The DeLeon White Gallery

While Nils-Udo’s works from the ’70s included tree-branch constructions and delicate arrangements of flowers, leaves, moss, and snow in the form of nests, curves, lines, and spirals, more recently he has focused on massive installations that thematize ecological concerns. In 1994, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the introduction of corn into Europe, Nils-Udo created a living spiral comprising various corn species at the Château du Laàs in the Pyrenees. At the center of the spiral was an octagonal tower topped with original, non-hybrid species of Mayan corn, while sheaves of corn trailed to the ground on all sides. This was but one of the artist’s “regeneration” projects, most of which are constructed in abandoned urban sites and designed for perpetuity. These have included a commissioned project for a rest stop on the A29 autoroute in the Paris–Le Havre region; The Blue Flower: Landscape for Heinrich von Offerdingen, 1993–96, a craterlike mound near Munich whose closed gate contains an ecosystem generated by the artist; and Landscape with Lake, 1994–96, in Cottbus/Pritzen, Germany, built in Beuys-like collaboration with factory workers. In collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund, to encourage the protection of endangered flora and fauna and to protest the clearcutting of old-growth forests, Nils-Udo worked with musician Peter Gabriel in September on several outdoor installations near Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. A film of the installation will be broadcast as part of The Living Planet series.

Nils-Udo’s concern with ecological issues was again evident in this recent show of his work. Among the large-scale Cibachromes and documentary photos was an unsettling black and white image titled Willow, Fern Leaves, 1994. In one of Nils-Udo’s nest constructions, a boy lies exposed and covered in mud—an image of human fragility, social neglect, and nature’s sustenance. Nils-Udo’s combination of human subject matter with primitive structures recalls Dieter Appelt’s photographs, but the former’s social concepts are less sacrosanct and his intentions less heroic. Other works, such as Chestnut Leaf, Bell Flowers, 1986, and Crack in Lava, Flower Petals called “Fire Tongues,” 1990, are delicate and haiku-like, akin to Andy Goldsworthy’s purist aesthetic designs in nature.

For the recent show, Nils-Udo also created an environmental installation in nearby Clarence Square Park by simply uncovering the roots of a tree to a depth of two feet. The digging revealed an intricate interweave of broader exposed roots and the smaller tributary roots of the trees. The square “frame” that surrounded the piece, constructed from tree branches gathered in the park, was tilted upward at one end. The frame also echoed the borders of his photographs inside the gallery, as well as making literal our tendency to see nature as a subject somehow distinct from human culture.

John K. Grande