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10 awesome artists, artworks, and projects inspired by nature

Turning to the arts in the time of COVID-19

10 awesome artists, artworks, and projects inspired by nature

10 awesome artists, artworks, and projects inspired by nature

Art is all around us. It’s the pictures that adorn our walls, the images that fill our Instagram feeds, the objects on display in our museums, and it’s even our favourite TV shows. As we continue to grapple with our new reality of physical distancing, the arts have been a lifesaver as its many forms provide comfort and help pass the time. You may have noticed that we’re big fans of art here at the National Environmental Treasure. We believe that art can convey science in a powerful way since it often reflects and responds to society and culture. When discussing difficult topics like biodiversity loss and climate pollution, it’s important to tap into the heart as well as the mind, which is why science and art are the perfect companions.

To celebrate the many benefits that the arts have gifted us, we’ve compiled some of our favourite artists, artworks, and projects inspired by nature (in no particular order).

Japanese fish prints inform biodiversity research – Yusuke Miyazaki and Atsunobu Murase

The practice of Gyotaku (“fish rubbing” in English), where Japanese fishermen create ink prints from fish and other sea species, dates back to the mid 1800s. While it’s now a recognized art form, it began as a way to record trophy catches before cameras were widely available. However, these prints hold valuable historical biodiversity data and are now helping researchers study threatened fish species in Japan. Using 261 samples, Yusuke Miyazaki and Atsunobu Murase of the University of Miyazaki, collected Gyotaku samples from local bait-and-tackle shops. With dates, locations, fish species, tackle types, along with a witness and the fisherman’s name, they have a myriad of information to help them better understand the distribution of species.

Gyotaku print of fish
Gyotaku, DigiPub / J.G. Wang via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Glaciogenic art – Jill Pelto

As an earth scientist and visual artist, Jill Pelto blends her two professions to find novel ways to communicate science. Since art can frame science through an emotional lens, she uses her talents to raise awareness and inspire action around biodiversity loss and climate change. While her watercolour renditions depict the beauty of nature, they also incorporate real scientific data. Represented through line graphs, they adorn illustrations of melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and threatened species. The artwork below called Dwindling Migration, “uses data that documents the dramatic decline in caribou population herds, focusing on the George River Caribou Herd from 1980-present,” according to Pelto’s website.

Painting by Jill Pelto of caribou crossing a river
'Dwindling Migration' by Jill Pelto. Reposted with permission.

Transforming tree data into music – Lauren Oakes

This science-art project is a few years old, but its impact still resonates. Dr. Lauren Oakes, a conservation scientist, author, and educator collected data from thousands of trees in the yellow cedar forests in Alaska. Her goal was to track the effects of climate change on the transforming rainforest landscape. While Oakes spent years interpreting the data, music helped her see a whole new perspective. Using data sonification technology, her colleague transposed it into a melancholic symphony in the key of D minor. A single note represents a tree while its height and diameter determine its pitch and force. Tree species are even assigned different instruments. What is so striking about this project is how powerful art can be in communicating complex data. In some ways, it made nature’s voice audible to humans.

Inuit printmaking – Kenojuak Ashevak

Kenojuak Ashevak was a multidisciplinary Inuit artist and printmaker born in South Baffin Island, NWT (now Nunavut). She was the first woman to become part of the West Baffin Printmaking Co-Operative and received many awards and accolades including A Companion of the Order of Canada along with the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. While you may know her from her famous Enchanted Owl Print (1960), which was featured on a Canada Post stamp in the 1970s, she was incredibly prolific as an artist. Her vibrant drawings and prints often portrayed northern wildlife including birds, rabbits, seals, and wolves. She was also the subject of a Historica Canada Heritage Minute back in 2016.

Sculpture powered by pollinating honeybees – Wolfgang Buttress

‘The Hive’ by Wolfgang Buttress is a 44-ton metallic installation at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London, England. This soaring 56-foot structure is made with spiralling aluminum bars and rods that emulate a beehive. The surrounding field of wildflowers and pollinating honeybees trigger flickering lights and sound, creating an immersive, multisensorial experience for visitors. Since bees pollinate a large portion of our food crops, the goal for this installation is to convey their importance for the planet and for our survival.

Rewilding a landfill Christina Kingsbury

With the continual decline in pollinator populations, multidisciplinary artist, Christina Kingsbury, embarked on a project called ReMediate. Her goal was to reinvigorate the Eastview Landfill in Guelph, Ontario for local bumblebees, wasps, and butterflies. She crafted a 2,000 square foot quilt made from natural fibers and embedded with native seeds collected from local flora and fauna. Hand-sewn on site with the help of volunteers, the quilt was intended to breakdown and transform itself into a living garden and habitat for pollinators.

Glacier pastel drawing – Zaria Forman

Zaria Forman has made it her life’s mission to communicate the urgency of climate change and the magnificence of the north through art. To capture the shimmering glaciers of Antarctica and Greenland, she painstakingly replicates exacting detail from photographs using only chalk pastels, her fingers, and paper. The sheer scale and detail of her illustrations along with her mastery of light, colour, and texture convey the overpowering experience of standing in front of these icy giants. Her hope is to elicit a visceral connection for viewers, even from a laptop or phone.

Regenerating coral through sculpture – Jason DeCaires Taylor

What if art had the power to regenerate life? One artist has found a way to help save damaged or destroyed coral reefs through sculpture. Over the course of 10 years, Jason DeCaires Taylor has perfected a pH neutral concrete recipe used in the production of underwater figures. These works not only support marine life by providing places to hide, grow, and breed, but they also sustain coral growth. Intended to continuously adapt, evolve, and change over time, his goal is to help repopulate reef beds and to create new coral growth in at-risk areas.

Animating the whale fall – Sweet Fern Productions

“When a whale dies, the story has just begun”
— Sweet Fern Productions

This animated video, created by Sweet Fern Productions, portrays the abundant after life of a whale carcass. When a whale dies, it sinks to the bottom of the ocean. The falling carcass, called “whale falls”, supplies bustling deep water communities of organisms with a bounty of nutrients. Its various stages of decomposition not only feed scavengers, but also support whole ecosystems for decades. Whales sustain life even in death.

Illustrating the story of flowers – AMKK

As a journey through the seasons, this breathtaking animation illustrates the life cycle of flowers. From rain to shine and daylight to moonlight, it offers a macro-view of the vital systems in nature. Bees, birds, and dragonflies pollinate vibrant botanicals while soil mites and insects work hard to nourish the soil that roots the flowers in place. As it moves from spring to winter, the wind ushers seeds to their new resting spots where the cycle begins all over again.

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