It wasn’t my intention to continue with the art theme. But as the rule of three calls and I learn more about writing and blogging, I found myself more inclined to follow intuition than push through to produce work that doesn’t feel right. Perhaps it was just easier to showcase other people’s incredible work instead of doing research for a long piece. Given the choice between being attuned and growing lazy, I’m sticking with the former interpretation.
I’ve been a fan of Albertus Gorman’s work over at The Artist at Exit 0 Riverblog ever since I began blogging in 2012. For the better part of the last decade, Gorman has used materials washed up at Ohio State Park to create sculptures and craft stories that explore the impacts we have on the places we inhabit. Some of his work from Ohio Falls is now featured in The Potential in Everything, an exhibition at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana.
In a recent post exploring the evolution of nature writing, we chatted about what makes for great art. Gorman shared an illuminating comment as it relates to his journey:
“One person’s kitsch is another person’s masterpiece. I tread this path myself with my river art. I want my work to have a popular feel similar to the way folk art functions because I want what I am trying to communicate through it to reach a target audience that often doesn’t think about how creativity or conceptual art can be used to positively affect the environment. My own work has evolved over time to include objects, images, and now stories working in tandem with one another. There is some risk taking here and sometimes it works better times than others.”
Mulling this over, I decided to revisit his blog to find examples of how he uses art and writing to promote awareness around the environment. The following is a list of five of my favourite pieces he’s published over the past year:
5. Introducing the Indiana Rail and Other River Birds
The Indiana Rail, with permission from Albertus Gorman.
Gorman employs several approaches to tell his tales. In this post, he introduces the reader to the diverse natural history of Ohio Falls via beautiful photos of local birds (The one with the Great Blue Herons is a highlight) before delving into observed behaviours of the Brown-headed cowbird (real) and the Indiana Rail (fictitious). It’s a lovely piece that blends the natural and artificial together.
4. The Ice Tourist
The Ice Tourist, with permission from Albertus Gorman.
Many of Gorman’s stories has him directly engaging with his Styrofoam avatars. This recent piece has him befriending a raggedly dressed but insatiably curious tourist. Both creator and creation defer, however, to a polar vortex-shaped riverscape filled with bizarre and wondrous ice formations. For me, Gorman’s connection of winter’s meditative quality and hushed rhythms with the need for reflection in our own lives hits the right note without coming across as overly preachy.
3. Plastic Meat
Plastic food collection, with permission from Albertus Gorman.
The stories in which Gorman showcases his decade long collection of found objects are always highlights. Perhaps my favourite of these tales revolves around plastic meats, appropriately published after American Thanksgiving. Gorman has fun showing off plastic poultry, squeaky hamburgers, and conjoined hot dogs, but a current of disbelief and incomprehension lurks beneath the story’s light tone. If one person at one river is capable of putting together a glut of weirdly specific junk, how many more disposable objects must exist out in the world, bereft of meaning beyond that first flash of novelty? Some (plastic) food for thought.
2. Life in a Bucket
Orange Man with a willow tree, with permission from Albertus Gorman.
Stories which highlight life’s resiliency are among my favourites. In this piece, Gorman employs his styrofoam intermediary to balance artistic integrity with the need to convey a message. It works beautifully. The hilarious Orangeman (the closeup shot cracks me up every time) infuses the tale with charm and levity while pointing out some very poignant and moving examples of life persevering despite adverse circumstances. The last image is pitch-perfect.
1. Unnatural Flowers
A chemical rose, with permission from Albertus Gorman.
Perhaps it’s the sci-fi/speculative nerd in me that is drawn to this piece, but whatever the reason, it just works. Behind the clinical voice is someone with a desire to understand and make sense of objects that are both mundane and absurd. The whimsical speculation that accompanies each plastic flower brings a smile to me every time, reminding me of some of my favourite fictitious bestiaries. I love the constant juxtaposition of the natural and artificial, again one of the central theme in many of Gorman’s works. Beyond all of this is a serious contemplation of the contradictory essence of “plastic”, a word that signifies flexibility and adaptability yet is name to a substance that does not degrade, does not adapt, will not change.
You can check out more of Gorman’s works at artistatexit0.wordpress.com. In addition, The Potential in Everything exhibit runs until April 5, 2014.
- What do you think about Gorman’s artwork?
- Do you have a particular style of storytelling that you are drawn to?
- The Art in Stewardship, by Greg Mort
- X-Ray Photography of Nature, by Arie van’t Riet
- The Time Traveler, by Artist at Exit 0
Featured image: The Styrobuck, with permission from Albertus Gorman.
When I was running a by-product synergy network in Chicago several years ago, we had several projects where waste materials were used by artists or in creative projects. I always enjoy seeing things we would throw away transformed into some kind of treasure. I enjoy Gorman’s artwork. I have a fondness for fairy tales, but appreciate many other kinds of storytelling as well. Isaac, I enjoy reading your eco art tales!
Thanks for sharing. I think there is an inherent challenge in using waste materials for art because in most instances, there is an underlying message about that we create a lot of undesirable junk. How the artist conveys that message is really the key. In Gorman’s case, I think he does a good job in not beating people over the head with the issue (the whimsy and absurdity helps).
Reblogged this on Artist at Exit 0 Riverblog and commented:
I consider this a great honor that fellow blogger Isaac Yuen focused one of his posts around my art projects from the past year and the tales I’ve created around them. For several years now, I have enjoyed Isaac’s award winning blog Ecostories. He has made me a believer in the power of the spoken and written word to convey universal truths particularly when they speak about our evolving relationship with nature. Stories are important and everyone has a story to tell. Isaac has a great way of taking on complex narratives and making them understandable. I encourage you to check out his thoughtful, positive, and beautifully written blog.
I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment from your work, Al. Keep up the great work! 🙂
My favorite is the Indiana Rail. I assume the photo with the deer is also one of Gorman’s? I love this: “One person’s kitsch is another person’s masterpiece.” I feel that way about some of the wooden geese I see on porches. 😀 But Gorman’s art feels organic.
That’s the appeal for folk art, isn’t it? Simple, accessible, unpretentious but soulful.
Ah yes, the Styrobuck 🙂 He has a story about that one too.
Thanks for the comment!
I’ve come this way via Al’s blog link to your blogcasa.
Yeah, those plastic flowers have a life all their own.
Welcome! Thanks for checking out my corner of the internet, and I appreciate the tweet 🙂