For many years, I have loved the insightful work of artists and naturalist Andrew Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy creates from nature using branches woven into rock, ice balanced, leaves chained together with thorns that wiggling down a stream, rock changing color and balanced rock. He uses reflection in his creations, natural elements and fights against and works with nature to create. It is the juxtaposition of nature and art or nature in art, or art as nature that calls me to marvel.
I think I have also been influenced by Pamela Callender, a classmate of mine from Goddard. Her work appears rather anonymously on campus. For example The Twig sculpture I found on the trail, I thought of it often when I was working trying to do Goldsworthy. I also loved her braided grass, there was an entire section of a field braided. And these balanced stones pop up everywhere during residency. So, I’m exploring, and attempted some of these adventures on my own. It has been very enlightening.
My first attempt to work with nature was building a nest. I gathered my branches and twigs and sliced up my arms with bamboo shoots hauling them indoors, dumping them on the floor where little bug critters scattered. I liked collecting the items. It made me think of my yard in a different way. Not just as plants, but as material. However, I soon came to realize a very important element of this nature gathering and building, especially as it pertains to nests. Birds gather their materials in the cool of spring. I was building my nest in the middle of a Texas summer with 101 temperatures. Sure I brought all of the materials into a cool, air conditioned room, which the birds don’t have access to, but it was already too late. Heat exhaustion set in, and my nest building was put off a couple of days.
One begins to improvise when trying to create only with nature. Mud is close to clay, and it is not unusual that I, as a sculptor, would turn to it. It was a necessary glue for my nest. My finished nest lacks the luster and intricacy of the blue jay nest I found this spring, when interestingly enough, I was cutting back bamboo. But, I managed to get some a semblance of a large nest.
Prior to building it, I had thought of building several nests of different sizes. Large birdie condo’s that I would hang from… bamboo. After nursing my cut up arms, and heat exhaustion, I smoothed my own ruffled feathers and decided—one was enough.
My next project was also going to entail bamboo. Mostly because it needed thinning again. I had envisioned a large cornucopia slithering tube structure that people would walk up to and peer into and marvel. They would see it from afar, like Goldsworthy art and state, “An artist must live here.” They would be forced to stop and to explore the design. O.K. Maybe I was a little influenced by the “Big Bambu You Can’t, You Won’t, You Don’t Stop” by Mike and Doug Starn and Rock climbers using 5,000 pieces of bamboo. It is a project at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I had seen the work on Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood.
I had made the decision that using metal to secure the armature was certainly acceptable. (Goldsworthy only uses natural elements.) I appeased myself with the thought that this was bamboo, and I was more of a bonsai artist than a Goldsworthy and twisted the bamboo together.
Once again, the bamboo cut up my arms and ants and pollen fell on my head, causing me to sneeze every few minutes. It was cooler outside, but our Texas October and the pollen that it brings, causes havoc with my allergies. Still, I was committed. I created circles of bamboo of different shapes with longer bits of bamboo and grass at one end. I envisioned this circling around the cornucopia in an intricate manner enticing onlookers and making them marvel at my skills. As hard as I tried, it wasn’t working. I began to think that Goldsworthy must have some type of natural guru thing going to get his material looking so… naturally polished. “More armature.” I exclaimed trucking back to the bamboo for bigger pieces, and more ants and pollen in my hair. After hours of stripping and twinning and weaving bamboo, I had what I thought appeared to be an absolutely glorious, incredible looking —mess. Maybe creating out of nature is just not my thing. Before I could let go of the idea, I had thought about taking my large rings of woven bamboo and chaining them together. Perhaps I would hang them from a tree. But then I thought… I’m pushing here.. I threw the piece aside and went on to another idea.
I had wanted to do something in the pond. I loved how Goldsworthy floated branches on water and then set what looked like red berries in the middle of the branches. This thought intrigued me along with the idea of perhaps gluing my red and orange canna leaves to a rock. I read that Goldsworthy used spit, but I had hoped I could use pond water. I abandoned both ideas as I was not sure what my two turtles would do with these creative pieces of art. Any berries or leaves that I brought to the pond could be poisonous. I might create something nice and at the same time murder my reptile friends in the process. Even if the plants were not poisonous, my 10” turtle is inquisitive and hungry and I doubt I could create anything without her poking her head up in the middle. Ah, maybe I have stumbled upon something cocreating, improvisational art with a turtle. If I create anything for my pond, it will have to be something practical like a floating turtle bathing platform.
Goldsworthy also dug small hole and lined them with things. I entertained this idea for just a short second as I was sure that I or my husband or one of our dogs would fall into the hole twist an ankle and end up in the emergency room. I wondered if anyone ever twisted an ankle in a Goldsworthy hole long after he left and then cussed saying, “Who the heck put that there?”
Then I thought, “banana leaves.” Not something I thought of on my own,
an idea that stemmed from a Goldsworthy book. I though I’ll hang them and weave things in between them! Oh, certainly this idea would be marvelous and though the artwork that I would labor for hours on would only be temporary, that was the point of this exploration. I was trying to move away from my traditional bronze work for a time to work things that were opposite—not permanent. So, I cut a banana leaves and then another and then another and in hindsight I probably should not have cut them until I absolutely needed them. I thought I heard Goldsworthy fussing at me. The first leave tore terribly, and I adjusted my idea. A banana leaf hanging from something, but what… Oh yes, one of the million of pieces of bamboo that I cut and were now piled knee high in my yard. I felt vindicated. I was on a roll. Later I added donax leaves, potato vines, and other elements to this hanging art. You know, I did enjoy creating this way, even though I was sneezing terribly. I liked looking at the textures and color of my garden and combining them in a way that I had not thought of. I held the banana leaf for a very long time, just feeling its weight, looking at the color, and oh yes, washing off the bird poo. I also thought it was marvelous that the bougainvillea plant on the side of my house that I have been impaled on more than once, now had a purpose. I had plenty of thorns to secure lots of natural pieces.
I have decided to appreciate Goldsworthy from afar. Especially after my experiences with nature. (I feel I have a part of me that is very sad for my inability to coexhist and create with my nature.) I know his descriptions of his artwork usually talk about the weather or the cold or how long it took, or that it fell down and he started over. I give him credit for his tenacity. You know, I do remember reading once that Goldsworthy peed on ice to get it to stick. I think that would be going a little too far, or maybe it would just be harder for a woman than a man, and besides, I would be hard pressed to find ice in Houston at any time of the year. I can only determine that he really enjoys creating in nature to endure and persevere.
One of my biggest distractions of trying to Goldsworthy was my need to do other things in the yard. Clip this plant, move this piece of garden art or fix this part of the pond. I realize that my oasis that I have created out of my yard is my Goldsworthy. The weaving of textures, of height, and color, the exploration of sound by bringing in a waterfall and stream, even the live creatures that now live here. I and my canvas have even endured the natural hardships. I look at the 15 foot tall bird of paradise that hangs over- dead from the very long freeze we had last winter. But I’m delighted with the babies at her dying feet. My canvas will change a bit, but we will also preserver.
I have enjoyed my exploration, and am glad that my turtles are alive. I’m pleased to have washed the pollen out of my hair and the critters off my skin. Not that I mind either, it is just that if I am going to do that I would rather work on my yard and canvas. A lasting Mongeon creation that keeps on giving. I will leave my nature interaction for my garden, the one that I travel through each day and marvel at, as I am on my way to the studio to create!
Bridgette Mongeon is a sculptor, writer and educator as well as a public speaker. Her blog can be found at https://creativesculpture.com.
She is also the owner and creator of the God’s Word Collectible Sculpture series
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