In Seattle, two outdoor art exhibits play with urban and park environments.

City park or city square?

Seattleites have a choice of venues for seeing displays of public art this summer — the sylvan surroundings of Carkeek Park or the urban environs of Occidental Park.

At Carkeek, the Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA) teamed up with Seattle Parks and Recreation and the Carkeek Park Advisory Council to install “Heaven and Earth II,” a reprise of last year’s outdoor art exhibit.

Four artists from the 2009 show have returned this year, a couple of them providing the exhibit with its strongest entries. In “Orchard,” “branch artist” Julie Lindell becomes a full-fledged “arborist.” Three bare “trees” pieced together from bits of board energetically evoke “tree-ness” in the same way that a precocious child’s drawing would.

    Most Read Stories

At the same time they look jerry-built, as if Lindell is acknowledging that no human hand can match nature’s finesse and flow when it comes to devising “natural” shapes.

The juxtaposition of the natural with man-made mimicry of nature is a running theme in “Heaven and Earth II.” In Barbara De Pirro’s “roots & vines: plastica,” pale-brown ropy vines (De Pirro’s own handiwork) loop around a curving tree trunk.

From a distance, the two “life forms” seem to exist in plausible symbiosis. Up close, De Pirro’s ropy tangles look too artful to be a product of nature.

As she did last year, De Pirro takes full advantage of the setting offered by Piper’s Orchard, an old homestead in the southeast corner of Carkeek Park.

Among the impressive newcomers are Julie Fisco’s “Changes,” paintings on plaster set in an open meadow depicting the transformations that Carkeek Park’s landscape has gone through over the centuries, and Piper O’Neill’s “Paradigm Pods,” in which she plays with scale by affixing huge, round seedpods to a bare tree.

(Nature’s organic forms always look a little more unsettling when they’re magnified like this. You can’t help thinking: “What might hatch out of that thing?”)

There’s a hide-and-seek aspect to finding the artworks as you walk the park trails, and one side effect is that you wind up looking at natural phenomena with an “aesthetic” eye.

That massive tree trunk that’s fallen across the stream next to Sylwia Tur’s “Rungs” — isn’t it a beautiful piece of work? The enormous stump up the path from Piper’s Orchard, with its “crown” of volunteer saplings springing from its head … are we sure an artist didn’t rig the thing years ago in anticipation of CoCA’s exhibit?

Nature, frankly, does better than the artists much of the time. But you might not notice that if you didn’t have the artwork there to slow you down, draw you in and sharpen your eye.

Note: As of last Sunday, walking guides weren’t yet available at the park entrance. If you want an exhibit map and some annotation on what you’re seeing, you’ll need to download it at www.heavenandearthexhibition.org.

Pioneer Square events

Meanwhile, down in the Pioneer Square neighborhood, Occidental Park is hosting “artSparks 2010,” a series of art installations and performances.

Until July 11, MiLa’s “Prismatic Landscape” — strings of small, half-reflective plastic panes — is arrayed from tree to tree over the old cobblestones. Together with Room for Assembly’s bright-yellow, jungle-gymlike “Build Here” and Christopher Reitmaier’s “Difference and Repetition” (composed of “flower pieces, gathered from the over-

abundant commercial flower supply discarded daily all over Seattle”), it’s making the park a bit more colorful. Still, as artworks, these are pretty underwhelming.

More installations are on the way that may do better, including Sol Hashemi’s “Driving a Sculpture,” a small tree that will zip around on a radio-controlled truck (July 24 and Aug. 14), and Christopher Ezzell’s “Occidental Square Tea House,” a portable structure built from recycled 2-liter plastic bottles (Aug. 2-8).

Performers engaging with this urban space include the City Meditation Crew, who, in “Radiant Silver Circle,” will manifest “attentiveness and open awareness through secular practices of contemplation in public.” Translation: They’ll be dressed in striking white coveralls that have “slow-moving vehicle” signs on the back, and they’ll be doing something with silver gum foil, presumably at a very pokey pace.

The “dance, comedy, physical theater, and music” of Stimulate Dance will be on daily display Sept. 7-12.

Best of all, on Sept. 12 and 19, Joan Laage will stage a new show, “Red,” which comments on our attachment “to the buildings that compose our urban environment.” Anyone who saw her “Operation Theater: Body Under the Knife” last year will know her unusual work is well worth seeking out.

Full details are available on www.sitespecificarts.org/projects/artsparks-2010.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com