Exploring contemporary notions of nature, Julius von Bismarck confronts the concept of an environment in need of protection and threatened by climate change with the image of nature as a devastating force. At Frieze London, von Bismarck presents his latest sculptural work: a fire-proof protection shield, tailor-made for the world’s oldest tree, a 9,550 year-old Norway spruce. Awe-inspiring by its sheer age, this tree has lived through extremely harsh conditions throughout the millennia of its existence. And yet its perceived fragility urges us to treasure and protect it: from vandalism as much as from wildfires, climate change or extreme weather conditions. A protection shield created for this particular tree, was 3D scanned for this purpose. The sculpture’s high-tech structure is designed from ceramic-coated fibreglass in reference to the thermal protection system of a spacecraft such as the SpaceX Starship and its predecessors. With the absurdity of the design’s intended purpose, von Bismarck alludes to the naivety which can be found in contemporary discourses that plead for the substitution of the vast sums of money and technological resources invested in outer space, for welfare actions that aim at compensating environmental deterioration.
Interested both in human impact on nature and our compulsion to interfere with nature’s course of renewal, von Bismarck has created an ongoing series of works titled Fire with Fire. Having followed and photographed wildfires throughout several expeditions, the artist has captured imagery of blazing flames as well as the devastation they left behind. By mirroring the images vertically in the middle, like the well-known inkblot pictures by Swiss psychoanalyst Hermann Rorschach, von Bismarck creates a perception effect: figures emerge from the flames. Some viewers see mythical creatures, others see fiery spirits or demons of the forest. Out of catastrophic destruction, new beings are generated; the symmetry inherent in all living things allows for this.