For the 2014 Nature Art Symposium nature took over even before the event occurred. A rainstorm on July 19th, caused extensive flooding of the river and village of Gabrovtsi. Contexts were transformed, roads washed away the borders of the Enyovitsa river, and changed the landscape as chunks of the land, and mature trees were carried away in the flood. The force of nature and incredible power to transform, to shift trees, cut away rock sections, was never so evident as here this year. Sculptures from earlier Gabrovtsi environmental art symposia vanished, never to be seen again. Nature and the great creator had the last word.
Nature is the art of which we are a part! As the landscape and environment change on our planet, artists’ are moving from a theoretical and conceptual bias (something early Land art played with) to direct action and a more process-oriented art. We are no longer in that Land art era of those vast earth-moving projects. Land artists in the United States like Walter de Maria, Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer worked the land as if it were substance to prove an idea. The dialogue involved time and transposing idea back and forth. The white cube of the gallery was non-site, the landscape was site. The idea of transforming huge areas of landscape, whether desert or valley or field, was a modus vivendi for these 1960s and 1970s artists.
In our times, nature and the land have now becomes a living laboratory for experimenting and creating new artworks in direct response to place. The scales are shifting, and the sensibility is close up and human, a direct exchange between artist, community and nature in context. Artists will work in collaboration with nature. The results are as varied ads the artists participating at this year’s Gabrovtsi Art-Nature Symposium, whose origins are with the Duppini Group of Artists.
At the outset, the site for Pawel Chlebek’s Tree of Life was fortunate, as he found an orchard with apple and plum trees growing there. Recycling the trunk of a tree moved from its natural place on the Enyovitsa River , to form the base of the living evolving sculpture, Chlebek hung some fired clay pregnant women’s bellies, filled them with earth and fruit tree seeds. Others were left on the ground. With the process of nature, these forms will fall to the ground as the branches fall, and potentially some of these seed will become fruit trees. In a way, Chlebek’s work expresses something of the exchange between human culture and the culture of nature, an eternal dialogue. The tree of life as a theme expresses something of God’s gift to humanity, that we are conscious of our actions and can make ethical choices, and decisions. As Chlebek’s sculpture devolves, and returns to nature, nature’s processes take over, and art returns to its source. In his own words, “Nature explodes – destroys – but also creates. (…) Pure nature exists next to human civilization. Strong, long lasting, respectful, indestructible.”
Horses have a long history as beasts of burden, whether working in the fields, walking the canals, pulling timber in the forest, for funerals or as a city draft. In battle horses were sacrificed in great numbers. The human relation to horses goes way back, could be ancient, as with the cave paintings at Lascaux in France, where the horses are animated spirits captured by the human hand. Horses have a healing quality as regards humans. They sense what humans feel and vice versa. Yong Duck Lee’s horse sculpture stands in the center of the village of Gabrovtsi next to an old water well built on the late 19th century. Yong Duck Lee has adopted a unique technique where he cuts into the wood, enabling him to bend and curve it, as he needs. The wood is brought together in layers, a build up process. Yong Duck Lee’s horse has a graphic sense, and strong lines, open spaces, so it plays on the abstract and figurative, walking the line between the two. The choice of site, and structural sensibility in this sculpture makes it a kind of drawing in three dimensions.
Lidia Karkelanova who actually lives in Gabrovtsi is participating for the first time in the Art-Nature symposium. Her sculpture is a living part of the landscape, in part functional, whose woven tree and branch forms can be found hanging from a tree by the roadside. As a site-specific sculpture, Karkelanova’s is an action that seeks to help the endangered bees by proving human made nest sites for them to thrive. . As the bee carries pollen from tree to tree, plant-to-plant, new growth and life comes into being via another form of life- the bee. Wood softened and left in the river becomes easier to weave forms with, and forms are made with the intention of helping dwindling bumblebee populations to once again grow.
The effects of spraying of toxic chemicals on the fields and agricultural landscape on bumble bee populations are well known, as is the relatively new phenomenon of tiny mite-like insects that live on the bees in some parts of the world. As sculpture, Karkelanova’s uses nature’s own design forms and recreates them as art. She likewise highlights an issue important to all of us, as the bumblebee is so important as a species that pollenates fruit trees and flowers.
