Environmental Artist Martin Hill Uses Local Materials to Deliver Sustainability & Meaning
“My photographs are all that remain of the sculptures.” Environmental artist and designer Martin Hill makes sculptures in nature that return to nature. His designs illuminate the idea of a new model of progress where the living world on which life relies is not destroyed. Using local materials running on renewable energy, waste is eliminated and multiple benefits and jobs are delivered. However, this new model of progress requires a different way of thinking. Hill believes art and design can activate this change.
Fifty years ago he began his design career, interested in the built environment and the design of industrial products. The unsustainable nature of design pushed him, twenty years ago, to make ephemeral sculptures to raise the issue of waste and environmental damage caused by poorly conceived design and manufacturing processes. “Our man-made world operates on a linear take-make-waste model, unlike nature which is cyclical,” explained Hill. He recognizes a problem in standard business thinking. Designs are conceived without properly considering their negative impact on the environment and people. Hill supports the cradle-to-cradle and blue economy, known as the circular economy, where new business models go beyond sustainability and become restorative for people and nature.
“There is not a general design ethic based on healthy values. This is not to say that good design does not exist, it does, but it has to fight business as usual in a free market economy that is fundamentally unfair and does not recognize the costs of environmental and social damage on its balance sheets,” continued Hill.
His handcrafted sculptures express simple, powerful and meaningful forms, reflecting nature’s operating principles. Upon finishing a design, he chooses the best natural lighting from the ideal angle and photographs it. Is Photoshop the next step? No. Not all of what is seen on a digital screen is digitally manipulated.
His ongoing project The Fine Line consists of twelve ephemeral sculptures made on high points linked by a line, the “circle of life.” In collaboration with freelance journalist and artist Philippa Jones, covering design, architecture and environmental issues, the project includes the use of creative materials and research to produce a tour exhibition, a documentary, a book and digital multi-media educational material. “The integrity of the living world has become so undermined that there is now a race between tipping points in nature and in our policy systems.” The underlying question considers whether an international will can be conceived to stabilize climate and population, eradicate poverty and restore ecosystems before it’s too late.
They exhibited in September 2014 at the PIP Pingyao Photography Festival and will be in Tokyo in October and Antarctica in December as selected artists in Antarctica New Zealand’s Program. They are on their tenth sculpture of the twelve and will make the last sculpture at Mt Ngauruhoe in New Zealand where they made the first one in 1995, completing the line encircling the Earth. They earned an award of excellence for the Watershed exhibition at Pingyao International photography festival, China in September where the work of 2100 photographers and fifty international shows were presented.
Other ephemeral designs were constructed in Japan, Africa, Madagascar, Australia, the United States and beyond.