“How do we as artists in today’s world find inspiration, or respond to a degraded landscape?”
Growing up in a rural area and completely surrounded by nature practically my entire life I didn’t understand how much it had been altered until much later. Knowing how much the land has been used and mined of it’s natural resources, how can I respond to that in my work? What do I want to say? Countless questions—not a lot of answers.
Researching and contemplating water, rivers, landscape, experience, materials and what the environment means in my work, this project has developed through questioning my role as an artist in relationship to the environment and material. Honestly, in the beginning I thought this was going to be a photographic project. However, the photographs that I was taking led me to the material I’m now using.
The work that will be in my thesis show is somewhat ethereal and unearthly, but the material comes from the earth. I take somewhat of a caretaker roll in the process of creating these leaves. I gather, sort, boil, rinse, scrap, bleach, rinse, rinse again and then lay them out to dry. I have basically cleaned the leaves. It’s an accelerated decomposition process refined to my expectations of what I want the material to look like. What is left is a skeleton, a copy, a remnant of what once was. A shadow of the degraded landscape. It’s something that cannot be returned to its original state and is forever altered.
Leaves are the engine of an ecosystem. They contain the carbon base of the food chain by providing the smallest of micro organisms what is needed to sustain life. I’ve placed them in this space to create a quiet and curious experience.
Last fall I began this project from an observational and scientific place, researching environmental issues, reading books by Bill Mckibben and listening to everything political concerning the current politics surrounding various environmental issues. The work has moved into a more contemplative installation, that is chasing something experiential.
I have almost found the type of lightbulb that will work however, the fixtures are proving to be tricky, you will see why at the bottom. I think I need to utilize the track lights instead of trying to install lighting somehow because the room has a ceiling unlike in the rest of the gallery. This is actually a challenge, you will see why. . . I need to find out if we have any MR16 fixtures laying around here somewhere. . . They come in all shapes and sizes, some with barn doors, adjustable zooms (to create more of a spot or more flood light). Let’s hope I can get lighting figured out this week!! It’s taken forever to get this far and I still don’t have the fixtures and I still need to try lower wattage!!
Trying to post more of this . . . process. Lot’s of things to keep track of.
Duncan Snyder has been very helpful thinking through some of the lighting options I have, and how to achieve the results that I want. I have made several trips to Panic Lighting and will be going again soon. The first few trips I made basically ended in a lot of questions. Now I have two of the light fixtures from the gallery that I will be taking with me to see what kind of Pin Spot bulbs I can try. These images are the tests with the Limelite Duncan let me borrow.
Right now, all of the pieces of this installation project are laying on the table and I’m slowing piecing it all together. I am exhausted, as is everyone else. So many things to keep track of and still to figure out. It will be worth it in the end but I do need some help. As of now, a lot of details are to be fleshed out and I need to get everyone on the same page about what I am doing. I will be posting all of this information in the next days. . .
This project is a space for contemplation. It’s an entire space, not just a wall piece. Dividers, walls or open space? Throughout the past two months I have grown accustomed to having walls. I have been thinking very hard about this and determined walls were the answer. I was unaware that the current walls in the gallery were being removed for another show. So that opened up the possibility of creating dividers in a different form. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I am working through this now. More test shots of that soon. As from the start, shadows are also very important. So, Here is my shadow test in the space.
What I want the piece to be:
This work is quiet, it needs a quiet space. While there is still space to move around, there is a suggested path. I want to slow down the viewer as they enter the space. I want to create a path, a journey they have to encounter. It pushes the viewer up to these objects that crave their attention. I want them to get close and I want them to travel. Often we enter spaces that are open; I want there to be division and then a “reveal” of the wall piece. Along this path the passerby will encounter a few illuminated pieces as well as shadows.
Why these shadows are important. These shadows are reminiscent of the landscape. Forms that you would see on a walk, on the ground, etc. However, these shadows are in a small cramped space, almost to mimic what once was but something we can never get back to. They are being replicated, but they are in a state that can only be mimicked.
What I want to happen (somehow):
Shadows on the wall before you walk in and as you move through the room.
I wanted to put this out there in the world. It is my “working” abstract for my thesis installation and paper. It needs some work, If you notice anything that seems to be working or might need more clarification I would be happy to hear it. I’m still considering how I might portray the science & process part about the actual installation work I will be doing but as of now, this is how it exists (Thanks Amy Lewis for the suggestion! And all of the other suggestions you gave during Thesis class today).
We live in a degraded landscape. The environment, the air we breathe, our home has been altered to a state that can never be reversed. When Bill McKibben wrote, The End of Nature, he was observing, calculating, and responding to the idea of what nature was, is, and will be. The transformation that has occurred is on the most microscopic and macroscopic of levels—from CO2 parts per million in the atmosphere to how many mountain tops have been removed and ecosystems destroyed.
