Reverence for the Earth
This issue of AHN News is dedicated to art making as an expression of reverence and care for the earth.
I begin with an interview with artist Karen Macher, who creates works in collaboration with nature that are about awakening the senses and connecting us more deeply to the natural world.
Next I review two books. David Abram's The Spell of the Sensuous is a poetic treatise on re-building our connection to the earth through language. Art In Action: Nature, Creativity and Our Collective Future offers an inspiring selection of seventy-nine environmental artists.
One of the best ways to respect the earth is to use art materials that do not denigrate the environment, and so I offer a link the Green Your Art Blog which offers many resources on this topic.
May this issue inspire you to create connection with the natural world,
~ Mary Daniel Hobson, Director of Arts & Healing Network
"I walk, see, smell and feel. I become conscious that I am part of nature, and that I don’t have to build my works on it, but with it. Our energy must flow together. In my work I try to use natural materials, and these works don’t usually last long. My work is ephemeral as we are as well. I find it beautiful how they change in time, as we human beings change. Time is precious in nature. I can start my work my way, but after some time nature takes it as hers, transforming it in appearance and meaning. In working with nature I accept that I never have the last word on my work. I learn from it and work with it." ~ Karen Macher
Born and living today in Lima, Peru, Karen Macher is an artist who works with installation, performance, sculpture and other media as a means to connect in a poetic way with the natural world. International in her focus, Karen holds a Masters in Art & Technology from Valencia, Spain, and she has represented her country in several international symposiums in Europe, South America and Asia. She was interviewed below in January 2014 by Arts & Healing Network Director, Mary Daniel Hobson.
Mary Daniel Hobson: Why do you think art can be such a powerful tool for healing and transformation?
Karen Macher: Because it works for me, and I believe for other people as well. Every time I work with or in nature I feel I am at peace with myself and happier. Some years ago I learned a discipline that changed my perspective and my life, which says the only way to make things around you work the way you want is to breathe deeply, let the energy flow through you and move forward. If you block that energy from flowing through you it makes you feel stressed and sick. That is why I decided, in any means possible, to spend as much time as I could in contact with nature doing what I like, what makes me feel good and in harmony with myself. The mixture of nature and art has that power – the power to relax and heal.
Mary Daniel: When did you start making art about the environment?
Karen: I discovered nature and art, which I felt immediately connected to, by chance, when I was selected for a project in Belgium in 2007. I had to work on an installation with natural materials taken only from the forest. I was immersed in the forest for one week. That was my first project in contact with nature, and I totally fell in love with the feeling. When I came back home, I decided I wanted to work like that forever. Little by little I got more involved in these kinds of international events, met more people from all over the world related to it, and I learned it was a whole movement I had no idea existed. I was, and I am, delighted about all the artists joining and working with nature.
I feel my relation to the earth and to the environment very much related to poetry – looking for the beauty of the ephemeral. I don’t feel myself to be an activist – I mean a politically-related activist. My work is more about a nature-person relationship, which involves healing through showing respect for each other.
Mary Daniel: How has making this art changed your relationship with the natural world?
Karen: This kind of work really changed my life practices. Meeting so many environmental artists in the international events I participated in and listening to their concerns about nature made me become more responsible in my every day routine. Even though here in Peru, there is almost no education for recycling, we (at home) make an effort to separate trash and recycle what we can, or carry our own fabric bags to the supermarket (lots of plastic bags are given in every supermarket for free). When I go to the beach I pick up empty plastic bottles when I see them lying next to the seashore, even though they are not mine. I walk more and drive less. I am also more aware about the use of water at home.
When I am in an open air space I like to walk barefooted to feel in contact with the ground. What I like the most is that this kind of work made all of my senses wake up and enjoy smelling, listening, feeling, etc. All of those things are mostly not taken into consideration because of the rushed pace of our everyday life.
Mary Daniel: Tell me about the materials you work with. How do you choose your materials? When you do an installation, are the materials left in the land to decompose? Or do you collect them later? Do these materials hold special meaning for you?
Karen: When I think of a new project I always take in consideration the materials I will work with and where is it going to be installed. I usually pick materials which are responsible within the environment, and I try not to use plastic or materials that would remain there after I am gone. Even though I have that in mind all the time, sometimes, because of weather conditions or other facts I had to add little amounts of materials I was refusing to use in the beginning to make the project work. Mostly when I work on big scale installations in open air spaces I am invited by organizations that take care of the installation when the artists leave. Some materials are left on site for some time until they decompose, others have to be discarded by them. The materials per se don’t have a special meaning for me, I pick what works best for the projects in the most efficient way possible.
Mary Daniel: Could you tell me the story behind one of your pieces? How did you create the piece, and what was the impact?
Karen: Every project is special but I remember one particular conversation in Taiwan. I was invited to make an artwork that would float on the wetlands’ surface. I made a kind of wheel that was eight meters in diameter, with bamboo (some recycled and some new) and put pots on it with local water plants that were supposed to grow there when I had left. I say it was supposed to grow because just two weeks after we left the place a typhoon passed by and destroyed it. When we made it, we were working with more artists and the children of a local school in a very small town, and I had the feeling local people didn’t understand much why we where doing what we were doing there, but they were eager to help. When I finished my work I found out there was a current of water in the wetlands that made the wheel turn constantly, slowly and beautifully. One of the local people told me that that had a meaning for Taiwanese people. The wheel turning was for them a sign that something good is coming, because you could see the water is flowing under it. And when the water flows it is clean and fresh, and that meant good fortune. I was not expecting them to like it so much, but they did. I was happy to learn my work had a hidden meaning I had not read into it. For me it was rewarding, because I could leave an artwork for them they could really enjoy every time they passed by the road on their bicycles.
