Art Of Impermanence

For over two decades New Zealand-based environmental artist and photographer Martin Hill has been creating transitory sculptures from ice, stone, and organic materials that reflect nature’s cyclical system. Often working with his project collaborator Philippa Jones, the duo create land art that metaphorically express concern for the interconnectedness of all living systems.


Martin Hill & Philippa Jones, Ice Circle, 2007, Lake Wanaka, New Zealand. Part of a year-long commissioned project about a sense of place and being connected to nature. Jones and Hill extracted a slab of ice from a frozen pond and cut it with a penknife into a semicircle with a base that sat below the water level on the lake bed. The reflection completes the circle. This was only achievable in calm weather and it lasted about two minutes before it broke at the surface where the temperature is warmest.

Jones and Hill travel to remote locations around the world to create environmental sculptures that represent a visual circle of life. What sets this land art apart from the rest, is that many of the works don’t completely form until the water is calm and the sun hits them, creating a stunning reflection in the water. Impermanence is an essential part of the environmental art movement, which celebrates nature as alive and constantly changing. Ephemeral by design, the photographs are all that remain of the sculptures.


Martin Hill & Philippa Jones, Synergy, 2010, Lake Wanaka, New Zealand. Made from raupo stems 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. Photographed in the shallows of Lake Wanaka in the calm at sunset to create a reflection.

Speaking specifically about the use of circles Hill shares “The use of the circle refers to nature’s cyclic system which is now being used as a model for industrial ecology. Sustainability will be achieved by redesigning products and industrial processes as closed loops -materials that can’t safely be returned to nature will be continually turned into new products. Of course this is only one part of the redesign process. We need to use renewable energy, eliminate all poisonous chemicals, use fair trade and create social equality.”


Martin Hill & Philippa Jones, Encircled Stone -with Pohutukawa leaves, 2007, White’s beach, Waitakere Ranges, New Zealand. The Pohutukawa, an indigenous tree in New Zealand, grows abundantly along the coasts and sheds its leaves on the sand where they change through a myriad of colours. Here they have collected and organised them in a circle to catch the light at sundown where they encircle an isolated rock below the tideline at Whites Beach on the West Coast of Auckland in New Zealand.

“I work in nature because we are nature… My materials come from the earth to which they return… Learning to live by nature’s design is our only hope for the future.” ~Martin Hill


Martin Hill & Philippa Jones, Stone Circle, 1994, Whanganui Bay, Lake Taupo, New Zealand. This idea could only work because of the lightness of pumice stones. A hole was made in them to thread them onto a green stick which was bent into a half circle in the shallow water. The photograph was taken in calm early morning conditions with the camera near water level at Lake Taupo, New Zealand.


Martin Hill, Ice Guardian, Detail -Cast ice figure, pigment dye, inkjet print on Hahnemuhle photo rag paper, 2012, Ed. of 5.

“My life has been defined by adventures in wild places being absorbed by the natural wonders of nature. I have marveled at the way nature works and evolution occurs. As a designer I recognize our human lifestyles have become unsustainable and that this can only be reversed through better design informed by the way nature works.” ~Martin Hill

Like all land artists, prior to leaving each location, Hill makes sure that each site is left exactly as it was found. Their temporal works fade away as soon as they’ve been photographed. Photography is all that is taken from the landscape and the materials return in time to nature from where they came. Hill says that he hopes his work helps people reflect on their relationship to natural systems and how they can help to improve the environment through the way they live their lives. Hill’s land art photographs are held in International collections and published in printed media worldwide to help the paradigm shift to a sustainable future.

Hill_BookEarth to Earth: Art Inspired By Nature’s Design, By Martin Hill & PK Blackwell, 2007.

Martin Hill’s Earth to Earth tranforms the beauty of everyday items found in nature and elevates them to ecological art. Ecology is a science that is entering its renaissance as issues of global warming, greenhouse emissions, and ozone depletion make their way from scientific debates and newspaper headlines to everyday consciousness. Environmental photographer Martin Hill and project collaborator Philippa Jones visit remote locations around the globe to create an array of evocative photographs that represent a visual circle of life promoting ecological sustainability and responsibility.