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Often times, when we think of art and design, the man-made world dominates our thoughts, – but nature gives us the greatest inspiration to create above all else. This world is in a constant state of creation and degeneration, of evolution and extinction, which gives us an entire spectrum of beauty and abomination from which to glean our ideas. Nothing is weirder than what nature can create – in fact, we spend generations trying to grasp exactly why things occur. We need to quantify the existence of the natural world to feel somehow in control. Why not let go and let your imagination soar with the amazing world that surrounds us? Let’s start by looking into our own backyards.

Lately I’ve been fixated on the strangest and most bizarre elements that our natural world has given us and I’ve recently come across some incredible images of odd trees from around the world, so I thought I’d share.

My all-time favourite is the Baobab. I would love to have the chance to visit Madagascar and see them towering over the landscape. To me, they are one of the most magical-looking trees on earth. Baobabs reach heights of 5 to 30 m (16 to 98 ft) and have trunk diameters of 7 to 11 m (23 to 36 ft). Baobabs store water inside the swollen trunk (up to 120,000 litres / 32,000 US gallons) to endure the harsh drought conditions particular to each region. Some hollowed out baobabs have been used as anything from prisons to wine bars, and one was even converted into an outhouse!

The Dragon Tree, found in the Canary Islands is also really cool looking. When the bark or leaves are severed they secrete a red resin, one of the sources of the substance known as Dragon’s blood, used to stain wood, just like that used to stain Stradivarius violins. It also traditionally has numerous medicinal uses.

The Silk Cotton Tree in Cambodia is an incredible sight to behold. It consumes buildings and many specimens have grown to gargantuan proportions in both height and width. The temple of Ta Prohm is the most popular place to view these tentacled giants.

The Tree of Life resides in Bahrain and is around 400 years old and boasts one of the deepest root systems worldwide. The Mesquite tree is now a local tourist attraction, as it is the only major tree growing in the region and is viewed by approximately 50,000 tourists every year. It is also believed to be the site for cults practicing ancient rites.

El Arbol de La Sabina is in the Juniper family, which, when distilled, provides us with gin. This specific tree can also be found in the Canary Islands, an autonomous region of Spain. The wood is really compact, fine-grained, super tough, yellowish-brown or reddish and extremely aromatic. It can grow in most soils and climates and gets its appearance from being pushed over by the rough winds that cross the ocean.

The Tree of Tule is a Montezuma Cypress tree. It has been said that it has the stoutest trunk of any tree in the world. Located in the church grounds in the town center of Santa María del Tule in the Mexicanstate of Oaxaca, in 2001 it was placed on a UNESCO tentative list of World Heritage Sites.The age is currently still unknown, with estimates ranging between 1,200 and 3,000 years. One claim of 6,000 years has also been made.

The Bottle Tree is a strange poisonous one that grows along the rocky hills of semi-deserts, such as Namibia. It has a weird bottle shaped trunk and very few branches covered in thorns up to 30 cm long. It was widely used as a blinding toxin for arrow tips while hunting.

To see the 50 weirdest trees in the world, check out this site.

Bukisa also has an interesting article on strange trees from around the world.

Here are some more interesting trees that have been manipulated by man:

The Oak Chapel Tree, Alouville, France

Axel Erlandson’s Circus Tree, Santa Cruz, California

Axel Erlandson’s Arborsculpture, Santa Cruz, California

The Chandelier Tree, Leggett, California

King’s Gardens, Copenhagen

Playing with nature is Jim Denevan’s favourite hobby – he surfs, he’s a chef and he’s a well-known sand artist. Simply using a driftwood stick and a few rakes, he creates enormous majestic geometric designs on the flat expanse of the beach. The greatest part is that his work is entirely improvised – he just begins with a centre point and works his way outwards, creating large spirals and perfect circles until he’s covered most of the area. Much of his work is entirely interactive, springing forth from a series of strategic movements – like a dance with nature – and inviting the public to explore the space when they are completed. These beautiful works are temporary though – the tides wash them clean away in stages as they were created, and so the cycle begins anew. He has also branched off into working with snow-and-ice-covered terrain and I can’t wait to see more!

To see more of Denevan’s designs, visit his website.

There is also an interesting article in which he speaks to GQ about his work.


Brandon Ballengée is a unique environmental artist – he has found a way to bridge the gap between art and research biology. His obsession with amphibians and fish has driven him to start collaborating with the scientific community and expand on his techniques in commercial photography.

Creating alien-like ecological projects with techniques learned from biologists and researchers, he’s found a way to create truly one-of-a-kind pieces of environmental art using real biological specimens that he spends hours collecting, and translates them into art.

To find out more, and see the entire process (which is super fascinating), check out his website.

The Open Air Art Museum in Pedvale is located in an idyllic expanse of Latvian countryside that is subject to some of the world’s most extreme climates and boasts some really spectacular sunsets, which is the perfect place to incorporate environmental art into its atmosphere. Finnish artist Jonna Pohjalainen spent some time in 2006 working there and created a breathtaking installation using naturally felled Aspen trees, chosen for their unique forms and shades of grey, turning them into coloured pencils and setting them upright so that the sky itself is incorporated as a backdrop. The shifting light hits the pencils in such a way that you’ll never see the same effect twice, depending on the weather conditions and time of day.

According to Jonna, “While you sharpen your pencils you can see time passing by. Colours bring joy and happiness in our everyday life. I chose a place of my work because of the sunsets. You can sit and meditate near my work and look at the sunsets. Without sun there are no colours and life!” She has carried this idea in some of her other works as well.

See more of Jonna Pohjalainen’s work at environmentalart.net and the Open Air Art Museum’s website.

 

* My apologies for not keeping consistent with my posts as of late – my husband and I just bought our first house (a nice big red brick Victorian that’s over 100 years old!), and are in the process of getting everything ready for the big move and ensuing renovations. Exciting times!

Talk about the “red” carpet treatment – eclectic French artist Gaëlle Villedary created a 420 meter grass carpet that runs through the centre of the tiny old village of Jaujac using around 168 rolls of sod (almost 1,400 feet), weighing in at 3.5 tons. The project was unrolled for the 10th anniversary of Jaujac’s arts and nature trail programs and was intended to reconnect the village to the valley that surrounds it, creating a balance and connection between human and nature.

To check out more of her work, visit her website.

 

As inhabitants of this planet, we’ve really destroyed our environment – our cities encroach on the once beautiful landscape and are awash with the endless layers of grime that we’ve excreted for centuries, creating a dirty and dismal atmosphere all around us. Two innovative street artists have taken it upon themselves to come up with a solution – rather than add to the toxicity, why not create art by washing it away and make a statement with more of an impact?

British pioneer Paul Curtis (aka Moose), and Brazilian master Alexandre Orion are two amazing artists who use the technique of “reverse graffiti” that has been quickly gaining popularity in some of the grimier parts of the world – a technique that involves taking an extremely polluted surface, and cleaning the surface away to reveal an image.

Several big companies are taking advantage of this new street art phenomenon by having advertising commissioned by these artists, such as Smirnoff and Starbucks, who want to become more innovative in their targeting the youth market in an environmentally sound way, making their image appear “cleaner” than their competitors.

One might think that these forms of environmental art would be welcomed by the communities in which they proliferate, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Some authorities are finding that the practice is destructive. Moose has faced a lot of backlash from The Leeds City Council, who want to rid their community of “rogue advertising”  because it causes “environmental damage”, but according to Moose, “Once you do this, you make people confront whether or not they like people cleaning walls or if they really have a problem with personal expression.” The Leeds City Council retaliated by stating that creating street art without relevant permission can be construed as vandalism and Moose was charged under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act. They wanted him to clean up what he had done – but what did that entail? Throwing grime back up there? Sounds ridiculous, but that’s what happened.

Orion had a slightly more positive outcome when faced with Brazilian authorities – when he created a mural full of skulls in a Sao Paulo transport tunnel to bring awareness to drivers of the impact of vehicle emissions on the environment, the city found they had nothing to charge him with, so they just cleaned the parts of the tunnel that Orion had already cleaned. Orion responded by continuing his cause on the other side of the tunnel – which made Sao Paulo authorities have no choice but to clean the entire tunnel, and all of the other tunnels in the city as well. Mission accomplished!

To find out more about the Reverse Graffiti Project, check out the documentary and visit their website.

To learn more about environmental graffiti, visit the Environmental Graffiti website.

To view the 35 greatest works of environmental graffiti, visit this page.

To learn more about grime writing, visit Symbollix’s website.

Moose

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