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Friday 29 May 2009

Land Art

From the third of Jume to the sixth of September this year Tate Britain is to host an exhibition of the work of Richard Long. A year or more ago I posted a piece on Environmental Art, mainly, I suppose, extolling the work of Andy Goldsworthy, an artist whose work I greatly admired. Towards the end of the post I mentioned, almost in passing, the work of Richard Long. Although at that time I was getting less than a quarter of the number of visits that I now receive, I am still getting the occasional email about that post, many of them referring to Richard Long. As a result of the interest shown and what I have learnt since then, a visit to the upcoming exhibition at Tate Britain has become a must.

Artists have always tried to record nature. From the earliest cave paintings, and before them in sculptures, artists were representing it to themselves and to others. We might think also of standing stones, cairns and the figures cut into the landscape for various - often unknown - purposes. The White Horses on the English Downs, for example. And from the earliest beginnings (probably) artists have attempted to interact with nature, maybe to add a new element to what they saw or to rearrange, adapt or modify it in some way. And so it is that still today we have these two forms represented in what has come to be termed Environmental Art or Land Art, even (as I like to think of the best of them) markscapes. Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy belong to the first division (in both senses), while artists such as Christo and Jeanne-Claude are noted for wrapping landscapes in plastic sheeting. Others have modified the landscape on larger and more permanent scales, bringing in earth-moving machines to rearrange what nature made. The contributions of Long and Goldsworthy, look natural. They are co-operating visibly with nature. Christo and Jeanne-Claude (and even less, some others) could not be said to be doing that. What Christo and Jeanne-Claude add does not belong to nature in form, composition or appearance. They maintain that by doing it they are helping us to see our environment, and that may well be, but they are not co-operating with nature to the degree that Long and Goldsworthy are.

This is what I wrote about them a year ago. I think it worth repeating. Christo and Jeanne-Claude achieved fame, and some notoriety, way back, wrapping objects and people, before moving on to larger stuff like islands and sea shores wrapped in polypropylene. Their latest project, not to be realized before 2011, is to suspend translucent panels of fabric, horizontally, over the Arkansas River in the State of Colorado. The panels will be seen as shimmering screens waving high above the water level and, when seen from below, will have "projected" on them, the silhouetted forms of clouds, mountains and vegetation.

Typically, their projects take decades to come to fruition, most of which time is consumed by the need to survey perhaps dozens of potential sites to find the perfect one, to complete all the paperwork, obtain all the permits, reassure the locals at public meetings, modify the plans to meet any objections and/or the requirements of local use and health and safety issues. Indeed, most projects never see the light of day, and those that do, Christo and Jeanne-Claude insist, are dismantled after a fortnight.

When it was put to Christo that it must be very difficult, thinking of the concepts for their projects, he disagreed: "Any fool can get a good idea," he said, "the difficult part is doing it".

Art such as Christo's and Jeanne-Claude's tends to grab the limelight and so has become what most folk now think of as Environmental Art. It is Site Specific art. It may be different in kind from Godsworthy''s art or Long's, but it deserves to have a lot going for it. However, it has had some significant failures. Christo, for example, once wrapped the coast of Little Bay, near Sydney, Australia, as a result of which a seal and some penguins became trapped. The fabric had to be cut to allow them to escape; an incident which caused the creatures concerned no little trauma and set in train a great deal of rethinking on the issues raised by that particular form of environmental art.

Somewhere between these two groups, I think, comes the work of an artist like Antony Gormley with his terracotta figures (shades of the terracotta army?) and his figures in the sea. These last are not just natural-looking, but eerily so. The fact is that they do not belong to a landscape in the way that a tree or a rock belongs to it, but have more claim to ownership of a landscape than sheets of fabric.

Richard Long

In 1967 Richard Long took the first steps - literally - towards a new form of art. Or at least, so he would claim. He took himself off into the country, found a convenient field, and walked in a straight line, backwards and forwards along it. By the time he had finished he had pressed down the grasses to such an extent that walked a line into the landscape. He had left a mark upon it. It was the beginning of his walking as art, as mark-making. He does not consider his walks as being in themselves conceptual, but they realise a particular idea, often the relationships existing between time, geography, distance and measurement. He regards these walks (works) as essentially ephemeral and so records them in some way. In one of three ways, to be precise: by means of maps, in photographs or in textual form. He has said that his work lies between two borders, that at which monuments begin and that of leaving only footprints.

