The circle of life in art and nature
April 15, 2020
Just like the symbols of Yin and Yang, complementing each other and thus representing the circle of life, the New Zealand artists Martin Hill and Philippa Jones bring the message of balance and healing of nature through art. The artists work together combining art and nature, creating works that are not just breathtaking and aesthetically beautiful but expressive through their simplicity, touching the human heart.
The artist duo aim to raise awareness through their symbolic temporary sculptures and land installations to issues that are of concern to humanity as a whole. Their creations form part of nature itself. Just as they are born from it they return to it through their own life cycle, symbolizing the circle of life.
They immortalize their creations through their photographs for the future generations, and for others to further be inspired by their messages.
Hill and Jones complement each other in every way as they flow through the process of realizing each project. Their talents and skills are different, which they combine each time to bring out the truest form of their messages. Their collaboration started through their shared passion, in an unusual place and way.
“Martin and I met in 1995 through rock climbing and we began to make land art together often in the wild places we visited to climb together,” remembers back Jones.
From climbing partners they became life partners and creative collaborators. Over the years, through their shared experiences and visions, also their working practice developed further.
Hill started his career as a graphic designer in London, New Zealand and then in Australia, before he decided to change direction and work only on design for the environment. During the years he became more and more aware of the different approaches that humans have when it comes to the different stages of taking from the Earth, and discarding waste in the environment.
His focus shifted from this linear approach towards a circular, holistic one. This circular approach emulates the way nature works, leading to one that aligns human sustainable systems to those of nature.
“Ephemeral environmental sculptures became my medium because they encapsulate the very solution: the natural materials used to make the sculptures, return to nature without harm and become food for something else, after I have taken the photographs,” describes it Hill.
His main intention became to raise awareness to issues concerning our environment through universal symbols. Taking a leap from the dominant mechanistic worldview of life being linear, Hill took inspiration from new systems view - in which life is a network of co-operation - moving in cyclical and reinforcing ways.
“In order to raise awareness of the massive shift required by humanity, I chose to make and publish art about it, because art and images touch the heart and stay in our consciousness longer.“
- Martin Hill
The “Fine Line Project” is their most ambitious project to date and its purpose is to put people in touch with the reality of nature and the wonder of its cyclical “operating system”.
They initiated the concept soon after they met and they completed the last work connecting the line in 2019.
The project consists of 12 sculptures on a line around the Earth, made on high points. The locations are: the Arctic and Antarctica, Canada, Iceland, Kenya, Madagascar, New Zealand, Scotland, Switzerland, Vanuatu and the USA. The materials used are those that were found there and that return to nature once they leave. The photographs taken of them remain to tell their stories.
“The Fine Line Project has been the most significant of our many collaborations because it has occupied and inspired us for 25 years and we still believe that the holistic interconnections and interdependence of all life on Earth need to become the guiding principle of humanity,” puts it into words Hill.
The artists deeply believe that there is still a chance for there to be a transformation of the way humans live before it is too late, causing humanity’s own extinction. Their other memorable project, the “Watershed Project” in 2012 stemmed from this belief. It was born as a response to an opportunity that Hill and Jones received. They were awarded a lengthy residency high in the mountains near where they live in New Zealand.
The period of time in solitude they spent in that remote and pristine place was the inspiration for Hill to focus and research the water cycle and the human relationship to it. They named the project “Watershed” because humanity is now at a watershed in its relationship to natural systems.
For Jones, this time was a wonderfully intense creative period, which gave birth to a cohesive body of work. It also became their first international exhibition in Melbourne, Australia at McClelland Gallery and also won an award at Pingyao International Photography Festival 2014 in China. “Watershed” was exhibited at Inter Gallery Beijing and at Andorra Land Art Festival 2015.
“All our sculptures have been one offs - sometimes a response to a place, to conditions or even to materials that we come across. Others are ideas which we set out to iterate. However, working on a project, a body of work that expresses an idea is absorbing and leads to fresh inspiration and discoveries,” shares more Jones.
Thinking about their journey together, Hill and Jones describe their biggest challenge as being able to maintain a living from their art, while staying true to their core values. They learned how hard it is to make a living from art without “selling out” to commercial pressures. They overcame this initially by self publishing and later licensing the art images to businesses and causes that they believed in.
“Our work became very popular through international publishing. And although we have always endeavored to express the sustainable design story with the images, people naturally draw their own meaning from the works or just enjoy their aesthetic appeal. Of course this is the case for many forms of art, but it is a particular challenge for us because the artworks are very much intended to convey a message.“
- Philippa Jones
Artists have the true power to raise awareness to issues and achieve an impact through their messages and visions. According to Hill, all forms of art are valuable communication tools for artists to address concerns and propose solutions to the great challenges humanity faces, particularly the ecological–climate emergency.
“Only humans are powerful enough to reverse the global systemic collapses we are causing. And this is the issue we are addressing in our art.“
- Martin Hill
Hill and Jones chose the combination of art and nature as a way to express that humans are part of nature, and thus formed by evolution. They are believers of art’s transformative nature.
Through their own inner and external journeys they are exceptional creators, since they manage to capture a moment in the circle of life, which in turn opens up an infinity of space for reflection, stillness and healing within.
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