What is the definition of environmental art? The simplest, shortest explanation is that it is art that addresses environmental or ecological concerns. Historically, environmental art grew out of a movement that began in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Europe and the United States. Many artists with a sensibility to nature were turning away from the confines of the museum show and away from art as a commodity. Sales and formal exhibitions were seen as deterrents to expressing a pure artistic relationship with, and responsibility to, the environment.
Vermont artist and stonemason Thea Alvin was approached two years ago by the Center of Wonder Project to create an ephemeral and environmentally sustainable work on the Snake River outside of Jackson, Wyoming. She was invited to conceptualize, design, and complete this work – the only caveats were that it be completed in four days, she use only materials found on site, and she cause no harm to the environment.
The Center of Wonder had designated a section of river that passed close by U.S. Route 89 – a road travelled by millions of visitors to Grand Teton National Park each year. The high visibility was an important aspect of the project. The intent was that this visual statement would reach as many people as possible and spark ideas and discussions about our relationship with nature.
Alvin is known internationally as an innovative stonemason, an environmentally sensitive practitioner, and a hard worker. Stone is her language; in fact, she often refers to her work as “poems in stone.” This particular poem in the Snake River lasted for about six months. Anticipated floodwaters came through, and the patterns were reconfigured by the natural forces. Like a sand mandala, Snake River Spiral celebrates the transitory nature of life.