Reflecting on Green Art and Attitudes to Nature
‘Chairs’ , my installation in Cataract Gorge, Tasmania in early 2007 explored the Victorian notion of communing with nature by ‘taking the air’, strolling on a well formed pathway in a park and stopping to enjoy the view at various vantage points. Cataract Gorge is wilderness tamed and trimmed for human interaction and enjoyment, with a long history of human intervention. I used chairs as a metaphor for the human contemplation of Nature and to accent the stopping points along the walking track that snakes through the Gorge.
More recent attitudes to parks and wilderness favour the notion that there was, somewhere, sometime an ideal natural state before human intervention. Human intervention is seen as being to the detriment of this ideal state. Modern Western civilization generally stands outside this idea of Nature, although indigenous peoples are usually admitted, in an echo of the notion of the noble savage.
The philosophy behind ‘Environmental’ and ‘Green’ art is closely linked to this idea that there is an ideal natural state we have lost or are losing. Consequently human interaction with the natural world needs to be minimized, limited or changed so we can conserve or regain that state. Limiting human intervention, insisting on native vegetation, natural materials and themes, celebrating indigenous culture, and a focus on conservation issues are features of environmental art festivals such as ‘Floating Land’. ‘Green Art’ seeks not only to make art practice ecologically sensitive, but through its themes to change behaviour, as if by making or viewing artworks or taking part in workshops humans may develop a new relationship with Nature and a new way of living in harmony and somehow be closer to regaining or conserving an ideal natural world.
Of course Green art does not stand alone in this endeavour. The notion that human behaviour towards the natural world needs to change has been embedded in our culture in many ways. Easy to implement solutions such as not using plastic shopping bags give instant feel good status to shoppers who may not at the same time consider the implications of the goods in their shopping trolleys or the four wheel drive vehicle they use to take them home.
Is Green Art the green shopping bag of the art world? Is participating in something like Floating Land a game changer or sort of like going to church at Easter and never thinking about it for the rest of the year?
Is there an ideal state?