From an interview with Italian Elle magazine 2003
How challenging is it to make the sculptures?
Martin: The trips we make to create sculptures are all adventures if you understand adventure to mean that we set out without having a known outcome. There isn’t always danger or risk involved… although there is the danger of failure of course and that’s as it should be, because every failure brings with it a lesson, whether it’s learning about the limits of the materials we’re using or the conditions, like weather, in which we’re working. This latter is one of the main considerations, working with the elements, not against them.
Philippa: Like checking the tides, which way the sun goes down, and when – that kind of thing. Learning what we can do with different materials is like developing a repertoire. Recently we moved to Wanaka in the far south of New Zealand and in winter snow and ice have become readily accessible.
Do you both work on the sculptures?
Martin: We both contribute to the creation of the sculptures. Philippa’s contribution takes many forms, sometimes she finds the practical way to make something, other times she takes more of a support role. But fundamentally I take responsibility for the art and the photography. We talk about the work a lot and make decisions together about where it’s leading us to. It’s very rewarding to work together in this way.
Philippa: I’ve found it a very creative experience working together, and it calls on my practical skills in a satisfying way. It’s also taken me to parts of the world I never dreamed of going to, like remote places in Madagascar where we climbed the extraordinary granite domes and walked to villages that are rarely visited. Travelling with all the camera and climbing equipment we need is quite challenging but sleeping in a tent and cooking our own food outdoors is not hardship, it’s what we enjoy.
Which natural element do you most like to work with?
Martin: The element I particularly like to work with is water, and it’s present in most of the work in one form or another in the wilderness locations we choose. Water is the natural element that most strikingly demonstrates nature’s cycles – it falls as rain, to be taken up by the soil and the plants that grow in it, it flows in the streams to the sea, to be evaporated and absorbed by the atmosphere. It forms the polar ice caps and all the oceans which create our weather patterns. The human body is 60% water which cycles through all of us and all of life.
What tools do you use?
Martin: Apart from my cameras and tripod, we take a bag for collecting materials, string for making circles and a pocket knife. For the snow sculptures we often have a snow shovel along and of course the ice axes and crampons in the mountains. The sculptures sometimes require some dexterity to make and often a lot of patience, but the real pressure is in the timing: getting the light for the photography. It becomes a very intense process but when it all comes together it’s a wonderful feeling.
How did you change from a designer to an environmental artist?
Martin: In 1992 I was focused on communication design for commercial clients who in turn were focused on short term marketing goals for their products, not on long term sustainability.
Although I cared deeply about the way products caused environmental damage, I didn’t have a strategy with which to change things. As a designer I was part of the problem, but I was determined to be part of the solution. I focused on learning from nature and those who had studied natural and whole system design.
I read Buckminster Fuller, Victor Papanek, (Design for the Real World); Karl-Henrik Robert (The Natural Step); Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute; Paul Hawken (Ecology of Commerce, Natural Capitalism); Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface; Bill McDonough (Cradle to Cradle); Edwin Datschefski, (Total Beauty of Sustainable Products); Janine Banyus (Biomimicry), and many more.
I learned that the most fundamental difference between our industrial system and that of nature is that ours is linear and nature’s is cyclical. I learned that if we continue to take from the earth’s crust, make what we need and send it on to the dump or into the atmosphere when we are finished with it, there is no hope of aligning with natural systems.
It seemed to me that while environmentalists spoke of the destruction we were causing they offered no workable strategy for modern society to become sustainable, apart from slowing down, going without or giving up our lifestyle.
But our system is only this way because we designed it this way. If we were to design it to operate totally effectively like nature all waste would become food for something else. Valuable natural capital would be continually reused not lost forever as in our current system.
Over time I have developed a personal philosophy and an artistic visual language with which to communicate my philosophy. With Nature my teacher, my ally and my pallette I try to express the essence of sustainable design in order to inspire change.