Stage 6 – Initial Research

I initially though that answering this question would break down into two sections:

  • Making an environment
  • Representing an environment

Making an environment would cover bringing elements of the outside into a gallery to make a new environment, or creating imaginary landscapes. These would be less concerned with any accuracy towards an actual location and more about the experience.

Representing an environment would be more concerned with depicting specific real locations, not necessarily in accurate detail, but in their essence.

These two areas were then researched.



A number of artists import natural materials into the gallery environment to blur the lines between outside and inside.

An early example of this is Walter de Maria’s, ‘The New York Earth Room, 1977’ (Foundation, 2017). Here Maria imported 197 cubic meters of earth and spread it evenly over the floor of a white walled gallery space. Although using a natural material, it is kept free of vegetation so it is displayed as a barren landscape. Although hard to assess purely from a photograph, I imagine it has a sense of calm and scent of the outdoors.

Heather Ackroyd and Dan Harvey’s ‘Dilston Grove, 2003′(Ackroyd & Harvey, 2017) is another example. Here they covered the walls of an abandoned church with a clay/seed mix and grew grass on the walls to create an enveloping green space. This work is more concerned with the life of the grass and it’s contrast with the decaying space it occupies.

Finally, Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Riverbed, 2014’ (, 2017) is a very ambitious project to import a stream into a gallery environment. Again, this is a barren environment devoid of vegetation, but given life by the movement of water through the work. This piece invites more interaction that purely observation with the visitors having an impact on the work as they pass through it, or actively interact with it.

None of these works attempt to depict a real world environment, they focus more on the interaction between inside and outside and raising questions about man-made and natural environments.


Working on a smaller scale allows the depiction of real or imagined landscapes in a realistic or abstract way.

Jorge Mayet creates miniaturized landscapes (My Modern Met, 2017) which float in the air as if they have been ripped or blown off the surface. I like the playfulness evident in this work, although the realistic depiction of the landscapes would wear thin if I was making them all the time.

Mariele Neudecker’s ‘Stolen Sunsets, 1996’ (Collins, 2014) are landscapes created from resin and encased in glass tanks. These appear like fantasy landscapes, despite often being based on German Romantic paintings (and therefore presumably real locations, so a mix of making and representing).

Like me, Neudecker has an interest in mapping and combining art and science. The works she creates are based on romantic paintings where the artist (Friedrich) has adapted the landscape to suit what he wanted to show. She then recreates these landscapes in detailed 3D and immerses them in tanks with dyes and salts which react over time to create different atmospheres, simulating the effects of fog or sunsets on the scenes. Another example of science meets art which appeals to my background.

The work also references the history of her country and the evil of Nazism. This is sometimes referenced in the titles – ‘Stolen Sunsets’ references a remark by Hans-Jürgen Syperburg in a 1977 film – ‘Hitler stole our sunsets’ (Blayney Brown, Daniel-McElroy and Young, 2004) or by portraying eerie, decaying forest landscapes.

Neudecker also makes work referencing environmental issues such as ‘There is Always Something More Important (Iceberg), 2014’, a cross section of an iceberg which was made in a project looking at the effects of man on the environment (Cressey, 2013). The use of sculpture to reference these issues is a developmental idea I am playing with at the moment with my map tiles series, something which is close to my heart and I hope will offer many ideas for developing my work.

Fractured map tile 2

‘Fractured map tile, 2017’, Butler, Mark

Ben Young creates similar, but imaginary scenes (Cochrane, 2015), combining laminated layers of float glass to represent the sea, with concrete and small bronze elements. His landscapes do not appear to be of specific locations, but try to capture the essence of the ocean. I find his work interesting, but in many cases they appear (from a photograph at least) to be a bit sterile. I think this is possibly due to the use of clear glass?

In creating imaginary landscapes, I am very taken by the work of Charles Simonds (, 2017 & Collins, 2014). His detailed constructions of buildings for imaginary people look fascinating and fit neatly with my residency work, and pieces like ‘Ruined Blossoms, 2011’ also fit with the direction I am thinking of taking my map tiles.

Residency no9 Residency no10 Residency no11

‘Residency No.9, 2017’, ‘Residency No.10, 2017’, ‘Residency No.11, 2017’. Butler, Mark

Map tile with found items

Map tile development sketch

Some of Lee Bontecou’s sculptures (Salvo et al., 2008) create similar imaginary landscapes with buildings, in her case, ones that look more like alien worlds.