Walking figures almost as much in his routine as art. For example he once covered 150 miles in five days, travelling only 10 miles the first day and increasing the distance by 10 iles each day until on the fifth he had 50 miles to do. These walks most often result in texts, typical of which is something like this:





Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy has explained his art more lucidly than I ever could, so maybe he should speak for himself:

"I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands and "found" tools--a sharp stone, the quill of a feather, thorns. I take the opportunities each day offers: if it is snowing, I work with snow, at leaf-fall it will be with leaves; a blown-over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches. I stop at a place or pick up a material because I feel that there is something to be discovered. Here is where I can learn. "

"Looking, touching, material, place and form are all inseparable from the resulting work. It is difficult to say where one stops and another begins. The energy and space around a material are as important as the energy and space within. The weather--rain, sun, snow, hail, mist, calm--is that external space made visible. When I touch a rock, I am touching and working the space around it. It is not independent of its surroundings, and the way it sits tells how it came to be there."

"I want to get under the surface. When I work with leaf, rock or stick, it is not just that material in itself, it is an opening into the processes of life within and around it. When I leave it, these processes continue."

"Movement, change, light, growth and decay are the lifeblood of nature, the energies that I try to tap through my work. I need the shock of touch, the resistance of place, materials and weather, the earth as my source. Nature is in a state of change and that change is the key to understanding. I want my art to be sensitive and alert to changes in material, season and weather. Each work grows, stays, decays. Process and decay are implicit. Transience in my work reflects what I find in nature."

"The underlying tension of a lot of my art is to try and look through the surface appearance of things. Inevitably, one way of getting beneath the surface is to introduce a hole, a window into what lies below."

The image above is of his Ice Spiral


The Weaver of Grass said...

Interesting post, as usual, Dave. I too love the work of Andy Goldsworthy - there is one of his sculptures at Outhgill, near Kirby Stephen - he used to live in Brough, nearby. I like the idea of creating something out of nature. Wish I didn't live so far away from the Tate!
My son (Dominic Rivron, see my blog list) took his wife to see the Gormley figures at Crosby for her birthday a few weeks ago - he said they were most impressive. I saw Gormley's Domain Field at Baltic a few summers ago - and of course have seen the Angel of the North.
There was a very interesting article in The Times earlier this week on Tracy Emin's new exhibition. Did you read it? We have spoken before about her work - I thought the article was very fair - it gave her a very good write up. Would love to see that exhibition too.
It is posts (and conversations) like this that make blogging so exciting.

Dave King said...

The Weaver of GrassThanks for such an extensive comment. I, too, am much taken with the idea of creating from nature . The Gormley figures are very high on my must see list. I didn't see the Times article, but there was also a very good one in The Guardian, which I did get to see. I get the impression that she is beginning to establish herself in a more favourable light with the media. Partly her articles, perhaps - she does write very well - and partly due to a slight mellowing in her own outlook, maybe?
It is also responses like this that make blogging so worthwhile. Thanks again.

A Cuban In London said...

A very good post that merits a long response. I agree with you that land art has been with us since the beginning of time and in fact I would dare to say without any substantiated argument that it was based on nature that man (generically speaking,it could be man or woman) first developed the idea of transforming that which he/she saw into what he/she imagined it to be. Conceptual art was born. I read about this exhibition at Tate and I might pay it a visit as long as it's free. With summer looming large now the whole family will be decamping to somewhere nicer and funds are running low. And this is so right:

'Any fool can get a good idea," he said, "the difficult part is doing it".'

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Jim Murdoch said...

As I writer one of my aims is permanece, to record for posterity a moment, a thought, an idea. Some land art I appreciate even though I've never experienced any live but the kind like Christo does where there is a small window of opportunity to experience it I struggle with. I don't know why when a live theatre performance is a one-off work. The setting, the actors, the words can all be replicated but it will never be the same piece. I think what it might be is the fact that a play or a musical performance can be easily transferred onto tape but the vastness of something like The Gormley Figures isn't done justice unless you can wander among them.

Karen said...

Dave, I find this post most interesting, and was tickled to see the White Horse, as I was just describing to a friend the one I saw on my way to Bath. The two of us will be in England in a few weeks, and I hope to see the Longs. I have to say, though, and this will probably sound naive, but the pictures you posted of his work remind me of the early crop circles that were in vogue some years ago.

I would love to see the Gromleys, but for some reason, the Goldsworthys strike me the most. The Ice Spiral is gorgeous, and the Cone Sculpture is an organic beauty rising unexpectedly there.