Ko Seung-hyun ongoing Gayageum projects now undertaken in many countries worldwide, are large-scale recreations of the traditional 12-stringed musical instrument. Using a linden tree for one, and a walnut tree for a second, Ko’s Gayageum Gabrovtsi is nature specific and culture specific. When you look at it, you can see the rocks and stones, the roots of this tree pulled down by the July floods at Gabrovtsi. With over 30 versions of the Gayageum now created using wood types as varied as pine, Gingko, Cherry, white birch, each Gayageum becomes a unique work that uses local materials as a way of “deepening the art world” in the words of Jeon Won-gil, Director of the Yatoo-I project. The traditional Korean stringed instrument Gayageum Ko recreates is not just music out of nature, but sculpture in a dialogue with nature. Made to be played by the people who visit the village of Gabrovtsi. The Gayageum Gabrovtsi is like the other Gayageum Ko has produced, and these are, in Ko’s words, “Made for the people and the wind to play with, to express the emotions caused by nature. As an old poet did, I think about what I will do for the Nature. Breathing in the nature is my form of prayer and staying there is my faith. I want to follow the nature’s providence and reasonableness rather than to apply my ideas to the nature.” We all can identify with the direct and immediate experiences shared working with nature in art.
Rumen Dmitrov, as he says, works on the principle, one work each day. Each experiment results in a completely different sculptural realization. Near the turn off for Gabrovtsi from the main highway that leads to Istanbul, Dmitrov build a series of steps or stairs, a stairway to heven, of you will, that likewise serves as a signal to passers-by that sculpture abounds in these regions. One of the first works Dmitrov realized for this year’s event was a freestanding vertical tree which he resurrected from the detritus by the riverside.
With its undulating, curvilinear variations this tree extends upwards in a site by the river supported by tree roots that remained after the disaster. Rumen Dmitrov’s bridge is a sculpture structure that curves its way upwards by the riverbanks and exposed rock strata near the village. The bridge is a hypothetical bridge, a dream bridge, and it proposed a healing and reconstruction of the devastation at Gabrovtsi. Sited as it is, with the river, newly opened up, with more light and space than before the disaster, Dmitrov bridge is an exercise is siting and form. Wood becomes a structure. The structure is one that suggests a new pathway. The metaphor is as spiritual as it is material. A destroyed bridge, never to be seen again, is symbolically recreated as art, giving hope to the people of this place.
Sculpture always has a landscape in it, an experience drawn from nature. Hans-Joachim Uth’s standing sculpture sited near the bridge above the village of Gabrovtsi was made from a single tree recovered after the flood. It stands at a place where nature meets civilization, and as the artist explains is, like the Japanese Torii symbol, marks a place where a holy of divine site begins for the Japanese. For Uth, nature itself is part of our connection to that sublime sensibility, and so this standing sculpture that comes from nature, is a human gesture of relatedness to that self same nature. Animating the space of a disaster zone is likewise a gesture of healing, and Hans-Joachim Uth’s near invisible interventions along the banks of the river Enyovitsa are as ingenious as they are subtle gestures of reintegration. One tree still stands with piles of wood and debris wrapped underneath it. Uth presented a line of stone that “walks up” the pile of wood, highlighting nature’s actions during the disaster. Other stone piles, and a bed of stones, embroider the river banks with an eclectic nature-culture dialogue that is less about form, or sculpture as object, than the process of life we are all in, and to which artist add their gestures, performative actions.
All these elements, the sculpture, the pilings, and the bed, become one work of art, an elegy to the voyage of life we are all embarked on, and that continues before we are here, and after we are gone.
Jean Paul Falcioni’s incorporates a variety of elements from a once live tree. Standing atop the sculpture is a compressed sections of tree roots exposed by the storm, and brought to the surface.. A hidden world now becomes visible, just as our invisible, and spiritual senses are often hidden from view. The Gabrovtsi storm and subsequent flooding disaster inverted the order, presenting a hidden world and escalating nature’s processes, displacing and replacing all manner of materials and contexts. The roots that weave their way through openings carved into the central carved trunk section, express a kind of exposure, vulnerability, as do the vulva-shaped openings in the trunk. Overall one feels the flow in this orchestrated structure sculpture. As Falcioni says, “People look for their roots in the past. I would suggest we look above, to the sky, for our origins.” Falcioni’s vernacular style, and enigmatic sensibility builds it own language out of what he found left over after the flood.
