Art in the environment
Coloured cord on a granite boulder, Zennor, Cornwall. 2017
I’ve been producing art dealing with environmental concerns since the 1970s.
The simplicity of construction of this piece is important. The observer will hopefully notice the almost total lack of endeavour required to create the work, while also noticing the (hopefully) relatively high aesthetic payoff as a result of that endeavour.
A lot of land art and other art in the environment strive to use only natural ingredients in the composition of the art, good examples being the work of Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy. This work however consciously uses artificial material in the form of nylon paracord.
In the work the placing of brightly coloured plastic into the environment refers partly to humanity’s imposition of artificiality onto the natural world. This is partly a message about the despoiling of the environment by our endeavours. The fact that the nylon cord has been simply laid on the boulder (which took the effort of a whole three minutes) helps to reinforce this message, as the cord acquires qualities associated with the detritus of our instant gratification throw-away consumer culture. The fact that the cord is plastic reinforces this further. However, the brightly coloured plastic actually looks quite pleasing on the rock, so the work is also saying that humanity’s imposition of artificiality onto the environment may have a positive side to it, at least to us (but also that just because something looks nice doesn’t necessarily mean that it is).
In fact, where would we be without the artificiality that we impose on the environment? Hence some of the ambiguity in this piece.
The rock is on low heathland behind my house at Rosemorran, Zennor, near St Ives, Cornwall.
Unmanipulated photograph. Cord stretched along the horizon: Zennor, Cornwall, UK
Plastic cord, landscape. September 2017
A photograph of a length of brightly coloured plastic cord stretched horizontally so that it coincides exactly with the horizon.
This is an unmanipulated photograph.
The work is partly about the all pervasive presence of plastic in our lives and the environment, with the piece of plastic cord seemingly stretching all the way along the horizon. The fact that the line of the cord is along the horizon created by the sea links the cord with the plastic pollution that is present in vast quantities in the oceans.
As well being a metaphor for the plastic pollution in the oceans, the cord also signifies that plastic is in many ways a very useful and pleasing substance (without which our modern world wouldn’t be able to function). This is indicated by the fact that the cord creates a very pleasing aesthetic effect. The major problem with plastics is the complex molecular structures that are created during the creation of the plastic that mean that they decompose very slowly. If this problem is solved the plastic problem will be greatly reduced (although of course it will still be a problem, along with all of the other problems based on consumerism that we are inflicting on the planet).
The work also exists at a purely aesthetic level, with an appeal generated solely through the juxtaposition of the horizon and the plastic cord.
The work was created overlooking Zennor, Cornwall, UK.
A detail of the photograph to show the church.
Art in the environment, Cornwall.
Fluorescent coloured cord, tree. 2017
A lot of land art and other art in the environment strives to use only natural ingredients in the composition of the art. This work however consciously uses artificial material in the form of a length of brightly coloured fluorescent plastic nylon cord.
The simplicity of construction of this piece is important. The cord is draped over the branch of a tree and is pulled tight downwards to create two perfectly straight, vertical, parallel lines.
The work is meant to create slightly confused emotions in the observer. In the relative darkness of its woodland setting the cord stands out as a source of brightness, and the two parallel lines are aesthetically pleasing amongst the twisted shapes of the branches and the leaves.
However, the cord is bright because it’s unnatural fluorescent plastic, and the parallel straight lines of the cord are similrly unnatural and are partly a reference to humanity’s need to impose order on nature.
This work was created at the same time as most of the other paracord works on this site.
A work of environmental contemporary art – the Earth in a kitchen waste bin.
Kitchen waste bin, digital display. Created January 2017, Cornwall.
From most angles (as in the image on the left, above) the bin looks like any conventional kitchen bin: however when viewed from the front (the image on the right, above) the opening in the bin is transformed into a portal to the cosmos, with the Earth suspended in the darkness of outer space.
The inside of the bin is pitch black due to the use of extremely matt black paint, while the Earth shines as a back-lit image.
The work carries the environmental message that the human race is treating the earth with contempt and that we are effectively placing the planet itself in the rubbish bin.
The work is a development of a concept that I had in about the year 2000, when I produced several environment-themed drawings of the earth falling into a wastepaper basket. The sculptural potential of using a real rubbish bin to create an illusion of outer space is a more recent development.
A version of this work was shown in my solo show at Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, Cornwall in 2022 and was shortlisted for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in the same year.
I’ve been producing environmental art of one sort or another since the 1970s.
Contemporary art and the environment – breathing on a polluted planet.
Digital image. First version: 1991; this version: 2015
A work of environmental contemporary art concerning climate change and pollution.
This work is created in a cartoon-like style. There are several reasons for this. One is that I create quite a lot of cartoons (which have been published in newspapers such as the Guardian and magazines such as Private Eye), and another is that I think that the cartoon style is a particularly good way of communicating about subjects such as the environment, global warming, pollution and the various crises that are currently afflicting our planet. One of the appeals of the cartoon art style is that it generally lacks ambiguity, so its message is clear and unmistakable, which is very important with subjects that are as important and clear-cut as climate change.
Other contemporary art styles on the other hand tend to thrive when they contain a degree of uncertainty or ambiguity about what is being said, requiring the viewer to interpret the work as they see fit. Contemporary art that puts forward a message unambiguously can often tend to come across as rather dead, didactic and hectoring, which I think the cartoon style tends to avoid.
Also of course, cartoon art, due to its nature, can easily be reproduced in print or electronically without loss of quality (both physical quality and emotional quality), thus making it available to a much wider audience than most contemporary art – which can only be a good thing when the work tackles important subjects such as the environment and climate change.
Fox skull: memento mori
A photograph of a fox’s skull.
Nice abstract sculptural quality I think, accentuated by the lighting and the simple composition.
Like many people, I find bones, especially skulls, very evocative. I think that it’s possibly a mix of the aesthetic qualities of the physical form of the bones and a realisation of what they actually are. They are a very concrete reminder of the transience of life: memento mori.
You’d have to ask an evolutionnary psychologist what it is that makes them aesthetically pleasing, or indeed what it is that makes anything aesthetically pleasing.