Ecological sustainability and the environment are big topics. The climate and how the actions of humanity are affecting the planet are important areas of discussion, for the classroom and beyond. From November 30 to December 11, 2015, COP21 will be held, (also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference). COP21 is the 21st annual conference, held by the United Nations, that brings together heads of state and country to discuss climate change and the positive actions to take to combat it. As part of the conference, the UN is also organizing a corresponding exhibition, titled Artists 4 Paris Climate 2015, inviting 16 artists from around the world to make an artwork that deals with climate and the environment. Among the 16 artists is Australian born, and Sydney based, Janet Laurence.
There are other artists that produce work within the emerging term of EcoArt, or Ecological Art, and many can be accessed right here in New South Wales.
EcoArt can be looked at historically in relation to the 1970s and the Earthworks, Earth Art and Land Art movements that mainly originated in the USA. Having links to Arte Povera, for the use of natural and easily found objects, Earth Artists generally used materials that were located at the site, such as rocks and dirt, and essentially created the term site specific. This was also a way of questioning the commodity of art in relation to the white cube and the four walls of the gallery space, as the artworks could not be easily removed form the natural site. In 1968 – 1969 Christo and Jeanne-Claude came to Sydney, as the first Kaldor Art Project, and wrapped the Little Bay coastline in fabric, creating Wrapped Coast – One Million Square Feet. An example of an environmental artwork, where the terrain of the earth is used as a sculptural reference in the artwork.
Artist Michaela Gleave does not overtly call herself an EcoArtist, or an artist who deals with ecological themes, although many of her works are temporal and deal with natural phenomena. Looking at Gleave’s work as a form of EcoArt opens up the Subjective Frame for discussion, as we are finding different layers of meaning in the work than the artist intended.
Cloud Field (Föhn Bank), 2007, is an artwork that essentially immerses the audience in an enclosed space of clouds. Gleave creates a mini ecosystem inside the gallery walls and brings the outside natural environment into the gallery space, the opposite to what many of the artists from the 1970s Land Art movement did who created site specific works, which required the audience to travel to the artwork. The clouds in Cloud Field are made form harvested rain water, and use an ultrasonic system that creates a dense heavy cloud that floats on the floor of the created space, incorporating scientific methods into the artwork.
Another artwork which brought the outside environment into the space of the gallery was the 2012 artwork by Gleave titled Our Frozen Moment. Opposite to Cloud Field, which was a white and light artwork that almost rendered the audience member invisible in the atmospheric environment that floated up from below, Our Frozen Moment was a very orchestrated, theatrical and dark piece. The artwork required the audience member to put on a rain coat, like a costume, to enter the darkened space. This made the visitors perform the role of an actor in the artwork. Once inside the dark room, the visitor climbed onto a boxing ring type space and water rained down on them from above, again bringing in the outside world into the space of the gallery.
Another artist who deals, overtly, with issues of climate change and the environment is Tega Brain. Brain’s work comments directly on issues of capitalism, politics and the environment. Brain comes from a cross-disciplinary background in environmental and water engineering, and also like Gleave, uses machines and science in her artworks to make comments on the environment. In 2011 Brain made the artwork Coin Operated Wetland, exhibited at Firstdraft Gallery. As the title suggests, Brain created a coin operated laundromat in the gallery space, that used the water from a man made mini wetland. Issues of the environmental impact of humans on wetlands is explored in the artwork, and the priorities of bright whites vs nature.
Art making/ practice: Stages 1 to 3 students can explore ideas of using found objects in nature to make art. This could be further linked it to the idea of Arte Povera, and could have students source recycled materials from around the home to create sculptures.
Have students create site specific artworks with natural found objects, such as a giant sand sculpture, and photograph is at time and nature slowly erode it.
Stages 4 to 6 students can incorporate elements of science to create works which either directly comment on the environment or reference the environment in some way.
Students can create their own environmental space, bringing the outside world into the gallery. Something as small as a terrarium of a wetland, to as large as completely transforming a room with sounds and lights. This could be taken to the digital world, and and students could create their idea environment through digital technology.
Conceptual Framework: Michaela Gleaves artworks can be discussed in relation to the artist intention, audience perception, and artwork meaning relationship. The involvement of the audience to give the work meaning, namely in Our Frozen Moment can also be explored.
Subjective: What do these artworks, and other artworks that deal with the environment, mean to you? Do you think it’s an important theme for artists to may comments on?
Cultural: What role is the artist performing in creating artworks which make commentary on the environment. Do you agree with the artist and the comment they are making though their artwork?
Structural: The scientific aspects of the work can be outlined and the links between art and science can be further discussed.
Postmodern: Look at the history of Land Art and Earth Art and also the artwork of Christo and Jean-Claude form 1969, Wrapped Coast, in relation to the EcoArt from the present day. Are there similarities? Are the same ideas being addressed?