Using natural and recycled materials


This paper was prepared by Lisa Terreni.


Lisa Terreni is a lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington College of Education. She currently co-coordinates two Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood) papers, which focus on young children’s written, oral and visual literacy. She is also a practicing artist.

Creating environmentally friendly 'ephemeral' art

Using Recycled Materials - Lisa's Necklace.

Necklace by Lisa Terreni. Made from grass, earth and the figs and leaves of a Moreton Bay fig tree. Anaura Bay Campsite, 2009.

Have you ever been to the beach, made a sandcastle or sand sculpture and then watched the tide wash it away? Or made a pattern on the ground using leaves, interesting pieces of bark or lichen and then left it for nature to reclaim? These creations are 'ephemeral' which means they are temporary and will last only for a short period of time. Eventually they will disappear.

Some forms of visual art are ephemeral. Like the activities described above, ephemeral art is often made with materials that are at hand and left in the environment where the work was created. Because an original ephemeral art work is not collectable, photographs are used to capture the essence and nature of such creations.

Increasingly, artists are working in an ephemeral way. Andy Goldsworthy, a popular British artist has become world renowned for his striking ephemeral pieces created in the landscape. Canadian artist, Nicole Dextras uses similar techniques to Goldsworthy but includes ice, old clothing, grasses and leaves in her work, which melt, crack, rot, and finally disintegrate. As an artist myself I regularly create ephemeral art work, particularly when I am on holiday and spending time outdoors. I find ephemeral art-making deeply satisfying, not only creatively but also spiritually because it seems to connect me to the pulse of the landscape and the heartbeat of Papatuanuku1.Through creating work with natural materials I have also become conscious of environmental issues2, and more careful about removing natural resources from the environment.

1 In Māori (the indigenous people of New Zealand) mythology Papatuanuku, the land, is also a powerful mother earth figure that is believed to have given birth to all things, including humankind, and provides the physical and spiritual basis for life. See the Te Ara website for more information.

2 Grande, J, K. (2004). Art nature dialogues: Interviews with environmental artists. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Last updated: 15 May 2013