Land art eliminates the superfluous
Bold artists set out to feel at one with nature and other members of the animal kingdom, writes YAZEED KAMALDIEN
ALONG the way to the Cederberg in the Western Cape, South Korean land artist Ko Seung-Hyun approaches a camel on the roadside, plucks grass from the earth, puts it in his mouth and tries to feed the stubborn animal.
It takes a bit of time, but Ko eventually succeeds.
He walks away smiling, feeling united with nature, which is what he intends to achieve as a land artist.
This moment is reminiscent of Ko’s intervention, Man and Cow, made almost three decades ago. A photograph bearing testimony to this shows Ko on his knees, feeding grass from his mouth to a cow. It shows that he does not have to eat the cow but can instead eat with the cow.
Ko runs the Yatoo Nature Art Association of Korea, which co-organised a land art tour taking local and international artists to natural spaces in South Africa. Site_Specific Collective, a group dedicated to land art, is its local partner.
Called Stories of Rain, this tour started at the Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage Site about 45km north-west of Johannesburg, earlier this month. Ko’s aim is to popularise land art and the results of the South African leg of the Global Nomadic Art Project, now in its third year, will be exhibited at the Association for Visual Arts gallery in central Cape Town on Thursday.
Back in the car, Ko talks about his vision and work as an artist relying on nature.
“I wanted to show we are one. We are in harmony,” he says of feeding animals with his mouth.
“Nature is my mother and teacher. It gives me ideas and freedom. It gives me everything. I connect with nature.”
Ko says land artists work beyond their studios and venture into natural spaces to interact with nature. The aim is to create work with only natural elements.
“Some artists change ecological conditions but land art is consciousness about nature,” says Ko. Land art in some instances also performs as activism, he adds, with Yatoo holding workshops in South Korea and India to conscientise artists about working with nature.
Yatoo has also worked to “educate children about nature”, says Ko.
“When children drink milk they think it comes from a factory. They don’t see it comes from a cow. We want to take them back to nature to see the cow.”
Ko says artist meetings with scientists have also been organised to raise awareness about the “ecological condition, climate change and water issues”. To this end, a symposium is planned for Cape Town next week.
South African artist Janet Botes participated in the Global Nomadic Art Project locally, and also last year when it was held in South Korea.
Botes says land art “feels so pure and back to basics”.
“It’s what art should be instead of adding superfluous things to it.”
Botes is part of the Site_Specific Collective which plans monthly gatherings in Cape Town. Local interest has been lukewarm though.
“We have gatherings every month but artists don’t join. Land art is still very much a fringe movement in the art world because artists are so focused on the commercial value of art,” says Botes.
Ko says land artists are not making money, but spreading ideas about nature conservation. They use gallery spaces mostly to exhibit the documentation of their art to expose this movement to a wider audience. Although there is not much monetary reward for land art, Botes says the value of getting out of her studio for land art projects has helped her with her paintings.
“What you get from land art, you can’t put into words,” she says.
“You feel it when you’re in your studio afterwards.
“You get new ideas. And also the more time you spend outside, the healthier you are.” email@example.com
South Korean land artist Ko Seung-Hyun feeds a camel in Yzerfontein, on the West Coast , to become one with nature.
South African artist Erynne Ewart-Phipps embroidered a pattern with red earth on to a rock at the Silver Hills at the Crocodile River Reserve in Centurion, Gauteng.
The fragility of some of the trees in the Cederberg mountains were the inspiration for a video piece. Other videos are planned.
Shell fragments on the Langebaan beach form a piece called Pilgrims Facing East. The writer recently went on pilgrimage to Mecca.