Spotlight

Artist Story: Martin Hill & Philippa Jones

 

Martin Hill and Philippa Jones are an award winning creative duo who design internationally recognised land art. Hill’s photographs of their ephemeral sculptures have been exhibited in solo exhibitions across the world and are widely published and collected. They have been working on The Fine Line Project since 1995 which is  nearing its completion. This consists of 12 ephemeral sculptures made on high points connected by a line encircling the Earth. 

Their art displays great peace and poetry. The basic purpose of the work is to demonstrate the interconnectedness of nature and the wonder of its cyclical operating system. They address threatening questions about the future of the Earth’s ecology and climate through installations and images of great stillness and simplicity. The art is made from natural materials found at the site and soon return to nature to become a resource for new life. All that remains are Hill’s photographs. In this way the art is a metaphor for nature’s regenerative design.

With a growing understanding of the vulnerability of life on a planet so dangerously changed by human systems, the release of this series is timely. We chatted to Martin Hill about his passion for protecting the planet through symbolic and environmentally-friendly artistic creations.⁠..

Stone Circle, Lake Taupo, New Zealand. From £170 framed

You’ve been on an extraordinary adventure together, one that has endured. How have you shaped your partnership and your shared purpose over time?

Philippa and I met as climbers 25 years ago and quickly became life partners and collaborators sharing creative adventures together around the world. Philippa shared my vision and we began making the sculptures together in the wild natural places where we loved to visit and rock climb. 

What roles do each of you play in the partnership?

Our working practice has evolved as we share ideas and adventures together. Though we are different in many ways we work together intuitively. We work with what nature provides and respond to opportunities as they arise, which parallels the processes that occur in nature. 

Our partnership has made it possible for us to do many things together that each of us alone could not, especially travelling into wild places to make and document works on mountains. Being able to rely on each other in adverse circumstances has allowed us to achieve our goals.

Likewise we try to remember that we are part of nature not apart from nature. We try to make our life decisions and our art express a story of belonging to the earth that gives us life and therefore must be restored for future life.

When did you begin making photographs? 

I have been taking photographs since I was about ten years old. My father was an amateur photographer. He made some of his own equipment and used to convert the bathroom into a temporary darkroom at night to make prints. I found the process fascinating. 

I studied design at art school and built a career in design, first in London and later in New Zealand. However, in 1992, I set about “redesigning” my life and working practice. I wanted to use photography as an art form through which to communicate my deep convictions about the importance of ecologically and socially sustainable design.

How did the process of making and photographing environmental sculptures begin? 

As a designer, I developed a holistic systems perspective. I came to understand that faulty design was what was causing social and ecological instability. So, I decided to use my "design thinking" to address this problem and its potential solution. The work is a way to examine the difference between destructive linear human systems and Nature’s restorative cyclical systems.

I began experimenting by making ephemeral sculptures in nature that returned to the Earth, thereby mimicking natural systems that operate without creating waste. Everything dies and becomes food or energy for something else. I use universal symbols to enhance these ideas.

What kind of symbols have you developed? 

There have been several symbolic forms used in the sculptures over the years. The predominant one being the circle because it is so strong physically and visually and has universal meaning of the "circle of life." 

Also the sphere and disc and in some cases a semicircle completed by its reflection in water, are used to represent the earth. For example, Ice Circle was made late one winter’s day when ice on a pond was thick enough to cut and use to make a disc which was propped in the shallow edge of the lake. The still evening air calmed the water, reflecting the half disc perfectly, completing the circle. The prismatic colouration in the ice arose from the low angle of the sun at the time so that the light was refracted in the ice.

Where do your ideas come from?

In some cases the inspiration is a location or it might be the material we discover. The creative resolution is the result of exploring the properties of the materials and experimenting with them. Through the combination of the conditions prevailing in an environment and the materials found there, the idea itself is actually within the interconnection of these elements.

 

Synergy, from £170 framed

What are you aiming to achieve in your art?

The biggest challenge is to achieve the level of communication I am aiming for by using visual metaphors. Art is my language and I feel compelled to express my strong belief that humans are at a watershed where we now have to redesign our operating principles to align with natural systems or head down the path we are on to extinction. By making images that capture the imagination I hope to convey my feelings and ideas about a potential regenerative future. 

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