Thanks, as always, for the education.

Jinksy said...

An interesting read, and I loved the Ice Spiral. At least a photo can give a transient image a life of its own.
Maybe I should start calling my 'junk piles' works of art?!

Andy Sewina said...

Hi Dave, thanks for posting such an informative piece. I did a little thing about The Amazing Gormley's on Crosby beach, on my Sweet Talking Guy blog.

Bagman and Butler said...

Very interesting, Dave. I always wanted to see a Christo piece. Fascinating to see the directions of other similar artists. Thanks for opening up new artists to me.

Stephen Dell'Aria said...

Great post Dave. It also fascinates me as to the ever changing state of Robert Smithson's, Spiral Jetty. During drought years around the Great Salt Lake, the jetty is exposed for all to see, It has been re-submerged now for about four years. Smithson also felt that time should reclaim his work.

Meri said...

Yes, fascinating piece. We have put our imprints upon the landscape, with cave paintings, the creation of stone circles, and carvings into the stones. The "markscapes" are interesting pieces but what I've seen, the man-made ones pale in comparison to crop circles, the Mother of All Markscapes.

Conda Douglas said...

Fascinating post, Dave. And your point about how we always create our on the world is so true. I thought of children building forts and digging fox holes. There's a new fort in my neighborhood and it reminds me of quite a bit of this type of art.

Unknown said...

Hi Dave,

I, too, like the cone and ice spiral. Apart from the Angel of The North, the only Gormley sculpture I've seen is "Sound II" in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral, which gives two different impressions depending on whether the crypt is flooded.

Linda Sue said...

Love this post- must come back and re-read more thouroughly- we do alot of Andy inspired art in nature when we get the chance, leave it for the ellements to break down and for the bugs to enjoy.

Art Durkee said...

Starting in 2003, on my first visit to New Mexico, I found myself spontaneously making site-specific land-art sculptures, with materials found lying to hand. Of course I was very influenced by Goldsworthy, one of my favorite artists.

I find that I don't do many of these pieces, and that they are all meant to erode away over time, to be ephemeral. When I lived in California I did a lot of this at the oceanside, in various locales, mostly arrangements of stones on-site. I find that I only make a piece like this when moved to do so, usually by the feeling or energy of a specific place. I take photographs, though. People underrate Goldsworthy as a photographer, I think, because his images recording the land-art sculptures are full of beautiful content; but he's actually quite the photographer. He has a wonderful sense of lighting.

There's a wonderful DVD documentary about Goldsworthy called "Rivers and Tides," made a few years ago by a German filmmaker.

I've got a few of Richard Long's books. I sort of feel like Long is more of a conceptual artist than a sculptor, although though is obviously some overlap. Many of his works are performance pieces documented, such as the walks; he does them, then writes and photographs about them. I think some of them are quite wonderful—but are they land art? I'm not sure they are.

There is another artist in California, Zach Pine, who I've met and talked to, whose work you ight find interesting. He calls what he does environmental art or nature sculpture.


Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear Dave, I like the cone sculpture in particular.

I have written a blog about my experience with editors who decided to work with me on changes in my poems.
I would be interested to hear about experiences of others in this field.
Yours would be among the most engaging I'm sure.

Tess Kincaid said...

As always, excellent post, Dave. I would love to see this exhibit at the Tate. You lucky duck.

Cecile/DreamCreateRepeat said...

Interesting post, Dave. i've never really been overly "taken" with this type of art but i appreciate thinking about it a bit more.

I have a bit of "land craft' from my dad. he had Parkinsons early and as he aged, he wanted a walking staff. Not a stick, a staff (he stood 6' 4").

He found a sapling tree on the farm with a vine growing round it. He watched it for a year or two, adjusting the vine as it grew to make the spiral pleasing. The vines naturally tighten to choke the sapling and leave a mark.

He cut down the young tree (about 2" in diamter) and stripped and hand waxed it. He loved that staff and the reactions he invoked when he walked with it, grey bearded and stooped with age and disease. He looked like something out of Middle Earth!

I don't have my dad anymore, but I still have his staff. I stand tall for a woman (6'). Maybe I'll walk with it when I am older.

Is this art? Craft?

Dave King said...

A Cuban in LondonI think you may be right about the birth of conceptual art. Best wishes for the summr decamping!

Jim I take the main point. I, too, in my own attempts, would not be tempted by anything that was inherently impermanent, but yet there is something about the ephemeral that excites me.

