The wild and the sublime

What is it with the great outdoors? Susanna Beaumont and Paul Welsh report on the rise of the eco-artist and a rash of environment-inspired art shows.

In the wilds of Colorado. Wester Ross and New Mexico he has wandered. He‘s gathered the bits and bobs of nature. He‘s built cairns on hill tops and at the water‘s edge.

Sitting in on his latest exhibition. evidence of these continent-diverse journeys before us wicker baskets on the floor and curls ofturf suspended sculptor Chris Drury talks nature and how it all began. However. it is tricky. ‘You can‘t talk about nature. it‘s really culture. it is defined by culture and language.‘ says Drury. So. how are our ideas about the landscape shaped by the artist and. for that matter.

the ad-maker? Now, that is tricky. But when did this interest in stone. pieces of animal bone and flowers start? ‘It was kickstarted in I975 when I went walking in Canada,’ replies Drury who. twenty years on. continues to find the open country and the

elements that come with it a powerful force. This exhibition. on show at lnverleith House. marks out a current focus of Drury the vessel. For Drury finds the vessel. be it the basket. the kayak or the cairn. a metaphor for both travel and space: ‘the vessel is a container for movement; it is pan of a circular journey.‘ as Drury puts it.

In one room hangs Air Vessel. a wicker-made. kayak-shaped object. which seems to flirt with the possibilities of rapid movement but is caught in a stationary zone of timelessness and space. Then there is Power of the Plant: nine poisonous plants bundled up in burdock leaves encased in glass and wood. From afar. one bundle seems to be masquerading as at specimen a marsupial-like creature dangling by its i

Wonderful world oi Disney: Caroline Klrsop's happy rabbit painting

6 ac 30¢

Turtlng up: sculptor Chris Drury and his turt, WA and bronze installation, Adhere

tail. That‘s telling. for even here. looking at a kind of grown-up's nature table. things are not always what they seem.Nature can play games.

Over at Fruitmarket. nature is again getting a look in. This time under the title Volcano. five artists are showing their work. Not that they are visual describers of the dormant or the frighteningly alive carbuncles of flaming lava. But what with Edinburgh nestling in the volcanic aftermath of Castle Rock and Arthur's Seat. and the artists ‘very much aware ofthe earth. its sensitive being . . . it obviously seemed a good starting point as well as a marketable package.

Pram pushing along the ups and downs of Glasgow‘s streets shaped an awareness of the ways of the outside world for Carol Rhodes. Her

': landscapes cut in to by the urban hand. could easily

be described as bleak. This to Rhodes‘ mind is a bit ofa cop-out: ‘they may not be cheery. but I don‘t want them to be cosy.‘ but they show that ‘a road may be all over the place marking the survival of the curves of the land.‘ For installation maker and photographer. Bryndis Snazbjb'mdbttir. it is hill- walking that fires her work. Not that she takes on the Romantic view served up with nostalgic ideas about the countryside. It's a more abstracted interpretation ofthe rural that gears her multi-media works.

The environment as a template sometimes abused or disregarded for life and in turn history is an aspect of Patricia Macdonald‘s work as an aerial viewpoint photographer working in Scotland and abroad. ‘1 am interested in the interconnectedness of all things on earth. both what we consider the non- living rocks. sea and the atmosphere - and the living.’ explains Macdonald. who also considers the landscape to be ‘the ultimate repository of the metaphor‘.

it seems that the great outdoors will forever be a metaphorical maze. (SB)


‘Out in the wild. face to face with sublime, unspoilt Nature in all its awe-inspiring splendour. the artist confronts and struggles to depict the mysteries of the universe unless maybe there‘s something on TV.‘

Yeah. we‘re bored with the hype too. but as the press release from Transmission hints. the cultural inertia to be moved. gob-smacked then sent reeling by Mother Nature. still rumbles on. Could this simply be an idealistic fantasy. one manufactured by disaffected city dwellers in search of their true selves? Today. with the outdoors helping to sell cars. attitudes and Cor-Tex. the possibility of a widespread illusion gripping the collective consciousness may be more important than ever.

Call Of The Wild. at Transmission, wades into this and even rougher terrain. with the work of six young artists. Their aim is to question and subvert traditional ideas of natural surroundings before hijacking any newly liberated material for alternative ends. In the process. the gallery‘s raison d 'etre is also satisfied with work by three graduates of Glasgow School of Art shown alongside an international array of more established artists. .

‘We wanted to do a group show.’ says Toby Webster of Transmission. ‘that dealt with nature and landscape. and the reality or unreality - ofthe urban view of this. In modern culture. a person‘s relationship to the countryside changes all the time. Fantasies are projected onto it by advertising. TV and other media. and we seem to be in touch through these mediums. rather than more naturally. We may know more about what is going on as a result of technology. but perhaps there is something missing.’

The blanks are filled in various ways. Caroline Kirsop‘s oils fuse Disney artificiality with an awareness of traditional landscape painting. Norwegian photographer Torbjprn deland‘s

‘In modern culture, fantasies are projected onto nature by advertising, TV and other media, and we seem to be in touch through these mediums . . . perhaps there is something missing.’

obsession with a plastic bag is central to his classical compositions questioning romantic notions of wilderness. a foil for some serious existential rumination. Dutch filmmaker Liza May Post lights a campfire in bed-sit land and sculptor Justin Caner recreates the transition of wild wood to modern objects. David Zerah‘s work. however. is the most intriguing of all. Go ahead. stalk those angry red rabbits.

‘You must think I am delirious.‘ Zerah laughs before gathering himself to explain his installation. ‘The rabbits are isolated in individual jars. so they cannot reproduce. It is unnatural. so they are upset. People are free to walk on the grass and observe them. and they may become child-like when they do that because of the scale. I am interested in ideas of liberty but this is domesticated liberty. not the real thing‘.

The combination of Transmission‘s (toy) rabbits and the next totally bland vista may finally open some sleepy eyes. (PW)

Volcano is at I’rriimrarker Gallery. Edinburgh. until Fri 2 Feb; Vessel is at Royal Botanic Garden. Edinburgh. until Sun 4 Feb; Call Of The Wild is a! 'l'ransmission Gallery, Glasgow until Sat 20 Jan.

The List 15 Dec 1995-” Jan 1996 81