The Order of Nature
An Essay by Melanie Scott, Editor and Journalist
From a distance, the components that make up the world we walk on – twigs, stones, fallen leaves, living plants, earth – appear to be random, representing the chaos of nature. Making order out of disorder is a human tendency: we seek to organize that which is, to our eyes, wild and untamed.
Drawing from the world beneath our feet, Barbara Brown arranges findings from nature, which offers a plethora of materials that are otherwise ignored, stepped on, discarded. This is not so much taming as it is appreciating each found object for its individual beauty. When combined with other objects, each maintaining their own textures and colours, their stark differences become more remarkable.
These are temporary works that occur in the moment. They can only happen within a specific timeframe in a specific place – the passing of even a day will alter the possibilities, as the elements ensure a constantly changing landscape.
Once collected and organized, the findings reveal the near perfection of the order of things. Symmetry is far from a human construct. A single leaf torn in half reveals that one side mirrors the other. Nature is comfortable in its own skin – its precision and logic – despite how we view it.
Creating permanency is also a human tendency. We construct objects so that they will inhabit our surroundings, and their solidity is proof of our existence and capability. Even as they begin to disintegrate, we want to restore them to their former glory, refusing to accept that everything has its time, and that time will come to an end. In the nature circles made by Barbara Brown, there is pleasure in realizing that nature gives birth then allows its progeny to die off. Rather than fear an ending, we should rejoice in the possibility of new beginnings. The beauty in the work is its temporality. What we see today will be gone tomorrow.
By capturing these events with a camera, Barbara Brown is recording her relationship with the earth and its bounty. Careful observation of what the earth yields can be overwhelming: where do you start? Which piece do you pick up first? And why? With so many objects to choose from, then deciding which will go with which, the act of creation is solitary, gentle, and surprising. There are no floor plans or tools; no architect or designer; there is definitely no permanency.
With this body of work, we are introduced to a side of nature we take for granted. It’s possible that some time, possibly soon, the earth will undergo cataclysmic change, forever altering our sense of place. We will be on a path to adaptation, one that we hadn’t counted on. But this isn’t anything new for nature: it has evolved as only nature can, by never remaining still.
Circular Time – Artist Statement
A walk in the garden or the forest becomes an occasion to sharpen one’s capacity to see. Seeing, touching, choosing, and arranging furthers learning and the imagination. I am a maker in the garden, engaged in the arranging of the details of the day.
My experience of working in a natural setting is to lose track of my point of view and loosen the grasp of the ego while fully engaged in the collaborative activity of collecting and arranging leaves, flowers, petals, and seed pods in a circular form. The French philosopher Simone Weil said “absolute unmixed attention is prayer.”
Perhaps my motivation in undertaking this work comes from a desire to better know my connection to, and place of belonging in the natural order of things. There is a great sense of discovery that results from collecting and arranging these moments of Circular Time. As I set out, typically just after sunrise, I never know what the resulting composition will be or what it will be made of. There is revelation and learning, all within the relatively well-known territory of the garden or a small corner of the forest.
The assemblages of Circular Time are intentionally temporary and ephemeral. The photographs document and capture the ephemeral nature of these assemblages before the wind and small animals have their way with the bits and pieces. Through the photographs I am able to share these constructions with others. As Stephen Jenkinson suggests, “When you know something will end, it sharpens your ability to be in the moments you have.”
The circle is said to be the first form a child draws. It is reminiscent of the planet we live on, and the sun and the moon. It is a form that exists in nature as well as human constructions. It is the energetic aspect of working in a circle that appeals to me. Circles are naturally organizing forms, and always reference the centre, even if the centre is obscured. It speaks to the human need to bring order and create patterns and offers a place of contemplation.
This work is what I think of as my collaboration with nature – it draws me in, engaging me in a practice. Weeding in the garden calls for a focus on what is not wanted and doesn’t belong, which is very different from how I approach the garden with the intent of art making. The experience is generative even in its destruction. There is a certain grief-soaked recognition that the leaves, branches, flowers, and other elements I choose to work with are hastened along to their death. There is a cost to my attention.
It’s not as if this work will fix climate change or redeem humanity, but the act of paying close attention may draw others in, and in some small way cause viewers to see and value the world more deeply.
Prints are unframed, unmounted and have a 2” white border, ready for framing
Circular Time images are available as 20 x 20” or 30 x 30” prints.
Technical Details: K3 Ultrachrome Pigment on Acid Free Cotton Rag Paper
For pricing and availability please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org