Karen No, that doesn't sound naive. I find the Gormley figures exciting, but like you am most drawn by the Goldsworthy's

Jinksy Indeed, why should your junk piles not become works of art? Go for it! (Youi never know!)

Andy Sorry I missed that. I will try to catch up on it.

Butler and Bagman Yes, I'd love to see a Christo in the flesh, so to speak.

Stephen I did include The Spiral Jetty in my previous post. A fascinating work.

Meri Assuming crop cirles are not man-made... They certainly are fascinating.

Conda Mmm, you've reminded me of how I used to dam streams - a real little beaver I was - as a child. Didn't realise then that I was doing Land Art!

Derrick Yes, I know Sound II and I have also seen his figures on the London skyline.

Linda Sue That sounds like a great plan to me.

Art I've seen Rivers and Tides, but must confess to not having heard of Zach Pine. Thanks for the address. I shall certainly look him up.

Tommaso Thanks for that. I'm not sure I have anything to offer, though - just blank rejections.

Willow I won't count my chickens before they hatch - being very suoerstitious - but thanks.

Cecil/DreamCreateRepeat Fantastic comment. Thank you very much for it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your dad. What a remarkable fellow he must have been!

Jinksy said...

Oh, how I want to instantly reply to the comments you leave on my blog? Could I prevail upon you to email me at pennysmith5@btinternet.com?

Rose Marie Raccioppi said...

"And from the earliest beginnings (probably) artists have attempted to interact with nature, maybe to add a new element to what they saw or to rearrange, adapt or modify it in some way." Dave, your visit today to APOGEE Poet, the query you posted and the quoted words from this post, do indeed reflect one another. Yes, when each sunset, each sunrise expressed the many moods of mother earth, I chose to recreate their impressions as orchestrations, as nature's "frames of mind." Each "frame" within the painting is a particular moment of revelation. There are ten in the series. If you would like to view all ten, do visit: http://www.apogeeart.com and click : "Conceptual." I so appreciate your posts and look forward to your response.

Roxana said...

very interesting, as usual, Dave. i struggle to relate to this kind of art, i've recently seen Wolfgang Laib's pollen works and come to think about it again, and the reasons for my own reticence. i think it has to do with something going along the lines of jinksy's question: what can we label as 'art'? hasn't this concept become so vague that it can include anything? i know that sticking to such category-related thinking is something the postmodern mind abhorrs, but i don't have any problems to be considered un-modern :-)

Mark Kerstetter said...

It goes to show how sharp the differences are between artists listed in a single category. So much so that, in this case, one can argue that they do completely different things, and might not even belong in the same category - as Art Durkee suggested. I agree that Long is a conceptual artist, Goldsworthy truly is an environmental artist who cares about good old-fashioned beauty, and as for Christo, what he does is suggested in his comment about ideas. I think art for him is all about the process, and so you could say that his genre is a kind of art-sociology. That's my two cents! One of the great things about art is comparing the differences.

Cloudia said...

Exhasutive, authoritative, involving as usual, Dave.

I've often thought that some of Earth's major features: Grand Canyon & etc, are the art of extraterrestrial "Land" artists!
Aloha from Hawaii carved by volcanoes!

The lady in Red said...

Dear Dave, it is incredible how much I learn with your post! Thank you very much, nice Sunday and a very happy week,
Best wishes,

Dave King said...

Rose Marie Will certainly do so, thanks for the address. A really interesting approach.

Roxana I can relate to what you are saying. Categories do not worry me unduly. A lot of what I, and others, would call Environmental Art some would call Conceptual Art. Sometimes it is deliberately presented as being such - Richard Long's so-called pile of bricks at The Tate, for example. That put me off for a long time, but sometimes you have to see a body of work before you get to see what the individual piece is driving at. And while there is always overlap between categories, obviously you do not have to like all examples of a particular art form. Most people who are put off it are jibbing at its ephemeral nature, I think. As to the vagueness of what is and is not art, you have to have criteria, I think - but be prepared to modify them if and when something new comes along. It might be an interesting excercise to try to define the criteria.

Mark Worth a bit more than two cents, I think! And yes, I do think that is absolutely right - or at least it is a perfectly tenable position, which is perhaps the most one can say. Certainly there is nothing in that I would jib at. Environmental - or Land - Art is something of a brachylogy, I think.

Cloudia Some are asking themselves why He stopped!

The Lady in Red Thank you and may I return the compliment?

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