i strongly suspect that mankind has now eclipsed nature.
with that thought in mind i entered the victoria and albert museum in london which is filled with vast representations and collections of creations from around the world.
i can fully appreciate that there are many visitors who want to learn more about art and design history, but i wasn’t prepared for the challenge i faced to accomplish exactly that. After what seemed like negotiating a riotous crowd at a football match in the asian section, and snaking through a creche of prammed families to see the sculptures, i eventually arrive at a most intriguing piece (not peace), for even here there was none to be found.
museum visitors on an average spend their entire time drifting from artwork to artwork with as much interest as in next week’s tv-guide. at most they feign interest in something deemed a masterpiece of which they might have some vague recollection or they’re merely tipped of by the size of the crowd jostling to take a photograph. others do a point-in-passing as if to affirm their knowledge of art, by which they merely have to glance at a piece to proclaim its provenance. sometimes one can catch a glimmer in the eye of a beholder that may testify to their true interest.
‘do you know louis comfort tiffany?’ a squat visitor asked. the question or the reason for asking it escaped me since what we were looking at was a recent acquisition by the museum; exhale bionic chandelier by julian melchiorri - a pleasing composition of tubes and leaflike modules filled with algae, which grows on carbon dioxide, photosynthesises and releases oxygen all whilst also providing light. i saw her again later, queueing at the pastry counter of the museum cafe, eyes bright.
at which point did we cease to use nature and started abusing it? when did our relationship change? surely not in antiquity, not even in the middle ages when nature was still respected as a partner to existence. perhaps it was during the industrial revolution, perhaps at the great exhibition of 1851? perhaps it doesn’t matter which invention or intervention caused it. i believe it is by our own ignorance that we are now forced to re-recognise our inter-dependency on nature and i’ll be happy not to only see such enlightening celebrations of symbiosis in a museum.
dale chihuly’s work contains a different acknowledgement of nature’s chaotic order, one which he uses with great success in his large glass sculptures. besides the obvious fragility connection, his work emphasises our emphatic connection with nature; more than beauty, his sculptural forms points to our commonality as organic beings. this was vividly clear in a particular exhibit at kew garden’s waterlily house. the glasshouse irony not withstanding, the work enhances the experience of the natural, one looks closer at the one because of the other; the lotus capturing the light and chihuly’s glass reflecting it in a moving synergetic metaphor.
to me both of these pieces may be beautiful examples of our sensitivity towards nature but also a subtle reminder of our responsibility. as john berger said: ‘the attraction of the eye to light, the attraction of the organism to light as a source of energy, is basic.’