It’s impossible to look at these dogs and not smile.
They are one of a number of public sculptures by artist David Kemp. Kemp makes sculptures out of found or discarded objects. He describes his work rather charmingly as follows: “I make things out of things, big things, little things, old things and new things. I like to recycle things, and find new uses for things that have been thrown away. Some things say something about their surroundings, and other things become something else.”
The dogs above are made out of old Wellington boots. The sparkling water plants below are made out of discarded water bottles.
Art using re-cycled materials or found objects is becoming much more common. We have previously covered in this blog jewelry made from recycled materials by Tonya O’Hara and Jeremy Mays. As more of these objects appear, they continue to reinforce in our collective minds that, in Kemp’s words, things can become other things. Kemp’s work in particular also emphasizes that objects don’t have to come out of a factory spanking new made out of fresh material to be beautiful, engaging and charming.
It’s a long haul to move our cultures back to a culture of re-use from the present culture of single-use disposability. But moving in that direction may eventually lead us to what some have called the circle economy.
Below a sculpture made out of obsolete industrial machinery.
The figures in the image above are said to have symbolized fertility. They are part of an ancient ritual in Bulgaria which continues to this day.
Over the ages, we have changed our relationship to nature and the meaning that we give to animals and other non-human parts of the world. Myths and legends have been largely destroyed to be replaced by ‘truth’ as told to us by modern science. While this has led to different understandings of the world, it has also destroyed the charm, imagination, whimsy and even fear that was associated with myths and legend. We have lost something of our soul. We have largely destroyed the fascination of the unknown.
With this change came, I suggest, our ever decreasing respect for nature. Science has been our primary tool to “understand,” deconstruct and domesticate nature turning it into a mere resource for either study or economic gain. From this followed our ever increasing destruction of the natural environment.
The images here come from Wilder Mann – a series by French photographer Charles Fréger. Fréger traveled across Europe making images of ancient rituals that persist to this day. It is interesting how many of these images consist of humans trying, in some way or other, to become animal.
While these rituals persist, their meaning has all but disappeared. Today they do not contain the richness of meaning that myths and legends used to give these rituals. Rather they persist because of tradition; more as carnival, social gathering and celebration of heritage than as something deeply embedded in society. This reflects the changing relationship we have with nature and animals. Now we purport to “know” that these rituals have little meaning. We have lost our respect, awe and fear of the animal or the human made animal. All is domesticated, controlled and utilitarian – as are these rituals – in many places now more of a tourist attraction than something deep, spiritual and meaningful.
Life is one huge game of chance.
At least that is Max Mulhern’s contention and his inspiration behind Aquadice. Combining his artistic interests with his love of open water, Max Mulhern constructed two huge, floating dice and cast them out to sea. The idea is that they will drift unpredictably wherever chance takes them. On board GPS systems allow the dice to be tracked.
I was intrigued by this artwork from an environmental perspective for many reasons.
My first thought was whether this work could be a good metaphor for the question: “Are we taking a huge gamble with our environment?” Rolling the dice in open water and seeing what happens seems to me to have similarities with how our modern lifestyles deal with the environment in which we live and on which we depend.
Conversely, what can we do that’s different? Although our fetish for planning seems endless, our ability to plan is poor. Mulhern is right when he says that a lot of what happens owes much to chance or to unintended consequences of our actions. I am sure nobody “planned” to do quite so much damage to our environment so as to threaten our very livelihoods. It was just the unintended consequence of “progress” and of our modern way of life. Is the answer more planning – just of a different sort? In a recent editorial, highly respected environmentalist Satish Kumar put it this way “we need to think of an economic system that is durable and sustainable. We need a system that will provide livelihood and wellbeing for all people, not just for the next five years, 56 years or even 500 years, but for the next five million years. In other words, for ever.” Great sentiments but are we really up to thinking up something like that, planning it and executing it? Or is this simply the same type of hubristic faith in the ability of the human to think everything through that landed us where we are today. Maybe the best we can do is come up with ideas that seem reasonable and, Like Max Mulhern, launch them into the world and see what happens. In all likelihood what will happen will never quite be what we thought might happen.
For further commentary on Max Mulhern’s Aquadice, view this video or read full commentary in the New York Times.
This wonderful image is from Brazilian advertising agency Segmento. It illustrates their campaign titled “Humanity and Nature Are One.”
To me this highly creative image illustrates two things. The first is the power of digital imagery. It is difficult to imagine that a similar image could have been as powerful as this using any other medium but digital manipulation of photographic images. Such digital imagery combines the ‘real’ of photographic images with the unreal composition that captures our attention and unleashes our imagination. The combination yields strong visual impact.
