Ecoventions: Johanson, Hull and trans-species art

Posted by Ian on Oct 22, 2008 in blog | No Comments

Art is created by people, but is it only for people? Increasingly since the 1970s, artists have challenged the anthropocentric position of the arts. Sculpture parks have sprung up around the globe (e.g. Yorkshire Sculpture Park or Sculpture in the Parklands) meditating on the ecological awareness of contemporary human paradigms. Some artists have taken further steps, proclaiming a dedication to trans-species art – art that is made by humans but which is to be enjoyed or at least have benefit to other species.
The artist and designer Patricia Johanson began in the late 1960s to develop a life-long corpus of artistic interventions designed to interact with environmental conditions and to enhance ecological vitality. In 1981, her design for Fair Park Lagoon in Dallas, Texas (seen above) created a playful sculptured landscape, mimicking rolling organic forms. The design had strong aesthetic qualities but also offered habitats for wildlife – place for turtles to sun themselves, shade for fish to cool in – while striking a symbiosis between vegetation and human architectural needs – the Delta Duck Potato plant was used to secure soil in order to prevent the erosion of the lake.
Eco-artist Lynne Hull has an extensive body of works which have largely focused on providing aesthetic propositions in the landscape which are also attractive as habitats for birds. Seen below, her sculpture ‘Lightning’ provides safe roosting for birds of prey such as hawks, eagles and owls, as an alternative to electric power poles. The sculpture was erected along Interstate 80 in southern Wyoming in 1990, and in the image, you can see a young ferruginous hawk nesting.

What I feel Hull and Johanson’s works demonstrate is the ability for the artist to act as designer – as a reflexive creator in the environment. What is unique about their designs is that they successfully combine human aesthetic desire with non-anthropocentric values.
At a time when design thinking is increasingly empathetic and human-centered, perhaps it is appropriate to balance these approaches with an inspiration from artists and designers who, being present with their human capacities to create, transcend anthropocentricity in their designs to realise work which has broader ecological value.
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