Meet the Next Generation of Earth Artists Bringing the Earth Inside

The term “land art” has been made famous by the monumental interventions that artists have carved into the great outdoors since the trend’s rise in the 1960s and 1970s. But a growing number of artists are now redefining the medium , using earth and natural materials to create impressive installations within the gallery walls. Many of them engage in much older indigenous traditions of land management, which were suppressed by colonial control.

These pieces often play with the scale of the buildings that contain them and with the tension between artificial and natural forms. Some highlight an idealized symbiosis between plants and humans, while others offer a visually powerful image of nature reclaiming the structures that have encroached upon it. Many invite viewers to question the greedy extraction of Earth’s natural resources that has led to our current state of environmental collapse.

Although their intentions differ, the six artists featured below all transform this humblest material into immersive, multi-sensory earthworks to be experienced as much as seen. Their creations are utopian and apocalyptic, meditative and sad, capturing the multiple aspects of the natural world and humanity’s intricate role within it.

Precious Okoyomon

Precious Okoyomon, Pre-Sky / Emission of Light: Yes, like that (2024). View of the “Nigeria Imaginary” installation at the Nigerian Pavilion at the 60th Venice Biennale. Photo: Studio Marco Cappelleti, courtesy of the Museum of West African Art (MOWAA).

Known for his ambitious works combining living plants, sculpted figures and original soundtracks, Precious Okoyomon has had a significant presence in the last two editions of the Venice Biennale. In 2022, the Nigerian-American artist transformed one of the Arsenale’s imposing brick rooms into a winding maze of earthen mounds, sculptures and live butterflies for the main exhibition “The Milk of Dreams.” True to many Okoyomon installations, See Earth before the end of the world (2022) included invasive vine species kudzu as well as sugar cane, both referencing the connections between slavery and the land in American history.

At this year’s biennial, Okoyomon is exhibiting in the Nigerian Pavilion, where his imposing sound sculpture stands in a courtyard surrounded by earth and plants. Motion sensors on its steel frame activate a soundtrack of recordings of interviews with 60 Lagos residents answering questions such as “Who was responsible for your mother’s suffering?” »

Delcy Morelos

Delcy Morelos, Terrestrial Paradise (2022). Installation view of the exhibition “The Milk of Dreams”, Venice Biennale 2022. Photo: Roberto Marossi, courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery.

Colombian artist Delcy Morelos also made an impact at the 2022 Venice Biennale with a vast earthen installation that rises around visitors’ bodies as they pass through a maze of corridors constructed from it. The overall feel of the work extended to its bold aroma: the earth was scented with other materials, like cocoa, cinnamon, and hay.

Heaven on Earth (2022) evokes the clean lines and shapes of minimalist sculpture, but Morelos draws more inspiration from ancestral Andean and Amazonian cultures. “The soil as a sacred element has been forgotten by contemporary civilization,” she says. told Artnet News. “I like to show the earth in a way that has never been seen, so that it looks very delicate, soft and smells delicious.” The artist immersed viewers in the material, showing it as something intrinsically linked to us – a reminder of our return to earth after death.

Dan Bound

Installation view of “Dan Lie: Unnamed Entities” at the New Museum in New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni, courtesy of the artist.

Indonesian-Brazilian artist Dan Lie has also worked extensively on the sense of smell in his earthworks. “Unnamed Entities,” their 2022 solo exhibition at the New Museum in New York, was a heady mix of organic materials, from hemp fabric and hay bales to thousands of cut flowers. The mud at the installation was dotted with spores and seeds that germinated and rotted naturally during the exposure. The process of decomposition was intended to disrupt the binary opposition between life and death and to celebrate nature’s cycles of constant transformation.

Lie’s ever-changing environments of bacteria, fungi, plants and insects also aim to counter the idea of ​​human domination of the planet. The artist considers these “other than human” forces as artistic collaborators in his work. In an interview about the New Museum project, they said: “To experience this work, it is important to be present and within it – the ways in which we can perceive (the other than human) go beyond what the eyes can see – the smells, the difference in atmosphere and the humidity are some of them. of this.”

Monica Miranda

Mónica de Miranda, Sónia Vaz Borges and Vânia Gala, Tight (2024) for the Portuguese pavilion at the 60th Venice Biennale. © Matteo Losurdo.

“Creole gardens” are the inspiration for the lush installation created for the Portuguese pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. Tight was created by a collective composed of visual artist Mónica de Miranda, activist and academic Sónia Vaz Borges and choreographer Vânia Gala.

The group’s stunning installation of earth and plants creates a surreal contrast with the ornate interior of Venice’s Palazzo Franchetti. The mounds of earth nourish a wide range of plant species, from lemon trees to giant monsters. A bed of earth also grounds a video work showing dancers moving through dense vegetation in deep connection with each other’s bodies.

Miranda has described her practice as “an imagined geography,” which allows her to explore her Luso-Angolan heritage and broader narratives of belonging and displacement, as well as the fraught and intertwined histories of Portugal and Angola. In Tightgardening becomes a powerful symbol of personal and political liberation.

Clara Kristalova

Klara Kristalova, view of the installation “Strange Clay: Ceramics in Contemporary Art” at the Hayward Gallery, London. Photo: Mark Blower, courtesy of the Hayward Gallery.

Hayward Gallery’s 2022 exhibition “Strange Clay” took ceramic art to the extreme, presenting an array of large-scale installations making highly creative uses of the medium. Czech sculptor Klara Kristalova took over a gallery with her forested expanse of dried moss, roots and branches that gave off an earthy scent even before the work was visible.

Far from here (2022) evokes the woods surrounding the artist’s studio in Sweden and the popular setting of traditional fairy tales. The foliage was dotted with playful ceramic sculptures by Kristalova that expanded on the theme, depicting female figures merging with tree trunks and animals dressed in human clothing. The combination of real botanical materials and sculpted stoneware drew attention to the formative nature of clay itself, rooted in both the earth and the human body.

Dineo Seshee Bopape

Exhibition by Dineo Seshee Bopape “Born in the first light of the morning (moswara’marapo)” at the Pirelli HangarBicocca in Milan. Photo: Agostino Osio, courtesy of the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan.

South African artist Dineo Seshee Bopape regularly incorporates earth into her practice, alongside other natural materials such as coal, clay and ash. His 2022-23 exhibition at Pirelli HangarBicocca in Milan, “Born in the First Light of Morning (moswara’marapo),” also used technology to bring elements from outside into the gallery, such as the sounds of a quarry. marble in the mountains. of Tuscany.

Many of Bopape’s works address land policy in South Africa. Its installation Mabu,mubu,mmu, sa_ _ke lerole, (sa lerole ke_ _) (2022) appeared at first glance to be five simple blocks of earth. On closer inspection, one could see gold leaf, crystals and herbs dotted across their surface, evoking the rich complexity of the soil, which has always been exploited for financial gain. For generations, soil has also been a favored building material for South African homes, a community tradition evoked in the rammed earth domes of Bopape.

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