Oct. 24, 2012 - Issue #888: Winter Guide 2012
Works by John Freeman
and Lyndal Osborne
College of Alberta
There is something magnificently friendly and approachable about temporary art installations that pop up unexpectedly in places where people live and work. Imagine being a student at Concordia University College rushing to your morning class down the same path you have crossed every day for months. Suddenly you are stopped dead in your tracks. Your once familiar, primly trimmed lawn has turned overnight into a field of billowing flowers. That magical sight is what John Freeman and Lyndal Osborne have created in their installation Flax Field put on by Art and Life.
Their field of flowers didn't grow up on stalks, but on 2000 rods of galvanized steel that weighs 300 lb when bundled up. The flexible rods are topped with polypropylene backed photographs of flowers—images that the artists took right in their yard. Freeman and Osborne who are both artistic and life partners live on an acreage where they wake up to the view of a gently swaying flax field. It's a sight they have grown to love for its delicate fragility symbolically compounded by the tenacious strength of this invasive plant.
The nature-born inspiration of the flax field is a difficult one to upstage. Beauty of nature is so profound that artists have long turned away from Aristotelian notions of art as imitation of nature with the artist as the apprentice and nature being the master craftsman. As many artists say, you simply can't compete with God. Freeman readily admits that the installation's esthetic goals are ambitious. "In order to compete with nature, you have to be excessive," he explains wryly.
It's vital for the success of artworks like the Flax Field to awe the viewer. The environment easily dwarfs outdoor art, but installations need the "Wow!" factor to succeed. It's a challenge that artists have taken to extreme lengths. For example, another artist couple, Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped whole islands with rubber tubes, or in a more recent project they proposed to cover six miles of the Arkansas River in Colorado with undulating fabric. While this takes outdoor installations to extremes, it emphasizes how hard it is to compete with nature.
The Flax Field clearly succeeds in creating impact with the Concordia University viewer. Cars are stopping. Students are sitting amidst the "flowers", and nearly everyone on campus smiles when they speak about the installation. But is it effective in the broad perspective of the awe inspiring outdoor installations genre? As I walked out into the field of flowers I wasn't so sure. It was hard not to notice that the scale was relatively modest.
Then something happened to change my first impression. As I walked amidst the flax field, sudden gusts of wind developed. The "flowers" bent to and fro in a rhythmic dance that subsided and returned. I was mesmerized. The wind blew even stronger. The field began to "sing"! Flower flags clacked and slapped against one another. A rustling, gently drumming crescendo and decrescendo enveloped the field. A musical composition created by wind. That was magic; outdoor musical art that stands its own with, not against, the beauty of nature. V vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
Vue respects your privacy. We will not forward your personal information to any other organization except as required by law, and will use your e-mail address only to respond to your comments. We reserve the right to edit and remove comments for length, clarity and/or if they are illegal or inappropriate. Your email address is never shown to visitors to vueweekly.com. Read the whole policy at: http://vueweekly.com/privacy