Thinking of 'the simplest things' sounds like a motivational mantra shared virally on Instagram, especially when we talk of finding beauty in it. Moments of profound and honest beauty really do come from simple things though, largely because they have the capacity to catch us unawares and unexpecting. They're moments not manufactured, at least by expectation, but ones that manifest as experiences that transcend purely the visual. These exist in art, as in nature. Sometimes, you can find them in both.
At this axis of real and made, naturally occurring and the product of man, is a group of artists belonging to a loose 'environmental' movement. These artists are creating things, but not neccessarily from scratch. It's more about re-arranging what can be found in the wild, framing these 'found' objects as part of a larger, more conceptual phenomena.
Nils-Udo is like a minimalist music producer, reshuffling objects as part of an enhanced landscape. It stands on its own, but also fits into a wider natural context. In the same way as minimal musical productions have found a recent renaissance, going against the grain of our overwhelming lives, where sounds are saturated to almost unsustainable levels, fighting for space in our minds. Minimal creates balance and this type of music has found an ideological counterpart in the environmental art movement. But, what is this movements battle? Something very similar. It's a rejection of the way our modern lives have come to be.
We are wasteful to an unparalleled level in human history, disposing of plastics and packaging on an unprecedented degree, polluting the very planet that we claim to love, one that we are inextricably a part of. In environmental art, there are really no materials. Leaves, branches, rocks and the landscape all become woven into a conversation about their significance. They're the components of the answer to one of our most pressing questions: how much damage is too much?
This question, amongst other similar thoughts, seem to weigh heavy on the creative output of German artist Nils-Udo, whose proclivity to create a narrative structure out of the naturally unstructured, giving a sense of artistic order to the chaos of our world, has become a greatly influential presence in the art world, but beyond that, in discourse surrounding how we perceive the role of art and nature as two forces that can just as easily be one.
Not only are his works artistic creations, but a challenge to the artistic community to embrace materials that might usually be the forte of farmers or arborists. Oil paints, acrylics, and canvases all leave a footprint. Working this way doesn't even wear shoes.
What stands out the most, perhaps, is that Nils-Udo also brings into question the idea of ego in art. Like many public-facing professions, art isn't short of its characters and personalities. The German removes himself from the fray, making pieces that come without a signature, as if they too are naturally occurring, carefully arranged by some creatures of the forest, belonging to the world it exists in.
Like nature, and unlike the prevailing tide in many artistic movements which is about capturing moments in time, his work passes with it. His artistic statement reads, "By installing plantings or by integrating them into more complex installations, the work is literally implanted into nature. As a part of nature, the work lives and passes away in the rhythm of the seasons.”
Arranging pieces in such a way also plays into the folkloric aura and mystique of a forest - where the lands espouse its own poetry that Nils-Udo adds his own stanzas to throughout. In Northern European mythology, the forest is a sacred place and nature is a force unto itself, respected deeply by Pagan faiths whose concept of God is living amongst us in a tangible way. It is a force that gives us life itself, a force manipulated by the artist to make a new statement about the very components it holds.
His conceptual quasi-naturalistic installations aim towards purity, of thought and design. The works themselves feature elements found on the site. On this he states, "A basic idea is to achieve absolute purity. Nature performs a demonstration of itself. Every non-natural element is ruled out as impure. No other materials are used than those found in each natural space. The characteristics, the respective possibilities for processing, and the character of the natural space itself plays the major role in determining the shape of the work."
Ours is a world where 'tainted' is a common concept. We bear witness to oil spills and contaminated water supplies, to enhanced and artificial beauty and utopian political ideas corrupted by greed. Purity stands against all of this and purity, as the artist muses, is a natural phenomenon, a Darwinian process whereby the strongest survive, or elements evolve to do so. Why can't art be a part of this conversation too? Something that doesn't stand forever in time, but moves and grows with it. That is the essence of nature and of environmental art. It is the essence of Nils-Udo and his beautiful floral formations. They are simple, just like all the best things are.
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