Let me introduce you to Mariko Mori, Theo Johnson and Phil Price. Three remarkable artists that create kinetic sculptures, inspired by and incorporating the elements. Each artist brings a different perspective to our relationship with the natural world. To appreciate their work, videos are a must. They take us to worlds of new and ancient nature.
Dogs and thunderstorms. Frogs and rain. Elephants and earthquakes. These are some of the many observations, across cultures and the ages, of the acute ability of nonhuman animals to sense changes in the elements – of wind, water, earth and fire – often long before we do. They do this using senses many humans have lost in modern times, and some that we have never attained. While some may attribute these responses purely to the physical ability other animals have to see, taste, hear, smell or feel extremely subtle changes in the environment, it goes well beyond this. As people take the time to look and listen to what these animals sense, think and feel, our eyes are being opened to the extraordinary lives of the other species we share the planet with, both big and small.
Feng Shui (which translates as ‘Wind-Water’) is referred to as both an art and a science of ‘placement’. It has a long and complex history in China where it has been used to harness the living energy (ch’i) of the universe to benefit people’s lives. Yin Yang and the Five Elements/Phases (Earth, Water, Fire, Metal and Wood) are essential components of feng shui. By applying the principles of feng shui modern practitioners say it is possible to develop a healthy, happy, harmonious and prosperous lifestyle, achieve balance, and energise and enhance your life. Even your cat can benefit from the recently ‘discovered’ art of ‘Fang Shui’. Feng shui can be used to help clear the clutter in your house and learn about the future through the interpretation of heavenly bodies. It is no wonder that feng shui is a global phenomenon.
We are connected to waves of water, air and light in a myriad of ways. For many of us though it is the timeless and reassuring rhythm of the ocean that fires our imagination. Both friend and foe, ocean waves embody the energy imparted by wind and earth. Humans directly experience the power of waves through wave watching, surfing, swimming, storms and tsunamis. We capture, create and contemplate images and sounds of waves to forge connections in a different way. As a measure of human ingenuity, the power of waves is now also being used for renewable energy production. Using the form of a photo essay, this post explores ocean waves through their varied elemental expressions – water, wind, earth(quakes), fire (energy) and consciousness.
Goethe and I share the same birthday, albeit in different centuries. We also share an interest in science, art, literature, the natural world, communication and the elements. Best known as the author of Faust and other literary classics, Goethe also produced an extensive body of work on geology, botany, zoology, colour theory, physics and meteorology. The elements of earth, air, fire and water are woven through his efforts to read the book of nature and understand the human condition. Great thinkers and writers like Darwin, Alexander von Humboldt, Hermann von Helmholtz, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau, Carl Jung and Rudolf Steiner were influenced by Goethe’s work. There is still much to be learnt from him today.
Since 2005, the last Sunday in September has been designated World Rivers Day. In 2015 it falls on September 27th, an occasion worth celebrating. Water is an element that is essential to life and rivers have a special place in cultures around the world. Called the arteries of our planet, they inspire creativity in all sorts of mediums. People love to paint, draw, photograph, film and worship them. Stories and songs about rivers and waterways abound. They are the source of parables, metaphors and lessons in life. What a wonderful day to share some of the river related material, both practical and philosophical, that has captured my attention as part of the elemental world.
‘Elemental ecology’ was coined in 1968 by Professor Bill Jackson, a Tasmanian academic. It was captured for prosperity in his scientific publication ‘Fire, air, water and earth – An elemental ecology of Tasmania.’ This time last year I was preparing a spoken paper for the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) conference that would revisit Bill’s concept. My first post on elemental ecology was written before the presentation, this one provides an update 12 months on.
Albert Einstein is the most famous Alumni of ETH Zurich, which is consistently ranked amongst the top Universities in the world. It is encouraging therefore that this illustrious institution ran a four semester course between Autumn 2012 and Spring 2014 on architecture and the elements – Earth, Water, Air and Fire. The Chair of the Department of Architecture, Professor Dr Josep Lluis Mateo, used this framework to examine how the elements connect the conceptual and physical in architecture. In doing so he wanted his students to think from the start about the structure and materials of the buildings they were designing.
On August 30th, 2005 the focus of the world was on New Orleans in Louisiana, USA after a category 4-5 Hurricane called Katrina unleashed its elemental power. Combined with a levy system that could not cope with the intensity and aftermath of the hurricane, Katrina was the most destructive storm to strike the United States and the costliest in U.S. history, causing over $100 billion in property damage. The human cost of the storm, which is not something that you can put a dollar figure on, is still playing itself out. Lessons on how to plan for and respond to extreme elements can be learnt from the experience of cities like New Orleans and other parts of the planet.
Each of us has a special place, or places, that we have a strong connection to. This “sense of place” is developed through personal and cultural experiences and knowledge of a particular area. The “elemental” landscape is an important part of these experiences, one that expresses itself on many scales – from the sun on your face, to the changing of the seasons or the impact of earthquakes or storms on a region.