Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Soul and Heart of Environmental Art

"I touch God in my song
as the hill touches the far-away sea with its waterfall.
The butterfly counts not months but moments,
and has time enough.
Let my love, like sunlight, surround you
and yet give you illumined freedom.

Love remains a secret even when spoken,
for only a lover truly knows that he is loved"

Tagore, excerpt from 'Fireflies'

Having feasted on many events in the first few days of the Tagore festival, I scaled back and made the decision to go to only one on Tuesday. A tough decision. I opted for Chris Drury. It was the best possible choice. I had seen Chris's work for the first time in Resurgence and was immediately struck and captivated by the simplicity and beauty of what he is creating in the world. Artworks in stone, wood, water, ice and even mushrooms... ! draw easy comparisons to Andy Goldsworthy and Antony Gormley, artists I've admired for many years. Chris's work equals both Goldsworthy and Gormley. He very much ploughs his own furrow, creating completely original, environmentally inspired works of art.

I arrived a few minutes late to the event because I 'd spent ten minutes looking for a parking space. The festival is very well attended – the eco worrier (no spelling mistake) in me was muttering and wondering how many of the rides were shared?

Chris's event was presented as a slide show of some of his recent works across the world with different groups, communities and tribes. He narrated his way through the creation of stone and wood works in a UK hospital inspired by the images of a cardiogram. Massive reconstructions of the formations and flows of arctic wind on the freshly snow covered ice sheet where he used satellite images of the wind flows uploaded onto a GPS satellite navigation system. He then attached the GPS to a skidoo (motorised sled), and followed the lines carefully, scaled up large and 'drawn' in the snow by the skidoo's skis. He then photographed the reconstructed lines of wind in ice from a high vantage point. Utterly inspiring and ingenious.

I literally drew a sharp in take of breath when he talked us through the slides of his recreation of a nuclear mushroom cloud out of sprigs of sage from the New Mexico desert where the first nuclear tests changed the world forever. The dried sage (used in cleansing rituals around the world) was hung from the ceiling in a multitude of pieces, forming a facsimile of the mushroom-shaped cloud that became synonymous with mankind's most destructive bomb. Chris repeated the concept in Italy using dried mushrooms, lit stunningly from beneath. I have never seen anything like it. I absolutely loved this work.

A sharp observation from the audience from a long term environmental campaigner highlighted the recent acceptance from environmental groups that the heavy message of environmental catastrophe simply wasn't getting through to the masses. What was though, was environmental art. For me the kind of art Chris creates opens up the heart and soul before the cynical mind can distract me from a deeper truth, leaving me much more open to the messages that relate or connect to that work.

Chris clearly has a message and a passion for the natural world and is constantly looking at ways to connect technology, nature, life and death and create artworks that move and inspire. He warned that as an artist it was a bad idea to approach environmental art with a world changing agenda; 'it kills the heart of it.' He said he always looked for the connections in nature, the bridges between objects and ideas and this was his driving force. The eco message comes later, as a bonus not a primary driver.

As I'm writing, I realise I wish I'd gone to meet him and buy his book so he could sign it for me. I will buy it anyway. His work, the heart and soul of it, filled The Barn Cinema with hushed reverence from the audience and left me feeling nourished and connected and even more ready to bring my own creativity deeper into the world in the hope that hearts and minds will be opened and if I'm lucky, agendas aside, there will be a greater reverence and respect for our life and impact on the earth.
Tagore would be proud.

Caspar Walsh is the film editor for Resurgence. He is an author, journalist and wilderness teacher. His new novel Blood Road is available in paperback.

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