The other artist: nature in the work of contemporary artists - natural science

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Fred Eerdekens

Fred Eerdekens - transformation in art

Belgian artist Eerdekens is known for his playful use of light and shadow - or more specifically, 'textual' shadows revealing unexpected phrases cast by artfully arranged or specially created objects.

The static nature of most of these works perhaps only tentatively qualifies him as an artist working with natural process, but ooohaaah, 2004 (left) depends on a movement of light to both dictate its duration and make itself completely apparent.

The glow from a tall candle burning above a bronze wall sculpture projects the phrase 'oooh' onto the wall. As the candle burns down, however, the wording changes to 'ahhh' (below left).

By creating its own exclamation of pleasure and surprise, ooohaaah wittily reflects the viewer's intended response to a magical transformation dependent on nothing more than light and time.

Fred Ederkeerns - light and natural processes in art

Hans Haacke

Hans Haacke - natural process in art

Haacke's long career aligns him temporally with several movements including Process Art, where the act of art-making and role of random occurrence is prioritized (Jackson Pollock's drip technique is generally acknowledged as its genesis).

In line with such developments, several of Haacke's works from the mid '60s show an early interest in harnessing natural phenomena - not only as a defining factor in the completion of an artwork, but as a crucial element of the piece itself.

Condensation Cube 1963-65, (above) features a perpetual cycle of condensation within a clear perspex cube.

As the gallery temperature fluctuates due to lighting, seasonal heat and the number of people in attendance, water sealed inside the cube moves through cycles of evaporation and condensation.

This early integration of science and art was followed by a work in which biological process takes center stage. Grass Cube, 1967, places a tray of watered grass seeds on top of another plexiglass cube. The grass is left to grow, then wither during the exhibition period.

Hans Haacke incubator

Chickens Hatching, 1969, (left) went on to profile the development of life itself by placing fertilized eggs in incubators in the gallery space until they hatched into chicks.

Haacke, now 72, is the oldest contemporary artist in this survey, and his early 'unassisted ready-mades' clearly preempt techniques later employed by several much younger artists.

As for Haacke himself, an abiding interest in the random element of supposedly predictable systems - a dominant feature of the works described - evolved into the political engagement which lies at the heart of his current practice.


Olafur Eliasson

Olafur Eliasson: natural processes in art

Nature has always been the focus of Danish artist Eliasson's practice, with early works particularly inspired by the unique landscapes of Iceland, his ancestral homeland.

These include photographic mappings of terrain, artificial geysers, or 'ice pagodas' created by consistently spraying room-like structures with water in the depths of winter.

In more recent years, Eliasson's emphasis has shifted even more firmly to re-creating or presenting natural phenomena through artificial means.

Whether using stroboscopes to 'slow down' the descent of dripping water (Your strange certainty still kept, 1996, left); a wall of mist to create indoor rainbows (Beauty, 1993, below left); or yellow light to render the appearance of objects a uniform gray (Room for one colour, 1997, below right), Eliasson's melding of nature and technology appears to underline a dualism in his work. Yet crucially, his use of scientific principle is never didactic in its purpose.

Instead, Eliasson strives to represent rather than explain natural phenomena - an inversion of the standard scientific model.

In addition, his interest increasingly emphasises nature's ability to 'transform' viewers themselves through immersive experiences of delight and wonder. Despite appearances to the contrary, Eliasson's practice fully aligns him with a romantic vision of the natural world.


Olafur EliassonOlafur Eliasson

Roger Hiorns

Roger Hiorns

UK sculptor Roger Hiorns usually works with just two main structural elements in the belief that more are "superfluous" to his art.

Often, one of these possesses some kind of organic transformational property that offsets the rigidity of the other.

In works such as Untitled, 2005 (below left), coils of foam emerge from weighty ceramic containers; in Vauxhall 2003, (below right) fire flickers from the type of sturdy steel grating normally used to drain water.

Hiorns is best-known, however, for his work with copper sulphate, a liquid that forms vivid blue crystals and which the artist has used to coat objects ranging from thistles or car engines (The Birth of The Architect, left) to entire apartments.

With these pieces, Hiorns employs natural process to complete his art through an essentially random intervention; a perfect counterpoint to his otherwise highly formal practice.


Roger Hiorns, natural process in artRoger Hiorns

Nature in art: life itself >

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