Art Interventions In The Natural World: An Outmoded Act Of Vanity?

After the recent arrest of Marco Evaristti in Iceland, when local landowners accused him of vandalism after the Danish-Chilean artist dyed the Strokkur geyser pink, Artlyst questions the morality of the artist appropriating nature as a canvas. Was this act a harmless intervention? or is it a signifier of our ever-growing dislocation from the natural world?

The artist poured red fruit-based food colouring into the famous hot springs, located 70 miles northeast of Reykjavik, resulting in the geyser erupting in plumes of bright pink water and steam. An act that may have gone unnoticed by mother nature but not by the local inhabitants: Garðar Eiríks­son, speaking on behalf of the local landowners said “This is not art. I am deeply sorry that a visitor to our country comes up with such an idea. I have very few words to describe my disgust at these actions.”

The artists relationship with nature and the landscape is as old as art itself. One could argue that cave paintings were in fact an act of vandalism if not for the temporal nature of value, as could the early creation of earthworks – and even the latter creations of ‘Land art’ as coined by Robert Smithson. Earth art was an art movement in which landscape and the work of art were inextricably linked. It was also an art form that was created in nature, using natural materials such as soil, rock, boulders, stones, and various organic media – and water. The purity of which was only diluted by the introduction of materials such as concrete, metal, asphalt, or mineral pigments.

The artists work was not placed in the landscape, rather, the landscape was the means of their creation. Was Robert Smithson’s ‘Spiral Jetty’ a great work of art?, or an unnecessary intervention in the landscape? The earthwork sculpture constructed in April 1970 is now considered to be the artist’s central work. In 2008 it was announced that there were plans for exploratory oil drilling approximately five miles from the jetty. The news was met with strong resistance from artists, and the state of Utah received more than 3,000 e-mails about the plan, most opposing the drilling, even though Smithson had expressed his admiration for entropy.

Then of course we have the artist Richard Long, who as a student at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London, walked back and forth along a straight line in the grass in the English countryside, leaving a track that he then photographed in black and white. The work, taken as the milestone in contemporary art, balanced on the fine line between the performance (action) and the sculpture (object). Or was it just someone damaging the grass?

The materials used in Andy Goldsworthy’s art often include brightly coloured flowers, icicles, leaves, mud, pinecones, snow, stone, twigs, and thorns. The artist’s remit is to work with nature as a whole. Goldsworthy is generally considered the founder of modern rock balancing, and often uses only his bare hands, teeth, and found tools to prepare and arrange the materials; however, for his permanent sculptures like “Roof”, “Stone River” and “Three Cairns”, “Moonlit Path” he has also employed the use of machine tools.

It would seem that the morality of the art intervention in nature is a fine line. If the works are temporary in nature, susceptible to the entropy of time, and possessing only the material of its natural surroundings, then the works have little or no negative environmental impact. They may even serve to highlight the plight of their own environment. But what of the inclusion of man-made materials and the creation or permanent works in the landscape? Whether permanent or not is this use of the ever-decreasing natural environment morally correct in the 21st century?

Marco Evaristti has defended his actions, insisting that “Nature belongs to no one, I do what I do because I’m a painter, a landscape painter who doesn’t use a canvas, I paint directly on nature. I believe in freedom of speech and I believe nature doesn’t belong to certain people, but to everyone, I love mother nature. If I love a woman I give her a diamond ring. That’s why I decorate nature, because I love it.”

Is it time for art to address this issue as a moral concern? If ‘nature Belongs to no one’ that also includes the artist. Surely it is time to address this particular art practice as outmoded? and no longer reflecting 21st century concerns for our ever-dwindling environment. Land Art, and environmental interventions no longer have a place in this century, as we are all too aware of the issues and importance of the natural world, and this artist’s actions, whether dyeing a frozen waterfall, or causing a geyser to burst forth in plumes of pink water – may be impermanent and harmless – but also seems like an act of hubris and vanity. Nature has no desire to be painted on, and the act is one of high arrogance in the belief that this artist could in fact improve upon it.

Words: Paul Black © Artlyst 2015 all rights reserved


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