Mary Daniel: Where do you get the inspiration for your work?
Karen: Everything is a source of inspiration for me. Reading, watching science documentaries on TV, or just walking on the streets is useful. When I see something that captures my interest and triggers my inspiration I take it, whenever and wherever it comes. I believe if your senses are in constant alert it is easy to find new shapes and ideas everywhere, but also while working. Sometimes I just start working small formats, without a plan. I just feel I want to work with a particular material and I start. Sometimes from there I get interesting ideas, which become bigger projects later.
Mary Daniel: What do you hope the impact of your work will be on others?
Karen: I guess I want others to stop for a moment and breathe. I got tired of life getting busier – of not having time to enjoy the little and simple things, which are for me the most beautiful and inspiring. I live in a noisy, populated city. It is very difficult to stop in this era when everything is expected to be done fast and you are expected to answer the phone in the first ring. But I think it is necessary to stop to make sure the path you are following is the right one, or at least the one you want to follow. And it is always important to be in contact with yourself and with the ground that hosts you, wherever you are.
Mary Daniel: What excites you most right now about your work?
Karen: What excites me about my work is to always be learning and being surprised by new forms my work can take. Traveling to beautiful places to make my projects is also very inspiring, and to see people’s reactions too. I never imagined, when I was a student, that art could take me to so many different countries to meet new people and cultures. I keep on reinventing myself. It has taught me a lot about ways of working with nature that I keep on discovering even today.
Mary Daniel: Do you have any advice for other artists who would like to make work that is about healing our relationship with the earth?
Karen: Keep on doing what they feel is good for them and for the environment, and teach it to others. Never give up, and never get tired of sending a message through nature and art, because more people than we think are getting the messages we are sending. The best way to improve our relationship with nature is to awaken our senses and work with them.
To learn more about Karen Macher’s work, please visit her web site and her blog.
The Spell of the Sensuous
by David Abram
reviewed by Mary Daniel Hobson
"To return to our senses is to renew our bond with this wider life, to feel the soil beneath the pavement, to sense – even when indoors – the moon’s gaze upon our roof." ~ David Abram
This is a beautifully written and philosophical examination of humankind's relationship with the natural world, or lack thereof. David Abram studied "magic" with the indigenous peoples of Indonesia and learned ultimately that the "shaman/magician" was really a person who had their senses deeply open to all of nature and all creatures. He/she knew how to make subtle adjustments to create balance in the natural world, which then created healing. In the Western world, we have lost much of this "magic." Abrams reveals how much of this disconnection is due to the origins of our language, and he offers a rigorous analysis of how the development of our alphabet and writing caused man to separate from nature. Abram ultimately proposes that by working with language in a new way, we might rediscover the reciprocity necessary for healing our relationship with the earth. As he writes:
"The story sketched out herein suggests that the written word carries a pivotal magic – the same magic that once sparkled in the eyes of an owl and the glide of an otter…. Our task, is that of taking up the written word, with all its potency, and patiently, carefully writing language back into the land…. Planting words, like seeds, under rocks and fallen logs – letting language take root, once again, in the earthen silence of shadow and bone and leaf."
Although this is not a book about art per se – it is a book about poetic expression and a call to awaken the senses and reexamine the way we think, speak, talk and move in the world. Therefore, it is a book that offers the environmental artist inspiration and affirmation to continue making art that rebuilds our connection with and reverence for nature.
Published in 1996 by Vintage Books, a subset of Random House, The Spell of the Sensuous can be purchased here. To learn more about the work of David Abram, please visit his web site.
Art in Action: Nature, Creativity and Our Collective Future
edited by the staff of the Natural World Museum (NWM)
reviewed by Mary Daniel Hobson
"Artists can help awaken us. They can recall to us our place on this planet, remind us that we breath the same air the hummingbird breathes, the same air that contains oxygen released by our trees and the same air the dolphin inhales before traveling the deep seas. The sacred aspect of our relationship to nature has to be accessed, enriched and expressed, enlivening our sense and intellect. Artists help change the way we see." ~ Mia Hanak, Founding Executive Director, Natural World Museum
Art in Action brings together the work of seventy-nine artists, and by doing so, this book showcase the incredible diversity of creative responses to environmental issues. Divided into four key sections called Celebrate, Reflect, Interact and Protect, this book ranges from glorifying nature to offering political critiques to exploring contemporary issues such as pollution, endangered species, global warming or sustainable energy. The section that inspired me most was the Protect section which included Jackie Brookner’s water-purifying sculptures, Marjetica Potrč's ecologically-safe toilet project in Venezuela, Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison's compassionate re-mapping of the world, and Mierle Ukeles’ performance work honoring sanitation workers. Each artist is given one to three pages of space, which includes a large color illustration and a text about the artist’s creative process and environmental concerns. This format makes this book a nice introduction to an artist’s work, and if you are interested in more depth you could look beyond these pages.
Published by Earth Aware Editions in 2007, Art in Action can be purchased here.
Green Your Art Blog
This blog was created by Janet Botes and Chelsea Amor Lotz to encourage and supports artists in using green materials. The blog highlights information, inspiration and opportunities for environmental artists. The site also includes A Guide To Greening Your Materials and an extensive list of links to eco-art organizations and resources.
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