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Go With the Flow

Mountain Stones (Image 1 of 12)

The sculpture was made out of small volcanic stones on a vegetated outcrop on Mount Taranaki in the North Island of New Zealand and photographed during a rainstorm — the mist can be seen in the background. The unique vegetation at this elevation consists of herbs and mosses and alpine flowers.

Circle of Circles (Image 2 of 12)

Strips of native flax held in different size circles with a matagouri thorn were then sewn to each other with flax fibers to form a larger circle. Here it hangs against the sky over Lake Wanaka. A pair of paradise ducks that flew past by chance can be seen in the distance in one of the circles.

Beach Circle (Image 3 of 12)

This work involves taking away elements rather than gathering and assembling them. The elements are random stones left by the outgoing tide on a beach on Great Barrier Island.

Pumice Ring (Image 4 of 12)

Pumice is a very soft, light volcanic material. This pumice came from the eruption that formed Lake Taupo. Here it has been carved into a ring and photographed on the pumice-strewn beach in soft evening light.

Synergy (Image 5 of 12)

Photographed in the shallows of Lake Wanaka in the calm at sunset to create a reflection, raupo stems are interconnected by a network of flax threads using nature’s universal construction system known as tensegrity. None of the stems touch; they are held under compression by tension from the threads. This means the system is in total dynamic balance and stress is distributed equally throughout the system, making the sculpture flexible.

Autumn Leaf Circle (Image 6 of 12)

Controlling the poplar leaves in an eddy of the mighty Clutha River in Otago was challenging. Ultimately they were made to stay where we put them by corralling them using little sticks pushed into the riverbed and trimming them to just below the surface of the water. Many leaves were waterlogged and sank to the bottom before we were finished but we persevered because it expressed the idea of cycles.

Alpine Ice Circle (Image 7 of 12)

Placed upright in a tarn, the ice sculpture is reflected in the water to complete the circle. Water transforming into ice and melting is one of the great stories of the Earth being told here. At altitude ice is a storehouse of water for life below. Climate change is breaking the ice cycle in some places and affecting water supply.

Interconnected (Image 8 of 12)

A sudden storm deposited 30 centimeters of new snow that allowed this improbable sculpture to be made by adapting the remains of an earlier work (Solve for Pattern). The Earth’s interconnected systems in dynamic balance with each other form one integrated whole system.

Burning Issues (Image 9 of 12)

The world’s scientists have repeatedly warned the people of the world that if we do not alter our operating principles, the life support systems of Earth on which we rely will be compromised beyond repair.

Mountain Guardian (Image 10 of 12)

Surveying this pristine wilderness from an altitude of 2,000 meters in Mount Aspiring National Park, we felt insignificant — but the reality is, the combined impact of 7 billion of us on the world is now even affecting these mountains. Mountains are the source of the world’s greatest rivers that enable human populations to feed themselves. Protecting mountain water sources protects life.

Rain Forest Guardian (Image 11 of 12)

In the old native beech forest of the East Matukituki Valley, the plentiful mosses provided the material to transform a moss-covered tree stump into a guardian figure. Forests are the lungs of the Earth and support biodiversity. Deforestation in parts of the world has helped reduce biodiversity to levels below the planetary boundary considered safe by science.

Ice Guardian (Image 12 of 12)

This triangular sheet of ice references the elegant shape of Mount Aspiring. The real figure behind it presents a human from nature’s perspective. The Earth’s ice keeps the climate in a condition suitable for human life. Anthropogenic climate change now means humans are responsible for guarding the ice.


As a successful graphic designer, Martin Hill recognized the power of imagery to reach people’s hearts and minds. It was during his weekend pursuits of mountain climbing in remote places, where nature followed its course without human intervention, that he began to understand that environmental problems were a product of faulty design separating us from natural systems. “We have systemic design problems that we have created for ourselves. I think these problems can only be rectified by a change in human consciousness and systems redesign,” writes Hill, now an environmental artist, in the introduction to his new project, “Watershed,” which just opened in Melbourne.

Hill’s images of human-formed sculptures acting as guardians of the pristine New Zealand landscapes they oversee illustrate the interconnectedness of living systems. Sculptures, constructed from ephemeral elements such as leaves, twigs, snow and ice, express the philosophy that humans are part of nature and must align with nature to survive.

Circular forms underscore the importance of cycles that transform waste from one organism into food for another. “For me, making this body of work is my way of connecting with nature to tell the story of the transition that is now underway toward a circular economy that emulates the way nature works,” Hill writes.

“Watershed,” Hill’s latest project with collaborator Philippa Jones, focuses on the water cycle and the prerequisite of water for all life. But for Hill, “watershed” has two meanings. The images are captured in locations where water arrives as clouds, mist and snow, and leaves as liquid — a literal watershed. But the metaphor is equally significant. “It is my belief that humans are at a watershed, where we now have to redesign our operating principles to align with natural systems, or head on down the dangerous path of significant peril.” View Ensia homepage

Captions courtesy of Martin Hill. “Watershed” is exhibiting at the McClelland Sculpture Park  + Gallery in Melbourne, Australia, February 16–April 27, 2014. 

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