corresponding to a deeper ecological value or a meaning that we may not be able to sense or have yet to plumb? Is it appropriate for us to use simulacra to meet needs while displacing “originals” which might provide a broader suite ecological resources? What about
the social and cultural impacts of simulacra? Overall, the body of work expresses novel revelations that help diversify perceptions and create new connections within, across and between the political, economic, socio-cultural and ecological strands of our lives. Check out the fear and the love, and see both the trees and the forest, in the following works: • Claude Cormier, Landscape Architect – BLUE TREE, 2004, the surface of a denuded tree festooned with sky-blue Christmas balls, the whole acting as an environmental barometer; LIPSTICK FOREST, 1999-2002 bold use of color and form immerses passers-by in a hand-cast simulated forest in the Winter Garden of the Palais de Congres in Montreal, Quebec. Please see
http://www.claudecormier.com • Don Maynard, Artist – FRANKEN FOREST – at the Agnes Etherington Gallery at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, until August 8, 2010. Maynard asks us to examine the utility of simulacra in our lives while focusing, in part, on the tree. Please visit: http://www.don-maynard.com • Roxy Paine, Artist. Recent works such as ERRATIC, 2007, in Prospect Park, CONJOINED, 2007, in Madison Square Park, and MAELSTROM, 2009, on the roof of The Metropolitan Museum of Art – all in New York City – have underscored natural phenomena with “substitutes”, many of which are dendritic and made of stainless steel. Represented
by: http://www.jamescohan.com • Robert Hengeveld, Artist – FORGERY ISLAND, 2005 – Like Maynard, Hengeveld fakes us out to get real. Rich brown trees with pink felt linings make a sensuous foray into our consciousness and invite new forms of contact. You can see more work at: http://www.roberthengeveld.com • Juniper Perlis, Artist – Like Paine, Perlis goes hard to underscore things soft. A recent visit to SISTER TREE, 2008, in Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City, New York, showed spring-time robins happily engaging with the welded steel and vinyl needled evergreen, underscoring the fact that all creatures can be attracted to simulacra if life history needs are being met. Fake is real if it meets a need. For more information on Perli’s work please visit: http://www.socratessculpturepark.org • Chico McMurtrie/Amorphic Robot Works – A TREE FOR ANABLE BASIN, 2007 – a floating island with a stainless steel tree that can be mobilized and inserted into the shoreline, this site-specific installation references the ongoing dialogue between ecological and industrial dimensions of the New York City waterfront. See: http://www.amorphicrobotworks.org
…you’re sure of a big surprise. Cause today’s the today I received a call from Susie Osler, a member of the fieldwork Collective, to tell me that sometime during the night my raven installation has been attacked! Is this a political act I wonder? Or the work of a vandal? On the one hand, this could be a good sign. A lot of great art has been attacked over the years: The Mona Lisa; The Pieta in the Vatican; Chris Ofili’s “Holy Virgin Mary” (1996). Susie goes back to the scene of the crime and sends me an image of the disfigured raven, including a close-up showing a small patch of fur stuck in the tar surface of the raven’s back. Dark fur. Black fur. Hmmm… Black Bear? I now have to re-align my theory regarding this act of desecration: clearly the piece has been attacked due to its realism. This could be taken as another good sign. A seal of approval from nature herself? Or perhaps, in staging the unconscious human mind, I have tapped into a greater unconsciousness or id, where primal nature is exerting its forces. The bear has finally subdued the intelligent and mischievous raven that can no longer act as a guide or talisman. On the other hand, maybe the bear just didn’t like my work. I am on my way back to Brooke Valley to repair the damage. Somewhere out there is a bear with tar on its paw.