Artists have questioned their role, place, voice, and impact on society. It is critical that artists decide how their work exists in the world and how the work expresses the ideas that are most important. This body of work has examined materials, voice, landscape, experience, and complexity while questioning all of these things. Artists throughout history have examined the phenomena that happen in the world. Leonardo Da Vinci’s water studies are a starting point, a threshold into the discussion about the artist’s role in the world, and how a body of work can challenge artistic practice and purpose. This body of work is mimicry of environmental destruction and of the decay process. It is a copy, a remnant of what once was, a shadow of the degraded landscape.
A brief recap. . . writing on the fly and trying not to overthink. This project started from observing the patterns of waterflow and researching environmental issues. I read the book, “The End of Nature” by Bill Mckibben last semester and it influenced this work at the beginning. I started questioning my role as an artist. I have embarked on this journey, so what do I have to offer? Finding inspiration and the need to understand the natural environment is something that artists have always done, all the way back to Leonardo Davinci. So, how do we as artists in today’s world find inspiration, or respond to a degraded landscape? This has been a question I keep coming back to.
SO, Why Leaves? Shortly, I wanted a material that speaks directly back to the environment it came from. Their venation pattern is similar to the patterns of creeks and rivers and of our own bodies (Dendritic patterns, our own veins). This material is so fragile and I think the viewer can come to their own conclusions about the work and most of the time they will think of ideas related to fragility and their relationship to this material. I see a reflection of my own fragility and health as well as other things. That’s what I like about the work, it has many different references but it does come back to water.
Leaves are a vital part to waterways. When they decompose they feed organisms at the base of the foodchain. Leaves are just as important when they are dead as they are when they are alive and on a tree. We over look them, see them as a nuisance, etc. . . I feel that my role is somewhat of a caretaker and the work is about creating a space for reflection. The process it takes to reveal the venation of the leaf, mimics the way we mine the earth for its resources and refine it to our standards. It’s revealing the death of something in a state that can never be reversed. It’s a place to show respect; an alter. I feel this work will take a lot longer than a couple months to really finish however, I have started down a road that I do not want to turn back from. I feel this work keeps revealing something new and I am finding new ideas for future work. Reminder: don’t forget to write things down.
“. . .Patterns make themselves from the interplay of physical and chemical forces on materials living and non-living. The result is an ever-changing, kaleidoscopic array of forms.”
-by Phillip Ball
This work is ethereal and unearthly, but the material comes from the earth. A mimicry of environmental destruction and of the decay process. It is a copy, a remnant of what once was. A shadow of the degraded landscape. What is left is something that cannot be returned to its original state and is forever altered.
Disclaimer: This blog is long, it’s a documentation of what I’ve done so far. I think it will come in handy later during thesis writing so, it exists.
Skeletonizing The Process
Some leaves need more care while others get ripped and torn apart. Both are important, I don’t discard or set aside the ones that may not be as perfect as they could be. Each leaf has it’s own materialistic qualities that require either more or less time in the cleaning process. This project has as much to do with the ideas behind the work as it does with process and material study. Found in the hills of Appalachia and beyond. . . the material is important to this particular environment which continues to be exploited as well as the people of this area.
The leaves are handled multiple times to get to their final state. Collected (all were collected in Oct/Nov. 2014), sorted, boiled, rinsed, rinsed again, scraped, rinsed, bleached, scraped again, rinsed and then left to air dry. In pots of about 100-300 leaves each (depends on which pot I use) they are boiled with sodium carbonate for an hour or more. Then they are either left to sit for a few days or rinsed. Most were boiled in November. Once the sodium carbonate is rinsed off I let them sit for a few weeks or months. This helps decomposition. This entire process is an accelerated decomposition process.
Combining common household items and a natural material (maple leaves) I have produced (with the help of a few others) almost 1,600 skeletonized leaves and more are in process. These leaves will be used for an installation as my thesis work. Originally, I was planning a wall painting or drawings but this is still to be determined.
Most of these leaves were created over the last 4 weeks. While it is hard to say exactly how many hours it took, I attempted to keep track of week 4 and it was about 50-60 hours for a rough estimate of 350-400 leaves, give or take a few. 10-15 of those hours were logged by additional helpers, combined with my time in the studio of at least 40 hours. Ahh math, this is a rough estimate, but should be pretty close. Keep in mind that I have 3 others that are contributing to the process which is helping tremendously. Actually, it is unlikely that I could make that many by myself in that short amount of time.
