The term environmental sculpture is variously defined. A development of the art of the 20th century, environmental sculpture usually creates or alters the environment for the viewer, as opposed to presenting itself figuratively or monumentally before the viewer. A frequent trait of larger environmental sculptures is that one can actually enter or pass through the sculpture and be partially or completely surrounded by it. Also, in the same spirit, it may be designed to generate shadows or reflections, or to colour the light in the surrounding area.
Britannica Online defines environmental sculpture in this vein: “20th-century art form intended to involve or encompass the spectators rather than merely to face them; the form developed as part of a larger artistic current that sought to break down the historical dichotomy between life and art.”
Some environmental sculpture so encompasses the observer that it verges on architecture.
Another sense of the term “environmental sculpture”, with a somewhat different emphasis, is sculpture created for a particular set of surroundings. An environmental sculpture is not merely site-specific. After all, one could argue that many a conventional, figurative, marble monument was created for a specific site. This does not make it “environmental sculpture”. Environmental sculpture entails the idea that the piece also functions to alter or permeate the existing environment or even to create a new environment in which the viewer is invited to participate. Examples of this in my own work can be seen with the “Guardian” public art sculpture and the “Absolut” commission.
Much of what is called “land art” or “earth art” could also be termed environmental sculpture under this definition. Clearly the terms “environment sculpture,” “site-specific art,” and “environmental art” have not yet completely become clear in their meanings, and a degree of uncertainty must be accepted, at least for now. The reason for this is that much of site-specific and environmental art was created from 1970 on for public spaces all over the United States, by artists, many of whom were women trying to succeed outside the established art-gallery world. Many of these artists were also ecologically conscious and created works that could offer a further definition of “environmental sculpture”: art that is environmentally friendly and cares for the natural environment.