Friday, 20 November 2015

Iron Tree

If this be magic, let it be an art/Lawful as eating

“Art” is a curious thing. When teaching General Studies I remember asking students to identify as many different branches of the arts as they could. We usually came up with a list that included painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, photography, film production, architecture, literature (poetry, drama and prose), music, dance, performance art and multi-media art. Do computer games count as art? Software programmes? Interior design? Furniture-making? Where does “craft” end and “art” begin? The Arts and Crafts movement (c1880 – c1920) suggested the distinction was unhelpful and I currently agree. If there is an aesthetic quality to something that has been made by a human, then I think it can be considered art if there is someone willing to look at it with some level of concentration.

The art itself is nature

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a wonderful place to see works of art, surrounded by nature, sometimes pretending to be nature. It is easy to walk past everything there passively seeing but not thinking. But I love to engage my brain with questions. What does it remind me of? What does it make me think? What does it make me feel? What did the artist intend? How precise is it in construction, shape or colour? What are the proportions of the object or the space around it? What are the textures of the piece? What is its mood? How was it made? How long will it last? Will everyone feel the same about it? Will its meaning change over time?

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei’s Iron Tree is one of my favourite sculptures at the park. The prominent nuts and bolts suggest (to me) industry and history. I like to think the interconnected pieces relate to world harmony, working together and my favourite motto (from EM Forster’s Howard’s End) – Only Connect. I’ve read that Weiwei was inspired to creat the sculpture by the street vendors who sold wood in southern China. But at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park I can’t help feel that the setting of the Iron Tree inside a chapel garden reflects spiritual rather than commercial ideas. It reminds me of the Stark’s Godswood in Game of Thrones.