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Collaboration with Nature

Iris Leaves and Berries , Andy Goldsworthy

In contemporary art, a new/old kind of art form has emerged, which may be called Collaboration with Nature, as does Andy Goldsworthy, or Land Art as do other artists such as Lynne Hall and Nils Udo.

• Here are a few photographs of the work of Andy Goldsworthy, the best known of such artists. See the Artist/Naturalist pages for more photographs of his art..

cherry leaves, autumn
oak leaves in holes
rowan leaves
carved snow circles, Japan

Nils Udo is a German land artist who also creates deliberately ephemeral art.
For more of Udo's work than below, go to his Artist/Naturalist page Nils Udo.

Bindweed flowers gathered in their journey on a stream by a stick dam. Reunion, Indian Ocean, 1990

Robinia Leaf Swing: robinia (locust) leaf halved, ash twigs, Valle de Sella, Italy,1992

A rare opportunity to work with the slender symmetrical form of robinia (locust) leaves, which have fascinated me for long. A small pond in the mountains. Horsetail swimmimg under the surface. Reflections. I selected a leaf, removed the leaflets from one side, and hung the bisected leaf in the small forked branches of two ash switches that I had stuck into the pond bottom. - Nils Udo

Willow Nest: pollarded willow, hay, fern stalks, poppy petals, Marchiennes Forest, France, 1994

A pollard willow in a meadow. I removed the center branches and filled the hollow space with hay. Then I covered the bottom with fern leaves from nearby. The tree as nest—the nest in the tree. Later, I placed a ring of poppy petals on the nest floor. -NilsUdo

sunflower head with seeds removed; guelder rose berries, bishop’s mitre; seeds of bishop’s mitre afloat on a stream, Danube marshlands, Bavaria, 1993
March Altar: ash poles, reeds, clematis
Priental, Bavaria, 1981



Artful arrangements of natural materials have gained a new respect and following. I called it new/old because everyone who has made a snowman has already collaborated with nature to make art. Everyone who has carefully arranged a vase of flowers has done the same. So has every child who has made a dandelion chain,or sculpted sand on a beach.

What makes these results art? The crucial ingredient is human arrangement of natural materials. What is important is that the materials are filtered through the artist’s eye, which changes their forms and gives them new meaning.

Having children do nature collaborations validates what they already know, and casts their play skills into a new light. I was practicing to be an artist!

Ephemeral Art or Transient Art

Ephemera are things which last or live only a short time. The word comes from the Greek word for Mayfly.

Most artistic traditions around the world stress permanence; we carve stone, we cast bronze, and so forth. We think of art as making objects.

However, we have always honored art which was essentially brief-lived: a dance, a dramatic performance, a story told, a song sung, a symphony performed. Even today, when we are capable of preserving such art with film, sound recording, video, we usually don’t or can’t. Picasso enjoyed drawing in the sand on the ocean beach near his home, then enjoyed watching the waves swallow his creations. It is OK when the art does not last—it still was made, it still happened, it still created responses within an audience. 

Nature collaborations are usually ephemeral art—they are not intended to last—and sometimes their decay or transformation is part of the collaboration.



Nature Collaboration Takes Various Forms.

1) Earth materials arranged by the Artist in a powerful way

• This primary technique is called assemblage

2) Earth materials that nature has arranged in powerful ways

• A kind of found art—driftwood on a beach?

3) A piece or pattern of Earth whose intricacy of design or beauty speaks powerfully by itself with minimal human intervention.

• Another kind of found art—reeds reflected in the still lake? A milkweed pod? A milkweed seed? Seashells?

4) Earth forces as well as objects can be used to make assemblages.

• Wind reshapes materials, water flows and transforms.

• Nature’s sounds and rhythms can be arranged into auditory art or transformed into visual art. See also Learning Activity Sound Play: Natural Music

Hannah Hinchman offers these visual birdsongs and drawn birdflight:


Sharing Collaborations with Nature

• display it in an exhibit or in the natural place where it happened.

 • photograph it in the actual natural location (see Andy Goldsworthy pages). Display the photograph.

• Create it or perform it in the presence of an audience.

Quotes from Artist Andy Goldsworthy

Nature goes beyond countryside—everything comes from the earth.

On Working Outside:

Looking, touching, material, place and form are all inseparable from the resulting work. It is difficult to say where one stops and another begins.

The energy and space around a material are as important as the energy and space within. The weather—rain, sun, snow, hail, mist, calm—is that external space made visible. When I touch a rock, I am touching and working the space around it. It is not independent of its surroundings and the way it sits tells how it came to be there.

To understand why that rock is there and where it is going, I must work with it in the area in which I found it.

On Technique:

I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands and ‘found’ tools—a sharp stone, the quill of a feather, thorns.

I take the opportunities each day offers: if it is snowing, I work with snow, at leaf-fall it will be with leaves; a blown-over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches.

I stop at a place or pick up a material because I feel that there is something to be discovered. Here is where I can learn. Returning to one place makes me more aware of change.

I want to get under the surface. When I work with a leaf, rock, stick, it is not just that material in itself, it is an opening into the processes of life within and around it. When I leave it, these processes continue.

On Change:

Movement, change, light, growth and decay are the lifeblood of nature, the energies that I try to tap through my work. I need the shock of touch, the resistance of place, materials and weather, the earth as my source.

Nature is in a state of change and that change is the key to understanding. I want my art to be sensitive and alert to changes in material, season and weather.

Each work grows, stays, decays. Process and decay are implicit.

Transience in my work reflects what I find in nature.

On Form:

All forms are found in nature, and there are many qualities within any material. By exploring them I hope to understand the whole. My work needs to include the loose and disordered within the nature of material as well as the tight and regular.

The ball, patch, line, arch and spire are recurring forms in my work. If I step into deep water, these forms are familiar rocks I can always put a foot on.

 The hole is an important element in my work. Looking into a deep hole unnerves me. My concept of stability is questioned and I am made aware of the potent energies within the earth. The black is that energy made visible.

Quotes from Andy Goldsworthy, A Collaboration With Nature ( Abrams, 1990)


Here is a link to a useful essay on Andy Goldsworthy's work

Katie Flowers: Nature Collaborations

Katie Flowers is an innovative art teacher in Hong Kong. She accomplishes much teacher training through the use of art making. Goldsworthy's approach to assemblage was used as a trigger point for the teacher collaborations below.

Tree Shadow made
with its own dropped leaves
bow with arrow
pointing the way


As the artist lowers the seeded lilypad into water a spirit of risk and sharing appears.
Fallen Leaf Wreath
collage of Katie Flower's
nature collaboration sessions with teachers

In the style of Goldsworthy

berry circle on heartwood circle
© Hannah Sigmund 2006
Shells by Carol Luk
Root by unknown artist
Arcs by Patrick Horber
Square, Broken by Patrick Horber
Branching by Patrick Horber