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Journeying Beyond Land Art: an Ecological Shift360°ANALYSIS

Martin Hill is a sculptor, photographer and adventurer. He discusses the impact land art has had on his work and the importance of working in harmony with the environment.

The defining characteristic of the land art movement is working directly on the land, a breakaway from the art gallery system. It not only depicts the landscape, it engages with it. The movement didn’t spring from an exclusively ecological perspective, nor was it necessarily about protecting the land. It was a series of art ideas that broke away from the tradition of art as a commodity exhibited in galleries.

The aspect of my work I have in common with this movement is that I work with natural materials taken directly from the landscape. In my case I aim to inflict no harm. Those whose methods involved moving mountains of earth using heavy machinery worked in an inappropriate way. Not only was it destructive, they may not have even recognised it as being destructive.

That doesn’t speak to me as building a better relationship with natural systems. Like many other environmental artists now, I seek to examine these natural systems and propose an alternative, compatible relationship with them by following the principles on which nature operates.

We are developing a new understanding of the implications the current model of “progress” has for the planet. As we do this, new art forms have been evolving. Environmental art is a term often used to refer to work that is ecologically based. Using the process of restoration of a damaged landscape to its natural state is an example of this.

I have called what I do environmental art for want of a better description. My history in design and my exploration of the relationship between human-designed systems and natural systems drives what I do.

In my art practice I principally create works using natural materials I find in the landscape which return to the natural system from which they are made. Photographing these works to produce powerful emotional images is an essential part of this because the images are all that remain of the sculptures.

In my previous career as a designer I used photography as a communication tool. I saw the environmental art movement progressing in this way; artists were creating ephemeral works which were evidenced only by photographs. I could see the potential for this process to be a metaphor for the way we have to redesign all our systems to align with the operating principles of nature.

I am deeply interested in how we might shift to a holistic worldview where we honour and protect interconnection and interdependence before personal and national independence.

Identifying what it is that affects human beings to make the appropriate changes towards sustainable practices is my fundamental enquiry. Scientific facts and figures about climate change and the environment are just not creating the level of change required.

There is much written on this subject which is ignored in the interest of maintaining the status quo. I am moved by images more than rhetoric. That is why I choose to communicate through art – to reach people emotionally. I try to make the laws of ecology tangible and bring them into cultural consciousness.

The circle is the universal symbol of wholeness, integration, and continuum. It also represents the flow of matter through the universe in continuous cycles of birth, growth, death, decay, and renewal. In nature there is no waste, everything becomes food or energy for something else. I often use this powerful circle symbol to challenge people to think in a circular, or cyclic, way.

Cultures that have relationship with the natural world that supports and nourishes their community have, almost without exception,a philosophy that connects them with the land and their ancestors. Some would call that a spiritual connection. I prefer to call it natural wisdom. Fritjof Capra calls it ecological literacy and I agree entirely: we should live our lives according to the facts of life, literally.

With the rapid growth of industrial consumer culture around the world, human communities are losing touch with the natural world on which they depend. Not only are we alienating ourselves from the source of life but in the process we are destroying it. Without ecological literacy there can be no understanding of our impact on nature or of an appropriate relationship with living systems. My work is dedicated to reversing this trend.

"The survival of humanity will depend on our ability to understand the principles of ecology and live accordingly."

– Fritjof Capra, "The Challenge for Education in the Next Century"

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.