“The earth is what we all have in common.” -Wendell Berry
Using the arts in our daily walk bridges the gap across the things that separate us: time, distance, and privilege. Cultures across the world offer unique ways to daily and mindfully engage in making connections with one another and with our environment through the arts. Here, we discover how a small handful of global artists use found materials in mindful ways that reflect their environment, culture, and life experience. Create a few minutes of space in your day to consider how viewing these artworks affects you. Find effective questioning strategies for viewing these works of arts with students on AdvancingArtsLeadership.com.
Japanese-born installation artist Chiharu Shiota suspends everyday objects like shoes, keys, suitcases, paper, and furniture into immersive webs of thread as she confronts “fundamental human concerns like life, death, and relationships” by exploring human existence through various dimensions and materials.
Trained by renowned performance artist Marina Abramovic, Chiharu studied painting in art school “but by the second year I couldn’t paint anymore…I couldn’t connect my life to just painting. I stopped painting because I had lost my way and for a long while I didn’t know how to get back to creating. I then had a dream about being inside a two-dimensional painting and I began to think of possible ways to move inside the painting. I began exploring with thread and weaving soon gave me the opportunity to expand and I felt as if I was drawing in the air on a limitless space.”
Stepping into one of Chiharu Shiota’s vast, room-sized webs of threads is an all-encompassing experience “akin to entering another world, one rife with the haunted beauty of ghostly objects and half-forgotten narratives.”
The repetition of objects within her installations questions the meaning of tangible items: universally recognized items like chairs, paper, keys, and boats transcend human difference and serve as a reminder of the things we all recognize and hold in common. The fragility and deep Eastern symbolism of the red thread as a primary focus of many installations can offer a reminder of the impermanence of life, the deep interconnectedness of the human family, and the strength that comes when we weave our lives together, uniting to hold each other up.
Artist and biologist Fanni Sandor introduced the previously unknown practice of crafting-in-miniature to her home country of Hungary. At age six, she created her first sculpture out of toothpicks, candle wax, paper, and glue; in her twenties, she discovered miniature-making through the internet, and now professionally hand-sculpts anatomically correct animals from polymer clay and wire, then hand-paints the details. Each creature is made to a perfect 1:12 ratio using a variety of tools, chisels, and realistic extras like faux fur, feathers, moss, twigs for a nest, and the occasional slice of baguette.
Her work offers a poignant reminder that the smallest aspects of life, though sometimes overlooked or forgotten, are critical to the well-being of the most powerful and visible ones.
Welsh-born Jon Foreman is a land artist who travels the globe fashioning found rocks and other organic materials into mandala patterns containing an array of earth-toned hues. Jon explains more detail of this deliberate, mindful process: “The simple act of placing stone upon stone in the sand is very therapeutic…this process I find to be more immersive; being there in nature, losing myself in the work, having left behind all the stresses of day-to-day life.”
Like many things, Jon’s work is transitory and mostly unplanned. Each work takes approximately four hours to complete. Towards the end, he is often racing against the tide as the water gets closer, eventually reclaiming the materials in the installation back to their natural state. “I try to stay to see the work get erased and capture the moment of impact.” Other installations get blown away by the wind: “…the fact that it’s short-lived makes it more special to me.”
Jon’s work can serve as a reminder of the inherent beauty of ordinary things, the cyclical flow of nature, and the rhythmic momentum of time. His organic sculptures remind us that the art-making process can carry more meaning than the end result, and that spontaneity in creating can remove inhibitions and be a gateway to greater artistic freedom.
Our hope is that these artists, the context of their work, and the universality of the way we are all connected through the earth and its artistry inspire you to bridge the gaps—cultural, relational, or personal—in a way that deepens your connections to yourself and others.
A BYU ARTS Partnership editor, Nora Ballantyne is a New York native with a passion for art, pastries, kitchen dance parties, and books.