Article by Win Phyo Green Varnish, by Nomad Studio, in St. Louis, USA It is not unusual for art and landscape design to cross paths. Many artworks convey a powerful message in an abstract manner that can create a conflict of opinion, a source of discussion or a new perception. Landscape design can be used as a tool, or as a canvas, to deliver a message of some kind that can, in many ways, enhance the design. So, how would an example of art and landscape design translate in reality? Green Varnish by Nomad Studio is a site-specific green space, which is part an art installation and part social interpretation that has breathed new life into the 200m2 courtyard in Contemporary Art Museum (CAM), St. Louis. In fact, it is alive. Like turning a new page in a book, the living green carpet installation is curled up and hovering in the air- ready to take action. Nomad Studio is known for creating radical and innovative proposals that foster a dialogue between the user and the environment. This is no different.
The Outer Appearance
As you walk through the gallery space of CAM or have your coffee in the café, you will come across Green Varnish from the inside. Beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows and amongst the greys and whites of the concrete and gravel surfaces, it dominates the space and looks expansive.Stepping outside, you can see it standing in the courtyard, pushing users to the edge, inviting and provoking a feeling of being near nature. The café chairs placed on the edge add to this drama of expansiveness. The concrete wall that partially encloses the courtyard space has the phrase: “We live in denial within vanishing landscapes,” which makes you realise Green Varnish has a message to tell, but what exactly? Throughout the day, there is a poetic sequence created by sunlight, casting shadows over the architectural structures overhead, that animate the installation. This feeling of still movement creates some kind of uncertainty. The installation viewers at the outside become a part of the installation for those looking from the inside. The details of the installation are simple and elegant. It is made out of two elements: architectural poplar base and vegetated layer of sedum. There are approximately 16 varieties of 6,000 specimens of sedum. Sedum is a resilient perennial that is drought resistant and can tolerate hot summers. It requires little to no maintenance. It is not uncommon to have prefabricated planting for artistic installations and in this case, it was also grown off-site by contractor Sempergreen before getting it delivered on site. The installation is low enough for you to observe each succulent in detail, but you must resist the urge to hop onto the magic green carpet. The overall effect is simplicity and formal purity. The green breathes life into the concrete surrounding and evokes different sensations. In the physical sense, the installation satisfies our primal need to be in the natural surrounding. The use of the materials may suggest heaviness but the overall experience suggests lightness, bursting with energy and relaxed in manner, opening itself out in a questioning manner.
Beneath The Coat of Varnish- The Meaning Behind The Project
The project title, Green Varnish, gives us the clue to the underlying meaning of this project. To put varnish on a surface is to apply a glossy coat. In the same way, the installation covers the lifeless monotone courtyard with a green carpet.Coming back to the inscribed quote on the wall, Nomad Studio is making a gesture against society’s tendency, of human habit, to conceal the distressing facts about our deteriorating environment: “Deep inside the collective awareness, it is clear we need to overcome major changes in order to cope with climate change. Currently, our response is completely reactionary and we mainly express it in two different manners: pure rejection or some form of green shift that enables us to continue business as usual.” So, what is it about the collective societal behaviour that is bothering the designers? From example, because of varying changes in temperature and rainfall, our landscapes are failing to operate to their full capacity, and Nomad Studio comments that their ecological structures will naturally go under transition to a different landscape “in search of a new ecological order.” This is an organic process made up of interconnected natural systems and environmental services, that we depend upon, whose main function is to maintain life. However, in seeing this change, the human habit makes us react in ways of intensive restructuring that create cultural and territorial rigidity, inadaptability and fragmentation, opposite of the flexible and adaptable qualities that make up a resilient system. The need to control the uncontrollable or politically covering up the inconvenient facts with a false layer of beauty, such as the “greening trend”, will only make us lose perspective of our role in the larger system that we belong. In other words, human activities may be altering the natural regulations of the ecosystem to the point of no return.
The Second Part of The Dialogue
Green Varnish was de-constructed in September of this year but the conversation continues. As a part of a two-year commissioned project, Nomad Studio will install a second piece of the story- an installation named Green Air, in summer 2016. Green Air will occupy the same 200m2 courtyard, but will be the opposite of a floating green carpet. Instead, it will be a hanging garden made out of the same wood from Green Varnish with hanging air plants like Tillandsia, creating a different spatial experience altogether. This purposeful inversion is to make a statement that, what was hidden will become exposed. Could this mean Green Air proposes a more optimistic future or the point of no return? WATCH: Nomad Studio: Green Varnish
Green Varnish is a minimalistic artistic piece that, from the outer appearance, does not seem like it had such a deep layer of meaning. However, instinctively, one can see that it made a strong statement. Art, as always, is strongly subjective and we can be certain that all of you will have had different reactions to the piece itself or the deeper meanings. As an installation, do you like the way it was made? Do you agree with the statement Nomad Studio is making? Or is it another drama that is added to the art world? As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments below! Go to comments
Full Project Credits For Green Varnish
Project Name: Green Varnish Landscape Architect: Nomad Studio Location: Washington Avenue, St Louis, USA Area: 1150 ft2 Project Year: June-September 2015 Consultants: Iria Perez and Assoc., LIA Engineering Assembly Team: Collab – Portico, Green Roof Blocks Get Social with OSLO Urban Design and Landscape Environment: Website: www.thenomadstudio.net Twitter: www.twitter.com/thenomadstudio LinkedIN: www.linkedin.com/in/laura-santin-0aa56226 Instagram: www.instagram.com/thenomadstudio Recommended Reading:
- Becoming an Urban Planner: A Guide to Careers in Planning and Urban Design by Michael Bayer
- Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design With Nature by Douglas Farrs
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