The eclipse of nature makes it all the more captivating, especially for artists. Nature has been a topic that cultural history has been interpreting for ages, not just since the natural environment has been in danger of disappearing. An exhibition in the German city of Hamburg is showing what international artists think about the theme of art and nature.

natural environment
Designer Frank Tjepkema and his “Artificial Plant” object
A chain made of dried roses by Astric Niggeloh
Seats made of willow rods are the specialty of the Polish artist Pavel Grunert

The relationship between man and nature is more topical than ever before because the borders between nature and art and the natural and artificial are increasingly disappearing. Revolutionary developments in research and technology have progressed to the point that it’s virtually impossible to distinguish what has grown naturally and what is artificially generated. Martin Faass, the curator of the “Nature is just Art” exhibition at the Hamburg Museum for Art and Crafts argues that “rivers are diverted into new beds, fruits and vegetables are grown in chemical cultures and in-door mountain-climbing halls or ski runs offer better recreation than nature itself.” Artists and designers are like sensitive seismographs and they react by translating the blurred relationship between nature and art into their own creative works. And the Hamburg Museum will be showing a selection of the resulting artistic cross-overs until the beginning of next year.

Seats made of willow rods are the specialty of the Polish artist Pavel Grunert
Patricia Waller’s crocheted “Dust Catcher” wool cactus is consciously located between kitsch and art

Visual jokes instead of dire warnings

The relationship between art and nature has always been one of artists’ favorite topics because it can be interpreted as the quintessential interdisciplinary cross-over. The gigantic wool flowers shown in the exhibition, the chairs made of willow rods or computer-animated landscapes could be looked upon as art’s tongue-in-cheek reply to nature being cornered. Creative persons tend to react with humor or irony rather than by issuing attacks or warnings. 120 works of 43 international designers and artists show what associations they have with art and nature on the more than 600 square meters of special exhibition space. Here, you can see organic structures with a lot of cryptic humor such as jewelry made of flowers or bowls made of straw. Experiments with things found in nature entice observers to take a look at nature from a point of view they may be unfamiliar with. These exhibits from furniture design, fashion, jewelry, sculpture, photography and computer/video art are loosely broken down into four topics depending upon the way they’re interpreted or what they mean: “After Nature”, “Nature as a Source of Inspiration”, “With Nature” and “Nature as a Product”.

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A gigantic blossom for the room: the “Anthurium” occasional table by Masanori Umeda
Karin Wagner doesn’t want people to look on her felt flowers with a genuine appearance as just as fashion joke, but as a way to reflect on crafts and tradition
The works of Charlotte Vögele are just as fragile as nature itself: her “Lunaris” bowl made of silver leaf and the “Männertreu” outfit made of pine needles
The works of Charlotte Vögele are just as fragile as nature itself: her “Lunaris” bowl made of silver leaf and the “Männertreu” outfit made of pine needles
A solid bangle made of artificial lawn and silver by Eva Tesarik

The first two themes show objects and products where artists used nature as a model or learned from it to create their works. They imitate the phenomena and shapes of nature in the form of jewelry and objects in blossoms or plants. Some examples are the silk wall lamp “Medusa” by Ayala S. Serfati, thorny glass bottles with rose buttons by Ulla Forsell, flower rings made of plastic by Eva Tessarik or wool felt by Karin Wagner. The “With Nature” complex includes objects of art incorporating things found in nature. No natural material, be it branches, leaves, plant fibers, grass or even flower pollen, is safe from these artists and their work. The volatile nature and process characteristic is something that fascinates land artists such as Richard Long or Andy Goldsworthy whose works made of natural materials are exposed to the surrounding nature. The video on Goldsworthy’s work shows a spiral made out of ice melting in the warm winter sun or a structure made of driftwood that is flushed away by the rising level of the ocean water. In contrast, the bench made of pressed hay by Jurgen Bey from the Dutch designer group Droog Design is a solid creation or the “Love Seats” of the British artist Julienne Dolphin-Wilding made of coarse hornbeam branches.

Bottles with thorns and corks like roses: Ulla Forsell is among the pioneers in the Swedish Glass Movement Studio
You can just barely recognize the borders between nature and artificiality on Sonja Braas’ photographs. “Landscape with a Bear” from the “You are Here” series
Julienne Dolphin-Wilding uses knotty branches as a synonym for a time when crafts were not yet the domain of specialists
Caroline Dlugos formulates criticism on the way we use nature with her scenes from nature distorted on computers
A provocative reinterpretation of the bank. Jurgen Bey links the outwardly robust from with the relatively transitory material of hay
Installation in Iceland: “Black Seal Pups, 2000” of the American glass artist Dale Chihuly

In the fourth exhibition complex, “Nature as a Product” is diagonally opposed to what is normally felt to be “natural”. It centers around the artificial reproducibility of nature and the question of authenticity in the way nature is currently experienced. Nature is artificial and art is natural. There is no other place in this exhibition where borders are more blurred and the confusion greater. Gerhard Mantz’s “Virtual Landscapes” are so deceptively similar to real landscapes that the observer has to take a second look to notice they are pictures generated with 3-D computer program. Mantz didn’t even use a photograph as a model. You can hardly distinguish between real reproductions and fictions in Caroline Dlugos’ digitally composed photo collages from her “strange Gardens” series. The observer is stimulated to think about everybody’s relationship to nature (and of course to art) by a wide variety of installations and test arrangements with light boxes, macropictures, natural noises and video observations.

Sculpture made of transparent paper, American sumac seeds and elderberry juice by Alexandra Hendrikoff
Dale Chihuly plays with contrasting colors and natural shapes producing a cobalt blue glass bowl with banana-yellow “noses”
Springing from total artificiality: Insa Winkler’s plant tamagochi from the “Plant Alphabet” series

Those simple things

The exhibition catalog tells us how nature captivates us all our lives Rüdiger Joppien writes that “everybody knows chestnuts, beech-nuts, pine cones, shells you find at the beach or just pretty colored stones The nostalgia for these simple things stays with us our whole life long ” Does this exhibition show us plant and animal nature, nostalgia and the art of reflecting or reproducing the environment? Some of the works are critical, some are funny and others lust decorative. But most of the works of art are just enjoyable and that’s lust where they concur with nature.

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Felix Michael Langer builds sculptures made of paper and wire mesh that remind you of a gigantic sea carnation
Stefanie von Scheven freezes miniblossoms into eternal freshness in cast resin. “Forget-Me-Not” ring
Gitta Pielke preserves the brilliant luminous power of pressed and laminated garden flowers in her chains of flowers

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