Dietmar Voorwold’s Vanishing Art on Scotland’s Coast

By Mitchell Clute

Imagine you are walking the craggy, windswept coastland of northern Scotland when you come upon a perfect cairn of smooth stones stained red with minerals, or a mandala of pebbles stood on end and surrounded by bright green leaves. You can see for miles in each direction, but there is not a human in sight, only the spinning clouds and crashing surf. Who would have ventured to such a distant place to build something beautiful that few would ever see?

Freedom to Create

Lasting only a few weeks or even mere hours, until winds topple them and tides erase them, these land-art creations are the work of Dietmar Voorwold, a German artist, photographer and teacher who since 2008 has made this wild coast his home.

“In my work, I make contact with the dynamics of the world—the weather, the sky, the wildness,” Voorwold says. “It’s like kids do on the beach, with their sandcastles; there’s a natural human need to play and to create something with that play.”

Originally trained in graphic art and photography, Voorwold also studied art therapy, working with children and handicapped adults. But fifteen years ago, the work of artists like Andy Goldsworthy inspired him to get out of the classroom and studio and into nature. Moving his art into the world, he says, freed him from having to carry his own materials. “It felt very free,” he says. “I had my PC, my camera and tripod, and I could travel where I wanted.”

The Process and the Moment

Drawn to Scotland by the dynamism of its weather and tides, Voorwold has spent the better part of a decade building stone towers and leaf-edged mandalas along its shores.

But the stunning images he captures tell only a small part of the story—one special moment of perfect light among the hours devoted to gathering and creating his art forms.

“Creating the piece is only 10 or 20 percent of the work,” Voorwold says. “Most of my time is spent wandering around to find the right places, and then gathering all the materials I will need. There’s the place, the material and the form, and then catching the right weather.”

Integral to the process are his luminous, saturated photographs of the art he makes in nature—the only way most of us will ever experience his creations. “Photography is another important part of my art,” Voorwold continues. “I’ve spent ages standing beside my tripod awaiting the right moment. Sometimes it came, sometimes not. And sometimes . . . I simply missed it.”

Each artwork is a meditation on the intersection between time and timelessness, the human and the natural, the ancient and the new. “My installations blend flawlessly into the landscape and often appear to have been there forever,” Voorwold says. And yet, for all their sense of place, they are ephemeral.

Learning to Let Go

Voorwold sees himself reflected in his work. “Stone cairns are loners, just like me,” he says. “For a while they stand upright in some place—maybe just a few minutes, maybe a few weeks—but sooner or later they, too, succumb to gravity and the vagaries of nature, which delight in forcing what’s vertical into the horizontal.”

Although a loner by nature, Voorwold delights in teaching the art of material gathering and cairn building to others. Each year he teaches a week-long class at Scotland’s Findhorn Foundation (the next is in August 2016), taking groups out along the coast to explore land-art creation.

“They don’t really come to do something artistic,” he explains. “They come for a spiritual connection to nature, but also just to play—gathering pebbles, giving names to stones, putting beautiful things in constellations.”

Voorwold says there’s a deep lesson about change and impermanence built into the process he teaches. “The aspect of creating something and immediately letting it go is quite challenging,” he says. “Nothing we make survives. But all of nature is a reflection that life goes on—in rivers, ice and waves, through many moods and dynamics. My work is an attempt to bring a sense of stillness to those natural dynamics that swirl and flow around me.”

For more on Dietmar Voorwold’s land art, visit www.landart-creations.com.