As this first decade of the new millennium draws to a close, man has suddenly woken up to just how vitally important the wellbeing of the natural world in which we live is. While politics does what it can to prevent further natural catastrophes from striking the planet, the artists also do their bit, above all at the emotional level. From the parallel, imaginary and magical world of contemporary art, the artists sometimes return with their feet on the ground to impart a few lessons of poetry, civilisation and cohesion between man and nature. The amazement shown at the big Turner landscapes, when faced with the power of the nature of the past, first turned into indifference and then denial; only now does nature make a well-deserved comeback, naturally, in the post-modern key of contemporaneity.
Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky has been taking pictures of the places from which crude oil is extracted, refined and used for ten years, producing splendid yet unsettling landscapes synonymous with solitude, destruction and underground life together. His wonderful panoramic photographs, collected in a book called “Oil”, carry us off to places that we otherwise would never have set eyes on, if it weren’t for the fact that they are such important sources of the fossil fuel that is part of our daily lives.
Young Finnish artist Henna Joronen gets close to nature with the instinct of someone used to living in the woods, leading her to colour bamboo with pitch black ink to invent an unlikely shack, midway between dream and reality, in her marvellous installation “Shelter”. Alternatively, she impulsively groups the chromatic nuances of her homeland in glorious abstract water colours, giving them eclectic names such as “Noctuid” or “Swallowtail”.
While Patrizia Giambi reproduces nature by inventing a contrived approach with man: her rubber “Medusa” is floated in the swimming pool of a luxury hotel and the spectator is forced to dive into the water to fully appreciate the work. French artist Benjamin Sabatier, a Sorbonne art lecturer, uses a far more pragmatic way to bring people in emotional touch with nature. Inventor of the trademark “IBK” (International Benjamin Kit) through which he distributes and sells his artistic “kits”, he invites the collector to self-assemble the installations by following the instructions as if it were a piece of Ikea furniture. He often likes to associate the world of consumption (especially packaging) with what it comes from. His “Rondin Les 3 Suisses II” sculpture is a tree trunk that splits halfway into its product: a mail order catalogue that will be recycled before anyone has even browsed through it.
While Annett Fischer disputes how we deal with nature when it comes to the production and consumption of food, Elizabeth Latta underscores its importance through history with an oneiric representation, not lacking in irony, of a past king and queen who float above marine skies, the American artist thus recalls the important role nature has played in shaping the political contemporaneity.
Japanese artist Kotaro Fukui mixes Nihonga tradition and poetry in his exuberant love of the iris flower, which he depicts in radiant blues against a gold background. To be displayed in religious silence, all the respect for the Japanese pictorial tradition is interpreted in a contemporary key in the installation rigour of these panels, wrapped in an aura of magic that, between light and shadow, reveals its essence.
American Paul Jordan, Taiwanese Bruce Chen and Israeli Uri Dotan take a more conceptual approach to nature. While Jordan symbolises the power play between man and nature in bewitchingly distorted sculptural jewels, Chen reproduces the philological method of certain natural processes, depicting 3000 universes in a line, as cited in the Sutra of Buddhist philosophy. On the other hand, Dotan, who, living in New York, sees little of nature, captures the experiences of the miserable rainy days of New York passersby, transforming them into photographic patterns that recall the natural decorations of certain fossils, memories of his childhood in the Israeli desert.
If the eclecticism of the contemporary artists challenges the limits of communication, the almost concordant message that many of them transmit to us is that of the hope that the future generations will solidify a new attitude of caring for nature and find increasingly greater solutions for the planet’s prosperity.