Daniel Manheim’s participation at Gabrovtsi was not just about sculpture. He likewise cleaned the radically transformed riverbanks of plastic and garbage, collecting and cleaning the detritus of the flood. In the field where his impressive vertical assemblage stands he prepared the grounds, pruning trees, and clearing the grasses to produce a neutral ground set for sculpture. Ingeniously Manheim devised a way for an ordinary bulldozer to carry tree sections higher up as the sculpture grew vertically. Speaking of his sculpture, which consists of a consecutive additive piling of tree trunk sections, a tree collage and assemblage, Manheim, comments, “It could be a ray from outer space or a gesture about generating roots for the future. History is the base of my sculpture and the trunk that extends up at the highest point, symbolizes the new pioneers of our time, who push further.”
For his Gate of Peace, Vasyl Tatarskyy brought actual tree trunks from the riverbank disaster scene, cutting and shaping them into large timbers. Integrating these to build a symbolic structure out of nature itself Vasyl Tatarskyy’s sculpture plays with space and form, innovating with wood’s essentially undulating character, and reforming it into something quintessentially abstract and imaginative. The artist provides a cue for us all to consider generative structures that are simple, symbolic and strong. The forms that resulted present an archway that is in part the artist’s reflection on the present day situation in his native Ukraine, a country divided like these two tomahawk or axe heads. As geometries these forms are as intricate as they are beautiful, pure constructions in space. Sited as they are in a field adjacent to the highway that connects Veliko Tarnovo with Istanbul, Turkey.
Before the Art Nature event, Chung Hye-Ryung had conceived of her sculpture as consisting of two hands shaking, a gesture of understanding and exchange. On hearing there had been a flood at Gabrovtsi, and witnessing the devastation in the village, Hye-Ryung decided her sculpture had to change. In a moment, the sculptor decided she needed to present a symbol of the villagers will and need to survive. The artist’s interweave of wood traces the outlines of hands. Extending from the front of a building in the village Chung Hye-Ryung’s two hands are touching the earth. The suggestion is that we feel in touch with the most basic human need to engage with the tragedy and go on with life. It is all symbolized by these two hands. The gesture is spiritual, even symbolic. As Chung Hye-Ryung commented, “I feel that the position of the artist is to give hope to people.”
Nature art is a celebration of the harmonious union of artists working with materials – recycled and from the environment. Nature is the medium, the message, and the art is a reflection on human culture’s home – the earth. Nature artists are aware of bio-regional diversity, inter-cultural diversity and of the economic and ecological links to nature.
Life becomes a living museum. The artist is the conduit. The artist is the catalyst and the connector of these contextual energies. Nature art is not an idiom. Nature art is about the reintegration of human culture and life with the ecosystems we all depend upon for our survival. Replacing egosystems with a respect for our ecosystem will prove the greatest challenge of the future. The immediate environment, the physics of materials and the cycle of life all play a role in nature art, like these impromptu artworks produced by at Gabrovtsi in the summer of 2014.
John K. Grande
John K. Grande is a Canadian art critic with an abiding interest and numerous reviews and feature articles in the field of nature art, a winner of national and international awards. John K. Grande is author of Art Nature Dialogues (SUNY Press, New York) and Dialogues in Diversity; Art from Marginal to Mainstream (Pari Publishing, Italy). Art in Nature (Borim Press, Seoul, South Korea) won the national public prize in 2012.
He is an organizer of Eco-Art with Peter Selz in Pori Art Museum, Finland, 2011, with Kathy Venter – Life in Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, Toronto, 2013 and five editions of Earth Art in Royal Botanical Gardens and Van Dusen Gardens, Vancouver. A special guest to the International Symposium Gabrovtsi, ART–NATURE 2014.