Studio  April 18, 2024  Abby Andrulitis

Nils-Udo, Nests, and Immersive Environmental Art

Wikimedia Commons - Patrick Hirlehey

Earth Art by Nils-Udo. License  

With Earth Day approaching, it feels appropriate to bring the concept of environmental art back to the forefront of conversation. Environmental art, also referred to as land art, Earth art, and Earthworks, surged in the early 1960s as an outlet for artists to bring a heightened sense of awareness to the impact humans have on the environment. Although nature has long been used as inspiration for art, environmental art shifts the audience’s focus from admiration to advocacy.

Land art strays from other art forms in that it is mostly composed of natural materials and is typically put on display in a remote, outdoor location. The idea behind this is to engage viewers in an immersive experience away from urban settings, in hopes of highlighting our deeply rooted (pun intended) connection to the Earth.

Wikimedia Commons - Claude Lebus

1993 Black and White Portrait of Nils-Udo, Claude Lebus. License.

However, environmental art can be quite the double-edged sword. The works are often deconstructed after some time, and with their location generally far from civilization, some may deem it inaccessible. This inaccessibility thus diminishes its impact. To combat this, many artists utilize photography to capture the essence of their work and display it in galleries. Nils-Udo, a German artist born in 1937, was one of the first to foster this balance between environmental art and his camera. 

Starting out as a painter, Udo quickly transitioned to working in, and with, the natural elements as a way to emphasize the connection between Earth and its people. Udo’s artworks are usually centered around a specific landscape and integrate raw materials with those of synthetic quality as well. 

The creation of nests is a leading force in Udo’s wheelhouse, as they symbolize finding a home and comfort in the Earth. In 1978, Udo constructed one of his first larger-scale pieces of environmental art, “The Nest”, in a heavily-wooded area in Germany. It was built out of birch trees, rocks, and stones, and was eventually photographed by Udo to be put on display.

Having built up quite the reputation as an environmental artist, in the year 2000, Udo was contacted by singer songwriter Peter Gabriel to create the cover art for Gabriel's album, OVO. Of course, Udo constructed yet another nest. With the end goal of an album cover in mind, the nesting materials were supported by tree trunks and set afloat in a pond, with a child lying down in the middle. Udo captured its finality on camera while standing on a bridge above the structure. The nest was later moved to Gabriel’s personal garden for decoration, but his gardener set it on fire, unaware of its purpose or significance. Udo has since stated that this act did not upset him, since his artwork is meant to be transient, just as nature is. 

About the Author

Abby Andrulitis

Abby Andrulitis is a New England-based writer and the Assistant Editor for Art & Object. She holds her MFA in Screenwriting from Boston University. 

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