The second is the concept behind this image. Rather than the usual – and largely ineffective – environmental narrative of “Human vs Nature,” this campaign focuses on our inseparable inter-relatedness and inter-dependence. It tries to bring us closer to nature rather than to create artificial separation.
The campaign was not created for a client but rather is a self-promotion campaign for the agency. It’s special web site for the campaign provides tips for living with nature.
I thought is would be appropriate to end the year and see in the New Year with some images that are uplifting and thought-provoking. I am putting up this intriguing imagery by Igor Zenin without commentary but in the hope that it will help us start the New Year with a bit of reflection on our human relationship with the non-human world around us – what is that relationship like and what would we like it to become going forward?
A very Happy New Year to all.
Language is one of our greatest art forms. Language is not only a tool of communication and persuasion but it is also a cognitive tool – saying things or writing about them helps us understand.
This collection of essays uses language to its full force to examine issues related to our environment. Many of the essays are literary in style; others more logical.
From the Preface: Environmentalism Refreshed
We need new ways of thinking about issues that affect how we interact with our environment. The authors whose work is collected here make some powerful calls for change. Some make them emotionally and metaphorically; others make them rationally and logically; but all make them passionately.
Comments about the book
“These essays are fresh, unconstrained and thought-provoking. They bring new, sometimes quirky perspectives to the environmental debate.” David Pilling. Asia Editor, Financial Times
“There’s no single “right” answer to the challenges that we face in the world today. The assembly of citizens gathered in this volume takes strength from its dynamic polyvocality: its attention to more perspectives – and therefore, its access to more possible approaches – than any conventional environmental text could offer.” Randy Malamud, Professor and Chair of English, Georgia State University
Download a free eBook in pdf format here Kindle Edition can be accessed here
Catherine Nelson has created some remarkable images.
Her digital images made from combinations of hundreds of photographs create a globe on which are superimposed constructed images of local landscapes and habitats.
The statement “Think Global. Act Local” has become such a cliché that it has lost all meaning. Yet Nelson’s images bring it back to life. She describes her work as “a contemporary pictorial mythology that subtly reminds the viewer of a profound truth: that it is in the flourishing variety of the local that the fate of the world resides.”
We hear so much environmental rhetoric that is focused on ‘changing the world’ or ‘saving the planet’. It all sounds grand but ends up being little more than hot air. Constructive action depends much more on the success of local initiatives than it does on endless global conferences where little agreement about anything can be achieved – and when agreed, little is implemented.
Nelson’s work reminds us that the globe is made up of gardens, parks, forests, wilderness areas, rivers and mountains that are all local to some community. It is in all our local areas that the miracles of nature on which we all depend are happening. We can all contribute by making our local area – even our back garden – better without waiting for someone else to set up that next large protected area or nature reserve somewhere else.
Nelson’s work reminds us that it is the local that, brick by brick, builds the world we live in and we should create our local environment in the image of the type of world we’d like to live in.
The German newspaper Der Spiegel recently ran a competition asking kids to submit photographs related to nature and the environment. The winning photographs are interesting for many reasons – as is the framing of the competition itself.
The full gallery can be seen online. For this short commentary I have picked three images which, to me, relate to the most important issue there is in the environmental debate – co-existence. How do we learn to co-exist comfortably with the non-human part of the planet? This is a skill we have not yet mastered. Yet the images I am showing here speak to that theme.
The image above shows children happily playing in the river with cattle. Such an image has, unfortunately, become unimaginable in many Western countries where even domestic animals are treated with suspicion, kids are encouraged not to pet dogs in the street and any live creature – be it an insect or anything else – it something that children are encouraged to view with disgust. This does not make for accepting the non-human as part of our social fabric.
This image for me shows today’s reality – that ‘nature’ and our industrialized lives are now inextricably intertwined. How do we make that work? In my opinion, not by trying to create some kind of separate ‘nature’ to be protected but by finding ways to make it all work better together.
The image below shows bees coming out of a hive in a honey farm. These are ‘domesticated’ bees being farmed for their honey. Yet it’s strange how we don’t think of bees as domesticated in the same way as a dog or a cat or a cow. Again, to me this image is just another example of our dependence on natural processes for our living.
One interesting point is the framing of this competition. The kids were given two themes: “I Love Nature” and “I Fear Pollution.” To me this illustrates another weakness with the environmentalist’s mindset. Why not simply give themes like “Nature” and “Pollution” and let the kids give us their own interpretation, their own thinking, their own feelings. No. The environmentalist has to tell us all exactly what to think. The dogma is “I love Nature” and we must all fall in with that.
We need the courage to break out of this dogmatic approach and start allowing people to think for themselves and reach their own conclusions. We might learn something and get more people on our side.