The tradition of skeletonizing leaves has a long history. If you are interested click here & here for a quick reference. I have been interested in the second link which is a book written in 1863 called, The Phantom Bouquet by Edward Parrish (romanticism period). I came across this resource last semester but didn’t revisit it until winter break. It’s funny that this embellished writing has been replaced with quick how-to’s on the internet that have about 5-10 points and a couple photo’s. Anyways, that is probably a point for a completely different discussion.
Below is an excerpt from the first chapter. Maybe it is pivotal to the process, to document these things here on the blog. There is something interesting that links this to my previous research of environmental issues and water systems, or maybe I just like this book. Either way it must be important. I think the language and references as well as the history of how this object (the leaf) was viewed, is relevant to my work.
It’s funny that the author describes it as something observable, beautiful, and ornamental that was to be preserved in the home as a decorative object. . . (A term that likes to surface from time to time)
I think it is important to research this process of skeletonizing leaves and understand its history even though in the natural world it is a process that is vital to ecosystems. It was elevated to a practice long before this book was written in Chinese culture. In a way, this book hits a nerve, especially when it is being described as a “revived art”. Which feels like an entirely different can of worms.
Regardless, it will be interesting to see what others have to say about this work. . .
The Phantom Bouquet, 1863 (page 6) historical introduction:
“. . .these plant-structures deprived of their grosser particles, and of such brilliant whiteness as to suggest the idea of perfectly bleached artificial lace-work or exquisite carving in ivory. This elegant parlor ornament was brought by returning travellers as a novel and choice trophy of their transatlantic wanderings: none could be procured in America, and no one to whom the perplexed admirer could appeal was able to give a clue to the process by which such surprising beauty and perfection of detail could be evolved from structures which generally rank among the least admired expansions of the tissue of the plant.
The novelty of this spectacle [skeletonized leaves] then constituted one of its attractions need not be denied; for who that has learned to dwell familiarly on any object of unusual beauty, but can still recall the emotions of delight it created when for the first time it attracted the unaccustomed eye? Yet the “Phantom Case,” now that hundreds of pier-tables and étagère in city and country are garnished with its airy forms, and its photographic miniature, under the well-chosen motto, “Beautiful in Death,” is displayed in almost every stereoscope, still delights with a perennial charm, creating a desire, among all amateurs in matters of taste, to add an ornament so chaste to their household treasures. . . to this end, an unpretending though sincere lover of nature proposes to lay before his fellows of that genial fraternity which knows neither sex nor nation, simple and easy art, which, while it will prove a pleasurable addition to the arcana of home-occupations, will in its results add to the tasteful embellishments of the household. . .
. . . Reader, suppose not that this elegant art for which we have no more elegant name than skeletonizing, is any thing new under the sun. Place it rather among the lost arts revived; for among the quaint old curiosities to be found in the houses of retired sea captains and East India traders you will often find . . .”
If anything this is an interesting read into an era from a time that is strange and unearthly itself. . .
Dalong Yang is a photographer currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts at Columbus College of Art and Design. Yang’s studio is overflowing with prints, rolls of paper, and various items. I am always curious when I walk by and I get caught up in the gaze of his subjects as well as the surrealistic and brightly colored compositions. The leading eyes of his models often feel like they are in a dramatic futuristic plot that is about to unfold. Almost as if these images were taken from stills of a larger story, and without knowing this narrative I’m left with my own wonder and imagination to fill in the rest.
Dalong’s work has commercial characteristics however, there is more to it than this. From what I have observed through critiques and various other presentations, his creative outlook is to tell a story in his photographs, something more than what is typically expected. Often times he leaves the viewer with just a hint of information that leads them into these surreal and dreamlike images. By using elements of fashion and surrealistic spaces Yang creates photographs that have a haunting and dreamlike feel.
In his most recent work, a supernatural occurrence Dalong experienced at a younger age plays an influential role in his photographs. Now he is pulling from those memories for inspiration. By acknowledging that maybe, we are not alone in this world he is finding a way to think about his experience differently. Spirits, a presence, ghosts, and the otherworldly—many of us might have had an experience with something that feels like a presence, or have seen something unexplainable. Dalong is pulling from his own experience as well as classic scary movies to create new stories that might leave the viewer with a more unsettling feeling after viewing his work. I find this new work exciting! After seeing his work for over a year now, I could see this new inspiration for his photography becoming a lifetime endeavor for him.
I see Dalong not just as an artist and photographer, but also as a storyteller. There is something more here than fashion and commercial photography, and I always look forward to seeing what he has to share with us next. To see more of his work and to learn more about him please visit his website: dalong-yang.squarespace.com