Nature, Culture, The Wandering, and the work of Chris Drury
British environmentalist-artist Chris Drury’s 190m-long Cornish dry-stone artwork at the Perth Stadium is titled The Wandering, a fitting name for the most recent Australian artwork by a man who has spent the last 40 years of his life wandering the earth.
“The more you wander, the more you make connections,” Mr Drury said. “I work with all sorts of different people, I work with scientists, doctors, small communities, farmers, all sorts of people and make those connections and try to make art out of those connections. Looking back over 40 years of my career, I could say that it boils down to three findings:
Nature-Culture. Inside – Outside. Micro – Macro.
“That’s it really. All the works that I’ve made have some aspect of that in them. They’re all different, I don’t make any one type of work. I’m supposed to be called a land-artist but in fact I use any means and methods to suit the context, and materials are from the place. That’s all I do.”
For the design of The Wandering at Perth Stadium, Mr Drury was asked to make a large land art piece based on the cultural background and environmental background of the area.
“I wanted something that was going to grow and create diversity, I wanted something alive and I wanted something that described the land it moved across. It’s called a Cornish hedge. In Cornwall they make walls that are wide and they have earth in them and they grow and they sometimes grow trees in them. Most walls have been up for a thousand years and they’re full of insects and creatures. This one has already has lizards in it,” he said.
Mr Drury said the artwork’s winding form mirrored the serpentine flow of the river.
“So obviously I’m aware of the Wagyl, but this isn’t the Wagyl,” Drury said. “This is something else but The Wagyl is the cultural context as well as Perth, so I have to take that in to account and I understand.”
Mr Drury said the Swan River was once an ancient winding canyon, its scale still evident from Google Earth, where the prehistoric chasm is clearly visible beneath the sea.
“It makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck because that is so amazing,” Drury said. “That is the geographical feature that is under the water but it’s also an incredibly emotional image. It connects so much to so many things and it spoke to me which is why I designed this thing.”
“It starts from a whirlpool and it goes back into a whirlpool. So there’s no beginning and no end to it. It treats the land as if the land was water. So the whirlpool is both a whirlwind and a whirlpool and the wall is a snaking, live thing. It is in fact a wave.”
Chris Drury on six of his artworks which have influenced The Wandering.
- Winnemucca Whirlwind
The work, based on a whirlpool design in Native American baskets, was hand raked under moonlight on the dried out lake bed of Lake Winnemucca in Nevada.
“It took in fact 18 hours with just the three of us doing it and we got about 3 hours sleep in the early hours of the night and then came back the following day to take photographs. This was a desert so these clouds appeared just in time to get the photographic image and just as we were walking down it started to rain and by the following day it had disappeared.”
- Carbon Sink
This work, at University of Wyoming in Laramie, consists of a vortex of charred, beetle-killed pine logs and Wyoming coal, swirling into a hole dug into the ground.
“I went for a site visit, and I had a conversation with a guy who was an etymologist, and he wondered if anybody made the connection that people are burning this coal somewhere else and it’s coming back, it’s warming the winters in the Rockies and the pine trees are dying.”
- Heart River
This work explores the relationship between systems of flow in the body and similar systems in the universe. The work is derived from echocardiograms and cardiac twist patterns.
“This is a drawing made using my own blood and the river blood and it’s from what’s called a cardiac twist and it’s a pattern found in the movement of the heart because the heart pumps in a twisting motion so the tissue of the heart is laid down. I’ve used this pattern a lot in my land art work, one of the ones I’ve made is so that the complex pattern that we use has a lot of islands so you and it’s based on our hearts.”
- The Way of Trees, Earth and Water
This work, commissioned by the Australian National University School of Art in Canberra, comprised a standing stone center surrounded by rammed earth and carved Eucalyptus trunks, charred black.
“I’ve made a number of growing works. This is one I made in Australia, Canberra in 2013. It is a standing stone rock with rammed earth around it and the rammed earth is rammed bowl made of carved logs and there are four trees growing around it so as the rammed earth dissolves it will gradually reveal the standing stone and the trees will grow so eventually you will get three very large trees around a standing stone with the breadth around it. I presume, I don’t know, you never know– we’ll see what it does.”
- Wind Vortices
This work is a large scale drawing of the wind, using a skidoo in fresh snow at Sky Blu, an oil depot for refueling planes in Antarctica chosen because prevailing winds, which are forced into vortices by the nearby Nunatacs (the tips of mountains protruding from the ice sheets), scour the ice of snow, creating a blue ice surface all year.
The drawing was made on a map, then re-plotted on a computer and transferred to a GPS. The GPS was taped to the handlebars of the skidoo, and once the satellites had picked up my position, all I had to do was keep the arrow on the line of the drawing on the screen, and follow it through to the end.
“Princess Ann was visiting the main base at Sky Blu and all flights were grounded so I could use the skidoo which is normally used to enter and exit planes. I strapped the GPS to the handlebars of the skidoo and took off. You look at this little screen, you don’t look where you’re going and you keep the aerial on the drawing and you make the drawing. Unfortunately the spiral on the right should have been a lot bigger but when I was going I realized I was heading for a restricted area and I wouldn’t be here today if I had continued”.
- Mushroom Cloud
“Mushrooms, I’ve been fascinated by mushrooms for a long time. Mushrooms feed you, kill you, cure you, and alter your mind. And they are the refuse collectors or the earth. They represent life, death and growth. I did this show in Nevada where the nuclear test site is and the work is shaped like a mushroom cloud and that particular mushroom is destroying human life.”
Cloud 9 is made of 1760 magic mushrooms suspended on nylon thread in a Perspex box.
“In Nevada, I was keen to make a mushroom cloud out of desert material. Destroying Angel Nevada was made from two related species of desert plant, Lycium pallidum and Lycium andersonii, which grow on the Nevada Nuclear Test site, and which were collected locally and made into bundles. Over 2000 pieces of this thorny plant are suspended on nylon thread within a Perspex box. You can see how Amanita phalloides is literally Amanita mushroom spore print on Artist black card with the words destroying angel in radiating lines of hand written text in white ink.”
Mr Drury says he leaves it to chance now. “I’ve been to all the continents on the earth. Now I let the place make the decision for me.”