Looking at the work of these artists, I think the imaginary small-scale landscapes work the best for me. I think these do bring a sense of place into a gallery environment, although it is a place from the mind of the sculptors.


Richard Long makes land art and then brings it into the gallery through the medium of photography in recording his interventions, he also brings sticks, stones and mud into the gallery to duplicate his work both in the environment and in the gallery (Long, 2009). He is representing his intervention on a natural environment in a gallery environment, but it can hardly be said to evoke a sense of the place they were taken from.

David Smith’s ‘Hudson River Landscape, 1951’ is not based on a specific location, but a landscape seen from a train (Pachner and Smith, 2013). This piece is as close as sculpture gets to a drawing, as if a thick ink line has been picked up off a page and stood upright. With its abstract nature, it is evocative of the landscape he saw, but could be about any similar location.

Robert Smithson’s non-sites are an abstract representation of an actual site (Robert Smithson : The Collected Writings, 1996). Whilst they may represent an actual site, I doubt they evoke a sense of the place itself.

The work of Yutaka Sone is interesting. He uses aerial photographs of motorway junctions to create accurate models of them which he then has carved in marble. These pieces (apparently) reference the way we view the landscape in a car-centric world (Los Angeles: Yutaka Sone: MOCA at The Geffen Contemporary, 2004), but they don’t do that for me, they might as well be an engineer’s model of the road system. I think this is the trap I fell into when making my map tiles, of relying too much on accuracy (or as my tutor put it, the ‘baggage of ordnance survey’). As a detailed and accurate model, they show no imagination in their construction which, combined with the fact that the carving was shipped out to China and they are therefore not an expression of craftsmanship of the artist, add up to provide little of merit in my eyes.

The Boyle Family have a similar emphasis on accuracy and from comment in an exhibition review (Boyle Family – Delaye/Saltoun, 2008), it appears that these re-constructions have a love/hate relationship from viewers. Boyle said in 1966 ‘I have tried to cut out of my work, any hint of originality…’ (Whitfield, 2003) . Surely, originality is the cornerstone of art? In some of their other works, originality is in evidence (their assemblages for instance), but in their random earth series, the detailed replication of the surface of randomly selected sections of land, it is all about duplication and it can be said that originality is absent. Their aim is to capture reality and it would seem that these works succeed in this regard. As art works though, I am not sure of their merit. I am sure many of them are beautiful, because the surface of the earth is beautiful, however, I look for creativity in my art work. As well as replicate the surface of the land, they also record data about the sites – acting much more like scientists in this regard.

In some ways their work is similar to my map tiles when I produced some with close attention to accurate depiction of the landscapes.

Grimwith 3

Detail from ‘Grimwith, 2017’, Butler, Mark


Collins, J. (2014). Sculpture today. London: Phaidon.

My Modern Met. (2017). Miniaturized Landscapes by Jorge Mayet Appear to Float in Mid-Air. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 Jun. 2017].

Foundation, D. (2017). Dia | Visit | Walter De Maria, The New York Earth Room. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jun. 2017].

Ackroyd & Harvey. (2017). Dilston Grove. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jun. 2017]. (2017). Riverbed • Exhibition • Studio Olafur Eliasson. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jun. 2017].

Secher, B. (2017). Riverbed by Olafur Eliasson, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jun. 2017].

Blayney Brown, D., Daniel-McElroy, S. and Young, D. (2004). Mariele Neudecker: Over and Over, Again and Again. St Ives: Tate.

Cressey, D. (2013). Arts: Framing change. Nature, 497(7448), pp.187-187.

Cochrane, G. (2015). Ben Young: Floating. Craft Arts International, (95), pp.16-19. (2017). Charles Simonds. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jun. 2017].

Salvo, D., Hadler, M., Judd, D., Smith, E. and Storr, R. (2008). Lee Bontecou: A Retrospective. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Long, R. (2009). Richard Long – Heaven and Earth. London: Tate Publishing.

Pachner, J. and Smith, D. (2013). David Smith. London: Phaidon.

Robert Smithson : The Collected Writings. (1996). University of California Press.

Los Angeles: Yutaka Sone: MOCA at The Geffen Contemporary. (2004). Sculpture, 23(1), pp.72-73.

Boyle Family – Delaye/Saltoun. (2008). Modern Painters, (September), p.115.

Boyle Family: Journey to the Surface of the Earth. (2004). Modern Painters, (December).

Whitfield, S. (2003). Boyle Family. Edinburgh. The Burlington Magazine, 145(1207), pp.736-738.

This entry was posted in Part 6. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *