A small exhibition at the Yale Center for British Art explored sustainability beyond its traditional realm in science.
As a part of the Yale Sustainability Summit, the Yale Center for British Art showcased the works of seven artists who use nature as their subject or medium Thursday afternoon. The special exhibit, “Modern British Art and the Environment,” was a one-day exhibition of these pieces in an effort to connect the art world with the summit’s focus on increasing environmental awareness.
“The arts, in a commitment to sustainability, provide an opportunity to capture the relationship between humans and nature,” Julie Newman, the Director of the Yale Office of Sustainability, said.
The artists were trying to create works that relate to the environment in new ways, Scott Wilcox, chief curator at the British Art Center, said. They are not simply looking at a landscape and creating a photographic depiction of it on a canvas, he said.
One of the works that exemplified the use of a new medium to engage with the environment was Julie Cockburn’s “The Beetles Book,” which, Wilcox said, tried to connect natural history with the natural world. Cockburn created the work by cutting out pictures of beetles from a natural history book, folding them lengthwise to give the pieces a physical structure and then placing them over and between the pages of the book they were cut from. The work gave the impression that “the beetles were escaping from [the book]” and entering the viewer’s space, Wilcox said.
Other objects on display included works by Land Artists, a movement of artists who create pieces that interact with the environment. Richard Long, a Land Artist, compiled thirteen screenprints documenting a path he walked through in the portfolio, “Rock Drawings: An Eight Day Walk in the Rimrock Area of the Mojave Desert, Southern California, 1994.” In creating the portfolio, he subtly altered his environment by walking back and forth, beating down a path and then preserving it in photographs.
Though the work has no set interpretation, Wilcox said Long’s prints make a statement about man’s presence in the environment and its transitory nature. Long’s steps marked a path but if he had not captured it on film, it would have faded back into the landscape, Wilcox said.
Another Land Artist, David Nash, adopted a different method to communicate the evanescence of objects in nature. In his “The Planted Works, 1992,” a collection of eight charcoal and pastel drawings that illustrated plant patterns he grew, Nash reshaped the environment “using living material as his pallet,” Wilcox said.
The works were “not meant to last forever, but are changed by natural processes over time,” he added.
While the show is part of a larger University effort to spread awareness about on-campus sustainability, it also allowed the gallery to showcase their collections and publicize their Study Room, where people can access prints, drawings and other materials, Beth Miller, the British Art Center associate director for Development and External Affairs, wrote in an e-mail. Students are not aware they can request works at any time, she said.
One visitor, Joy Sherman, 52, who works at the grants office in the Yale Medical School, said she enjoyed seeing the creative use of different mediums in “combining earth and art.”
This was the Yale Center for British Art’s first exhibition in conjunction with the Sustainability Summit.