About the Nature-Based Sculpture Program
The South Carolina Botanical Garden features one of the largest collections of nature-based sculptures in the country. The extended-ephemeral pieces were each designed on-site by international artists and built by local volunteers and students within one month. Upon completion, the pieces begin to return to nature, so while many may still be found in the Garden, others have disappeared without a trace.
Participating artists recommend respected peers based on their body-of-work and compatibility with the vision of the Garden's sculpture program. From these recommendations, an interdisciplinary collaborative considers how each artist might impact the program's vision, cultural diversity, academic interest and community interest. From these discussions, the artist who is considered to offer the most appropriate creative influence at that time is extended an invitation.
Contact information is available on the individual artists' pages.
Each artist selects a site from various landscapes and habitats throughout the Garden. Once a site is selected, most artists design a work based on their impressions of the site. Occasionally, an artist will find a site that lends itself to preexisting designs they have had for which they have never found an appropriate site. In both cases, the installation is generated as a result of the relationship between the site and the artist's vision. Therefore, the design is intended specifically for the selected site. As such, the installation is typically referred to as a "site-specific sculpture." Site-specific distinguishes this type of creative endeavor from the more typical sculptural works that are designed with no specific spatial context in mind, created in the studio and placed in either an indoor or outdoor location. Such works can be sold and relocated. Site-specific works must remain on the original site.
Nature-based denotes that the sculptures are created from natural materials. Some artists choose to only work with materials collected from or near the site. Some artists prefer to work with material that are indigenous to the region. Others elect to use any natural materials. And, of course, some prefer to blend these elements.
Ephemeral means short-lived or fleeting. Consequently, ephemeral art is not permanent and suggests that its existence is dependent on the effects of time. Typically, ephemeral artworks are constructed for the hours, days or weeks of a particular art show. Longer-lived ephemeral sculptures may include documenting the degradation over time from the effects of weather and other physical impacts. In all ephemeral circumstances, the degenerative processes witnessed over time are acknowledged.
Extended-ephemeral is a term adopted specifically to distinguish works that, while impermanent, are intended to have a longer lifespan than traditional nature-based pieces. At the South Carolina Botanical Garden, this is accomplished by working with artists who specialize in, or who are willing to work with, durable materials (e.g. rock, rammed earth, soil placement, etc.) and/or by incorporating living plant materials (trees, shrubs, vines, etc.) into the design. Also, the Garden's horticultural staff assists artists in selecting plant materials that will accomplish the intent. In this context, the extended-ephemeral concept allows the sculpture to evolve as the selected plant materials grow and the degradable elements decline. This creates a unique opportunity for the artist to envision not only an original sculptural design but to also envision the eventual outcome based on familiarity of the growth-habit of the selected plant materials. As such, the ephemeral aspects of nature-based works are extended for years or decades by cultivating a 'living proposition' of that which the artist originally intended.
The final defining characteristic of the South Carolina Botanical Garden's sculpture program is that it intends to create spaces, as well as objects. Allowing the viewer to experience the sculpture by entering its space allows the viewer to become an integral part of the work. As such, the meaning and/or purpose of each piece is determined by the individuals experience. The term chosen to denote ascribing meaning or purpose through one's experience of an object through intimate connection with its space is 'experiential.'
Directions to The South Carolina Botanical Garden are available here. While visiting the Garden, maps locating many of the sculpture sites can be obtained at the kiosk near the Cadet Life Garden and at the Fran Hanson Visitor's Center.
While it may be easier to find the pieces if they were clearly marked, the sculpture program does not intend to present works in a traditional 'quick find' gallery fashion. As a 295-acre public garden with approximately half of its acreage designated as a nature preserve, the majority of participating artists and program administrators agree that the sculptures should be discovered or, rather, "happened upon" to accentuate their presentation in a natural setting. Consequently, there are no signs to guide one to a sculpture site. Locating sculptures must be done either with a pioneering spirit, with the assistance of a map or by scheduling a tour. Lastly, since each individual's experience of a work ascribes its meaning or purpose, there is no need for interpreting the artist's intent. The only commentary offered is the artists' statements located on the artists' webpages.
The Garden staff collaborates with community volunteers to maintain the original intent of each sculpture throughout its lifespan. Most natural elements of a work degrade relatively slowly. Such decline is most often accepted as a natural part of the work's maturation. By far, human impact is the most significant maintenance issue.
As a public garden, many people visit each day and human impact is accumulative. When visiting the sculpture sites, please keep in mind that it is the sculptural space that is intended to be visited. It is important that these original creative works be honored and respected by not climbing on the structures.
Every consideration is given to sustain as much of the original sculpture and the artist's original vision as possible. Program administrators consult with the creating artist when any major decision needs to be made concerning the future of a work. In some cases, works are altered to bolster longevity. In others, they are allowed to naturally decay and return to the earth without interruption. On occasions, major elements of a sculpture are removed when the natural integrity is lost. If the various elements decline and grow with timely integration, the plant materials will evolve into a sustainable 'living impression' of the artist's original proposition. However, sometimes element integration is not timely. At such junctures, it is necessary to determine whether or not the remaining elements can be nurtured to recovery or whether they can no longer sustain the artist's original vision. When the latter is determined, the remaining elements will either be removed or left as a possible foundation for a future artist.
The idea originated with Program Facilitator, Ernie Denny. One night he had a dream about people interacting with sculptures instead of observing them from a distance. When he shared his vision with Botanical Garden Director, Dr. John Kelly, the seed that has become the Nature-Based Sculpture Program was planted. While Dr. Kelly supported the concept, there were no dollars to hire a staff. Consequently, interested horticulturists, educators, administrators and artists—all of whom had other full-time responsibilities—came together to implement the program.
Extending the ephemeral nature of sculptures composed of impermanent materials was primarily a practical decision. Since artist and installation fees are the same regardless of the lifespan of the piece, the longer the sculpture "lives" the more economical it becomes. Further, an extended lifespan allows more Garden visitors to experience each sculpture.