Though the process of submitting my proposal to fieldwork and arriving at the rural site to begin installation, waves of revision have been shifting the landscape of concept and what is possible. Cost is an issue. Availability of supplies is an issue. Time is an issue. Mosquitoes are in issue – we are, after all, in rural Ontario and it’s spring. This is an iterative process – my ideas are being informed by place and my ideas are informing place. During my first few days I do small projects to get my hands dirty and to meditate on what might be. I harvest spurs from a Hawthorn and create a small plantation. I sketch trees. I explore the pine plantation and farm where I will be working. And finally…
In fairy tales and folklore the deep dark forest is a forbidding place where witches and wolves wait to prey. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s psychoanalysts believed that the forest represented the unconscious mind and contained things that we fear or aspects of ourselves that had been rejected or neglected. They also believed that something good could come from going into the forest and confronting the darkness – an opportunity to
confront our fears and anxieties and to triumph. This installation seeks correspondences between human life and nature via the psyche and imagination, primarily by cultivating a sense of bewilderment in regard to trees. Bewilderness evokes the familiar and the new, prompting wonder and imaginative recognition, eliciting new relationships. By providing the double presence of tree and flesh we are challenged to reconsider how we relate to trees, and by extension, to other beings and nature.
‘Life is found in animals and plants; but while in animals it is clearly manifest, in plants it is hidden and not evident. For before we can assert the presence of life in plants, a long inquiry must be held as to whether plants possess a soul and a distinguishing capacity for pleasure and pain.’ -Aristotle, On Plants.
My time in Brooke Valley Ontario has been preceded by a considerable amount of time in New York City. So while my initial experiences in the pine plantation are still resonating with me, other experiences are also affecting my perceptions of the plantation. In New York City my feelings of separation from nature, and my work in landscape architecture has underscored the importance of trees. Trees in New York City seem to fall into two primary categories; street trees and trees in city parks. Nearby Prospect Park, with its gently rolling landscape designed by Vaux & Olmsted, is a haven for me. In a city like most, where non-human forms of life seem under-represented, the massive park trees that we take for granted come into sharpest focus when they die. Recent spring storms have left Prospect Park littered with immense fallen trees that were quickly moved off roads and paths and cut into pieces over several weeks. A walk through the Park during this time reveals a scene of scaled up truths – trees lie like beached and dismembered leviathans.
Where the trunk has been sawn in cross-section, expansive pale wounds glow with rawness while adjacent sections of trunks and limbs seem to tell the story of a giant creature felled mid-stride. The life-full-ness of these dismemberments seem to exist in paradox to the lives they lived. Not full of muscle, sinew, blood vessels or a spinal cord, they did not flail, bleed, twitch or scream. They fell and were severed into sections silently – no quivering and steam in the cool spring air. And if they could? If the removal of bark revealed glistening pink flesh? If there was a gentle shuddering as one last breath was exhaled? How would this have changed our world? Can we kill things just because we cannot assess their sentience? How far, ultimately can we extend our notions of “other”? Of the living? Of life?
“…the woods are lovely, dark and deep…” Robert Frost, Stopping in Woods on A Snowy Evening
This is no place to wander. From the outside, looking in, for as far as my eye can see, interlocking branches preclude any kind of upright movement. Safety goggles are a must as every branch presents multiple opportunities for poking one’s eye out. My goal is to understand the site, so there’s only one choice. I drop to my knees and begin my journey. After crawling about for several minutes, I find a small clearing, and stand up. I am in the middle of a white pine plantation. Where the canopy allows, light sifts down to the still and silent floor. An ever-shifting patchwork of sunlit islands floats in the vast sea of shadow. The complexity I usually associate with a forest is absent here. I see only pine trees with thick and bare low-hanging branches that narrow as they ascend. The needles that have fallen from these branches have accumulated in a thick reddish mat on the plantation floor. The trees are all one species, all of the same age, the same form and diameter, and are planted in a grid pattern. Something about the endlessly repeating pattern disappearing into the shade induces a kind of dream state. Off I go again, on my hands and knees, to pop up in spaces where I can. Everything is looking the same. I begin to lose track of direction and my starting point. There is also something peaceful about this place and a gentle amnesia sets in as I thread my way through this house of mirrors. What lurks within this dream? And what has been forgotten in a place like this? Though I cannot see the sky above me, the weather must be shifting. Is that the creaking of branches against each other from some unfelt breeze? The islands of light suddenly disappear – a bottle of ink tipped into water. The plantation is steeped in a murky and somber darkness, the dreary woods of fairytales and fables. More creaking from a different direction. Thank goodness there is nothing alive in here. Or is there? The trees are suddenly looking different. I am without breadcrumbs. I get back on my hands and knees and crawl to the edge of the plantation.
To learn more about Bewilderness on this Blog you can start at the most recent blog and work your way back in time HERE.