Man’s fascination with nature is unquestionable, as is his connection with it. Inspired by nature’s beauty, artists of many cultures and ages have found new ways of including it in their art.

From the first landscape paintings to Land Art works, artists have always paid homage to nature. Although public awareness of environmental issues has increased only in the past decades, man has shown interest in nature since Romanticism, as a reaction against the Industrial Revolution.

As a consequence of industrialisation and the serious concerns over climate change – the biggest challenge of the contemporary world – the environmental principles have become fundamental. In 1970, Earth Day was celebrated for the first time, an important moment for the environmental movement.

Besides the growing global concerns about the environment and man’s impact on it, many artists have started to create works that draw attention to wildfires, melting glaciers, drought, deforestation and the human contribution to them.
Born in the 1960s, environmental art includes a variety of practices and movements – ecofeminism, Arte povera, Land Art, sustainable art, recycling art, reclamation art. Through distinct modalities, these artistic practices work in harmony with the environment instead of harming it.

Earth Room, created in 1980, is one of Walter de Maria’s representative works that explore the relationship between art and the environment. The interior sculpture, covering 3,600 square feet in a room in the crowded centre of New York City, is an oasis of peace that invites the viewer to experiment rather than to understand. To this day, the 197-cubic meter installation has preserved the rich smell of the soil and the warm humidity of the air.

In the 1970s, the radical idea of taking art outside the galleries and moving it to an open, non-commercial space was promoted. Agnes Denes (b. 1931) is an artist with an extensive discourse about the environment and its human inhabitants. During the 2021 Art Encounters Biennial, we will have the opportunity to see the photographic documentation of one of her first Land Art works called Wheatfield – A Confrontation (1982), a wheat field in downtown Manhattan. Denes creates functioning ecosystems on areas where man’s activities have left derelict wasteland behind. Her works are a technically and conceptually complex form of art. In Tree Mountain – A Living Time Capsule, the artist provides a new artistic form that is both communicative and participatory, a solution to remedy environmental calamities. The artist created a small mountain on which 11,000 people planted 11,000 pine trees, reclaiming land that had been destroyed by extracting natural resources. “This is the first man-made virgin forest,” said the artist. This artistic project is a heritage for future generations. The forest will need 400 years to create its ecosystem. “I don’t make my work for myself, I make it for humanity,” said Denes.

Another example of artists concerned with sustainability is the Guerra de la Paz group (Alain Guerra and Neraldo de la Paz) from Cuba. They make their sculptures from old textiles, turning worn clothes into poetic works that convey political, social and environmental messages. Besides the environmental message that condemns the fast-fashion industry for causing twice as much pollution as air and sea transport, the use of worn clothes provides a conceptual dimension of reflections on the past and traces of human existence materialised as art objects.

Snow Art is a form of Land Art created for the first time by the British cartographer Simon Beck, who makes football-field large fractal drawings in the snow. Each piece is planned on the computer a long time in advance and then mapped out carefully on site. After walking in the snow, the footprints create the drawing, which the sun makes visible in a game of light and shade. At the end of the creative process, Beck films his works with a drone, as this is the only way to immortalise them before the wind sweeps them away. His drawings are the result of the cooperation between two creative forces, nature and man, a work pattern that becomes increasingly necessary and urgent.
We live in a time of extreme ecological imbalance visible in the extinction of species, destruction of land and the omnipresent effects of climate change. Practising art can be a way of thinking and addressing these challenging realities. Art is a universal and revealing language. What better choice than art to contribute to raising public awareness to such environmental issues?