The question of permanency and environmental art is one that we face each year as we plan for the Cheng Long Wetlands International Environmental Art Project. Our concept is to invite artists to Cheng Long Wetlands to make artworks that can last for one year and then biodegrade naturally back into the earth; however it is a big dilemma how to make the artworks last for one year and still be environmental. We do want the artworks to be good for the environment and not harm the air, soil, water or wildlife in the Cheng Long area. We also want artworks that can help to raise awareness about environmental issues. We think that at least the artworks should do no harm to the environment, and hopefully they can improve it.
It is always difficult for artists to use natural biodegradable materials and environmentally friendly techniques and still make a big impressive outdoor art installation in 25 days that can last for one year. This year we had great artists who really worked hard to make huge installations that were very labor intensive. This year we had the tallest structures ever and also we feel that we had the most local participation. However, Roger Rigorth’s tall water bottle installation “Water Core”, made of bamboo tied with natural sisal rope, started to collapse after one month. We decided that was too short!
This artwork needed extensive repairs and many volunteers returned to Cheng Long to help as well as one of the artists from 2011, Firman Djamil of Indonesia. Firman is an excellent bamboo artist, and he was able to help with the repair of two of the 3 bottles since he was already in Taiwan at the time for another art project. We left up one of the bottles so people could continue to enjoy the installation during the repair time. However, the repair of the 3rd bottle was also necessary, and later some villagers and Foundation staff worked several more days to make it strong and sturdy. The repair on “Water Core” took about 5 days of hard work, and it was also a big expense to buy new bamboo and much more sisal rope. Now the 3 water bottles are back up and seem very strong, but maybe the typhoons will still cause them to collapse eventually.
With this environmental art project, it is intended that the artworks if they are all natural materials and biodegradable will dissolve back into the earth over time. If the artworks are made from recycled materials, then the artwork can be taken down and the materials recycled again at the recycle center. New artworks are created every year during the 25 days of the art project in April-May.
The artworks are like the flowers that bloom for a short time and then disappear and come back again the next Spring. Should we repair the artworks when they start to collapse or dissolve in a short time, or should we enjoy them while they are there and then wait for the new ones to come the next year?
Now, another artwork created in 2015 is collapsing. Chao-chang Lee’s dragon of oyster shells supported on a bamboo structure is falling down after only 3 months. Should we ask the artist to come back and get volunteers to help him repair it? Chao-chang does live nearby in Yunlin County so it would not be too far for him to come back to re-construct his 2015 artwork. He will maybe need lots of volunteers and local helpers to get this dragon put back together and made strong enough to last until next April.
Or, should we let the artworks go with nature and not worry about their lasting properties so much? Sometimes we can also appreciate the beauty in the natural changes that occur over time. The artworks can be enjoyed when they are fresh, and we can keep looking at the photos and remembering the process of creating the artworks. Sometimes the process is so valuable as an educational tool and community experience that it does not matter so much how long the artwork lasts. Again, the artworks are like flowers that are beautiful when they are in full bloom but may fade quickly. Should we expect artwork that is environmental to last and stay the same for one year in the outdoor conditions of southwest Taiwan…very hot sunshine, strong winds, heavy rains and even typhoons?
Of course, artworks could be made with concrete, metal, plastics and other more lasting but not good for the environment materials, and they could be constructed with permanent foundations such as concrete and joined with metal screws and heavy wire, but then the art project would not be environmental. The art project would lose its purpose of promoting environmental education as well as providing good contemporary outdoor sculpture and visual art for the enjoyment of local people and visitors. It s a big dilemma, and we would like to hear your opinions about this issue.