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Beg, borrow and reclaim: sustainable materials in sculpture

In this article, Dr Maddie Boden discusses sustainable materials sculptors use in their work.
A photograph of Sandworm by Marco Casagrande in Belgium. Sea in background.
© University of York

In the last article, we heard several sculptors call attention to the impact of climate change.

Many of these environmentally-conscious artists use sustainable materials in their work. These include second-hand items, biodegradable materials that can break down back into the earth or organic materials which don’t require any manufacturing processes such as leaves and dirt.

At this point, we’ve travelled the globe to find examples of Environmental Art. It might feel like we’re quite far from the University of York campus and its sculpture. However, think back to our discussion of the materials of modern sculpture.

Many of the campus sculptures are made from man-made materials such as concrete or steel – during their creation used energy-consuming processes to such as bronze casting or welding. Up until the late twentieth century, most modern sculptors did not consider the environmental impact of the materials they worked with. We read Barbara Hepworth’s poetic thoughts about the importance of the Yorkshire landscape, but she never considered that it could be threatened by a fracking site.

In the last activity, we looked at Aspiration by Bill Hodgson. Aspiration is made from two dead oak trees that had been rotting near the Quiet Place for some time. Hodgson described the project as an opportunity to create

“A sculpture from the remains of this lovely oak tree is intended to perpetuate its lifespan.”

This is an example of a sustainable material used in sculpture. The meaning of the work, which reflects on the immediate scenery and waterfowl, is also enhanced by the material which comes from the immediate environment and won’t have a negative impact on it.

Take a look through this article which lists a range of sculptures made from sustainable materials. Which unusual material surprised or interested you the most? Can you think of any other second-hand, biodegradable or organic materials that could be used for making sculpture?

© University of York
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Modern Sculpture: An Introduction to Art History

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