Ephemeral Arts Festival sparks creative freedom, environmentalism

Geneseo’s second annual Ephemeral Arts Festival continued on Saturday Oct. 22, as students gathered in the Roemer Arboretum to “let nature be [their] canvas.” A collaborative effort between the college’s Office of Sustainability, Nature Walk Club and Art Club, the festival aimed to bring artistic creativity back to the campus through an environmental lens. For the festival’s main event, students were invited to create pieces using any materials found within the arboretum.

The only rule was to avoid “research, restoration efforts or aesthetic value,” which were marked by blue flags, boards and protective cones. Photographers were available on hand to snap pictures of the completed projects, which are going to be exhibited at Cricket’s Coffee Company starting Thursday Oct. 27.

The project was partly inspired by sculptor and photographer Andy Goldsworthy and earth art of the 1970s, which is the slight modification and manipulation of natural landscapes for artistic purposes. Goldsworthy is famous for creating ephemeral pieces—pieces that are not meant to last forever, but to degrade over time. Armed with only a camera, Goldsworthy snapped photos of his work, effectively stopping time and documenting the natural materials in exactly that moment.

That being said, Director of Sustainability Dan DeZarn expressed that his hope was for student participants not only mimic Goldsworthy’s style, but also to create their own processes of creating earth art. Last year’s festival was fruitful, as students wove together wreaths and constructed sculptures out of sticks by placing leaves into beautifully colorful arrangements.

Geography major senior Sarah Kowalski—who is currently an intern at the Office of Sustainability and a past participant of the festival—remarked how fascinating it is to see how the pieces change over time. “You know that humans had something to do with it, but you don’t know the exact purpose,” Kowalski said.

In fact, one of the pieces—a wreath created by DeZarn—is still hanging in its spot on a tree branch.

As a campus that is more academically oriented—especially after the demise of the Studio Art major in 2014—it’s tough to find time to appreciate both the arts and our natural environment. Participating in the Ephemeral Arts Festival—or even finding time to simply walk through the Arboretum and creating earth art on your own—is both humbling and freeing in one of the best ways.

The process of creating earth art forces you to focus on your surroundings and to notice even the smallest of details. The rough dirt peeking through thousands of tiny bright yellow leaves, the delicate meandering veins on maple leaves and webs of thin branches all becoming visible allow participants to leave the stress of schoolwork behind and to see a bigger picture.  In a way, it ensures you that everything will be all right, the world will keep turning and the leaves will keep falling each year—even if you’re personally in a vastly different place.

With its ability to be simply beautiful, amazingly intricate or anything in between, earth art gives you a peculiar feeling of being at one with nature, while also having total control over it, as it makes you aware of your human status. It’s extremely rare that any other process of art evokes such a feeling, and it’s all thanks to those involved in the production of the Ephemeral Arts Festival that Geneseo students have such an opportunity.