Have you heard of the Singing, Ringing Tree? It is an outdoor sculpture on the Wayside Art Trail, on moorland high over Burnley in Lancashire. Hearing about it recently for the first time, the Tree really captured my imagination. What a unique way to draw together art, nature and music in one structure. The steel pipe sculpture resembles a tree, and as wind gusts over the Pennines it makes its own music.
I wonder where and what you would sculpt if you were given the opportunity to create and place a sculpture somewhere outdoors? Would you site it in your owwn gardem or in a local park, or in the countryside – on a roadside verge or in a wood or in a nature reserve? And what would you sculpt? That might depend on the site. Many outdoor sculptures tend to be large, to catch the eye in a landscape and command the view. Think of Henry Moore’s imposing solid sculptures, on display outdoors in the grounds of the Henry Moore Foundation in Hertfordshire and at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. But of course there are no rules.
As with so much creativity, there are endless possibilities. Outdoor sculptures use all kinds of media and materials, from found materials to bronze or natural materials. They can be earthbound, fixed, rooted as it were, or displayed off the ground.
If creativity expresses something of ourselves, of what matters to us, then outdoor sculpture places our own imprint on nature and on open spaces.
Sometimes the sculptures depict subjects from nature itself, such as Elisabeth Frink’s sculptures of horses, which I have seen in two very different outdoor settings. Sometimes outdoor sculptures take nature as their starting point but interpret it in a more abstract or imaginative way, just like the Singing, Ringing Tree. Some abstract sculptures echo the shapes and forms of their outdoor sites. Others depict figures, linking people to the landscape. Antony Gormley’s figures on the beach at Formby in Merseyside would be a memorable example as they seem to stare out to sea. And some sculptures commemorate particular events, or traditions, or local industry, trade or farming. Sculptures can link present and past, outdoors & indoors, nature & community.
Most outdoor sculptures become a permanent part of a landscape, either as single artworks or as part of a sculpture trail or park. But other outdoor sculpture is temporary, like an art exhibition, such as the Raveningham Centre in south Norfolk’s annual sculpture trail, which takes a new theme every year.
Outdoor sculptures can become another way to interact with the natural world. They draw out a response and could make the viewer think more about a place or space. In turn, nature itself can alter the way the viewer interacts with the artwork. An outdoor sculpture may look very different through different times of the day or year, as light plays over it or it is cast into shadow, or as rain soaks or leaves fall. Seeing art in nature can make you observe colours, light, shape and form in new ways. Writing this, I have just seen a spider’s web suspended outside my window, evenly and intricately spun. What is this but outdoor sculpture of a different kind?
It would be great if you’d like to share what outdoor sculptures you have seen, or what you think about art in nature, in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you.