The media has cultivated the idea that stunningly symmetrical things — flower petals, supermodels and vegetables, for example — are emblematic of true beauty. However, there is something unapologetically gorgeous about that which is not so perfect. Sometimes, Mother Nature’s finest work can be seen amid the slightly blemished surfaces of fallen autumn leaves, a spotty thicket of moss clinging to the underside of a rock or crimped blades of grass peeking through cracked concrete. Conventional examples of beauty, while easy on the eyes, can simultaneously be pedestrian. Exercising a keen observational sense, on the other hand, enables us to detect and appreciate secret treasures lurking unassumingly in our midst. Hannah Streefkerk understands this philosophy all too well. While so many of today’s creative-minded individuals strive to channel some semblance of conventional beauty through their paintbrush, pencil or camera, the Dutch-born eco-artist makes a concerted effort to embrace the inherent flaws of the natural world in various unique ways. Observing the craggy bark, knots and random splits marring the trunks of 30 trees in Valkenswaard, The Netherlands, she set out to accent them with lovingly applied embroidery. Armed with a drill, upholstery needle, red yarn and camera, Streefkerk ran a series of stitches along the length of select arboreal imperfections, symbolically repairing them while also adorning them with artistic panache. One might say that her embroidery style summons visions of Frankenstein hunched over his motley creation, or at the very least, a kindergarten-style craft project, but then again, you try exercising artistic mastery while sewing through thick wood. It can’t be easy.
Hannah Streefkerk recycled art
The works of Hannah Streefkerk
In a world where Photoshopping, airbrushing and concealer are all commonplace, it makes perfect sense that Streefkerk would wield chunky stitches on her equally down-to-earth subjects. Acknowledging and celebrating their cosmetic imperfections, she has transformed weatherworn trees and tufts of grass into textural eco-tapestries that, rather than summoning Frankenstein’s monster, metaphorically strut the catwalk with a cookie-cutter-free sense of pride. Similarly, she exercises her unique brand of eco-modification on two-dimensional photographic studies of mountains, rocks and seascapes. Each print boasts a defining assortment of stitches that serve to highlight the simple beauty of crevices, shadows, ridges and grooves. Normally, one might take for granted how light and shadows make a windswept beach far more than just an ideal surface for sunbathing. The Dutch artist takes all the guesswork out of the equation by making it readily apparent, in the process helping the casual observer to gain a newfound appreciation for the master artist, Mother Nature. Those on the outside continue deciphering the true motivations behind the works of writers, poets, musicians and artists, perhaps because it gives them a basic sense of comprehension and quite possibly even a direct line to the creative muse within. As is the case with so many of her contemporaries, critics offer multiple unique perspectives on how and why Streefkerk’s installation art is categorized as “environmental” rather than simply just quirky. Amid all of the countering viewpoints, they do agree on one common thing, however: that her anti-perfection stance proves that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder and precisely what makes the natural world so awe-inspiring.