The Elusive Beauty of Allison Tyler
Land art, or Earth Art as it is sometimes called, was an art movement that emerged in the late 1960s into the 1970s that used the natural landscape to create site specific artworks designed to expand boundaries by the materials used and siting of the works. How these works were encountered by viewers was a central component to their deeper more metaphorical meaning. The art movement known as Land Art rejected the commercialization of art making, embracing in its place a burgeoning ecological movement. One of the most important elements to consider when looking at and discussing this kind of work is its impermanence, and the idea that transience, mutability and decomposition are central to our understanding of the world and our place in it. Where most art presumes immortality, fetishizing objects to an exalted status and placing them in galleries and museums throughout the world, Land Art speaks directly to the insubstantiality of life and our fragility as human beings. The way in which we encounter these works determines the essence of their meaning.
Artists like Robert Smithson, Ana Mendieta, Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Long, Nancy Holt, and Alice Aycock have spent decades intervening into the natural landscape slowly, poetically, incidentally, making small and seemingly insignificant gestures to alter the natural world. More often than not these interventions are not meant to last, but are temporary and largely experiential. In keeping with this traditional, Allison Tyler creates beautiful ephemera from tiny twigs and branches, constructing these elemental sculptures in the trunks of trees, on solitary logs and in places we as viewers might not think to look.
The other element that complicates Tyler’s work in really interesting ways is the fact that whether or not anyone encounters it at all appears tangential to the experience of creating it in the first place. The purpose for these fragile and elegant works is a momentary interruption into the natural order of things, yet that interruption is invariably benign and in many cases lovely. Tyler begins where nature leaves off. For example, in one small sculpture she threads twigs into the decaying trunk of a dying tree, creating a kind of lattice or tapestry of wood that we can peer through. The twigs are placed at precise intervals between the two ends of the tree trunk as though a colony of ants decided to build a ladder to the sun.
Again, the point to making this appears to be the act of intercepting the natural order of things, if only for a moment. Furthermore, looking at these works one has the sense that their existence is not insignificant despite the fact they vanish soon after they are made. Its brings to mind the famous philosophical thought experiment whereby if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it fall, does it make a sound? I think Tyler would argue that yes, it does make a sound because it’s not the tree’s falling that distinguishes it, but the fact the tree exists at all.
This is soTyler’s sculptures anticipate decay in the best possible way. Their simultaneous fragility and decomposition suggest our own human relationship to the natural world, and her attempt to intercede, to transform, if only for a moment, such a small and limited area be it a tree trunk or a leaf, mimics our all too human desire to control the world around us, or to believe that we have me text inside of a div block.