Land Art as a Platform for Interaction

Una Rebić
Metod Blejec
July 27, 2018

Look, I’m not gonna tell you what I’m up to, but I’ll say this, what I’m interested in is making this thing internalized. It is connected to the environment but not to the landscape. Landscape to me is a planar thing, just a view. Environment is everything down to the ecosystem. Big difference.

– Michael Heizer[1]

Pretext

Art has, for a long time, been a great medium for inspection, experimentation, and change. To generate fresh ideas for the future we need to keep inspiring children with the creative and generative potential of art making. This is the primary reason why we approached the Benčić Youth Council, proposing a collaborative art workshop dealing with notions of nature, temporality, culture, and collectivity. We proposed a session over the course of two weekends with the goal of spending time in the landscape with children aged 7 to 13, learning about nature and art (primarily using “site” as a medium), and creating land art (also known as earthwork) that would be representative of the time we spent together and the ideas that were generated while we learned.

Background

The choice to work on the land using land art was a way to think outside the set paradigms of cultural constructs—that is, spaces for art presentation such as galleries, theatres, and the like—and, in this way, to work outside the common parameters of definitions of art and art medium(s). Such practices have been described using the term “expanded field,” coined by Rosalind Krauss.[2] In the late 1960s and 1970s many artists started experimenting with making artworks in the landscape. The results were projects that could not be defined by existing art theory terminology.

A reaction against abstract expressionism saw a rise in alternative art movements in the West, starting with minimalism and its reductive approach to art production. This reaction defined sculpture by the outer limits of its definition as art enacted in the landscape. Art made on land could no longer be defined by the established standards of fine art and had to be acknowledged as something that was neither landscape nor architecture. Instead it was placed in the landscape, within the realm of architecture, but not connected to it in any way except by its geolocation.[3]

This expansion brought new possibilities of how art is defined—and how sculpture is defined in particular. Through logical expansion instead of binary thinking, artists transformed these dichotomies into a quaternary field allowing for creative work to happen between the binaries. The field of land art mirrored the original position/opposition and at the same time it opened up and gave possibility to think of other forms.[4]

For the artists working in the 1970s, this premise granted them permission to really experiment with what might still count as sculpture. This, in effect, legitimized their work and gave it context and, later, provided it with a relevant place in art history. Although these artists performed their practice intuitively, without the intention of creating a formal movement, the effect was that they opposed the institutionalisation of art, traditional ways of reaching the audience, as well as art’s commercialization. Not only was their audience outreach further afield with such works, they also managed to cross boundaries of the established definitions of art. As a result they have expanded the field of art and public perception.

Workshop

The workshop with Benčić Youth Council offered a great way to combine our topics of interest—that is, art making through education. Recognizing the value of focusing on informal education in art and culture, this project provided a significant opportunity for kids to address subjects in art history and practice forms of art that are rarely taught in schools, particularly in Croatia.

The methodology we applied was, firstly, to discuss with the group of children the genealogy of earth markings since prehistoric times and their possible meanings—such as cave drawings, Nazca plane, and megalithic sites and gardens; and, secondly, to connect these earth markings to flagship earthworks and their labeling as land art—including works by Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, Walter de Maria, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Long, and Hamish Fulton. We found it important to consider with the children the different processes of creating these types of artworks as well as asking why some artists leave a permanent mark in the landscape while others let their works dissolve, change, or shift with the influence of weather or human interaction.

After theory we moved on to practice. The chosen location was a town beach, which had been, as part of city initiative, extended with river pebbles some years ago. Besides it being notable for variously coloured pebbles, the local beach seemed the right place (secluded, small, and intimate) to start thinking about how we can work with the found material in a designated location. After we first visited the beach with the group and created a series of brainstorming sketches for the project, we agreed on a design solution that was simple and manageable within the set time-frame. We began the process collectively, and with little coordination every child did what they could to contribute to our collective project. While collecting and sorting different shades of stones with the kids, we contemplated and discussed the work and its meaning and value.

In the last phase, the installation started to emerge through the organisation and placement of different coloured pebbles. About two tons of pebbles were collected over several days, sorted by colour, and placed back on the ground in a colourful and contrasting manner. Both directly and through our documentation, this affected the gaze of a viewer—our audience and us as authors—and posed questions about temporality. Towards the end of our work together, we could already understand that the installation would not be there for long due to the elements of nature (primarily waves and the tide), as well as due to human interaction. Afterward, in conversation with the kids, we agreed that the process of creating the work of art affected us. We concluded that the value for us was in the process we had gone through while achieving our project objective.

Referring indirectly to the title of Michael Heizer’s work Double Negative, we created Colour Positive as a response to the opposition of “nature” and “culture.” By entering into the landscape and giving ourselves time to think about the divide between nature and culture, we picked the “natural” and collectively rearranged it to propose an integrated vision of “culture” for the future.


[1] Taylor, M. C. (2014). Rewiring the real: In conversation with William Gaddis, Richard Powers, Mark Danielewski, and Don DeLillo. New York: Columbia University Press, 175.

[2] Krauss, R. (1979). Sculpture in the Expanded Field. October, 8. Retrieved from http://www.onedaysculpture.org.nz/assets/images/reading/Krauss.pdf

[3] Anderson, J. (2011, October 14). [ARTS 315] Working in the Expanded Field: Site Construction, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0G5MaYtQ17A

[4] Ibid.


Bibliography

Taylor, M. C. (2014). Rewiring the real: In conversation with William Gaddis, Richard Powers, Mark Danielewski, and Don DeLillo. New York: Columbia University Press.

Krauss, R. (1979). Sculpture in the Expanded Field. October, 8. Retrieved from http://www.onedaysculpture.org.nz/assets/images/reading/Krauss.pdf

Stromberg, J. (2013, January 01). What Is the Anthropocene and Are We in It? Retrieved November 10, 2017, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-is-the-anthropocene-and-are-we-in-it-164801414/

Anderson, J. (2011, October 14). [ARTS 315] Working in the Expanded Field: Site Construction, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0G5MaYtQ17A

Harcourt (2013). Work–Site–World: Rethinking Michael Heizer, X-tra, 15(2), Retreived March 22, 2018, from http://x-traonline.org/article/work-site-world-rethinking-michael-heizer-through-ends-of-the-earth/

Metod Blejec

Metod Blejec

Metod Blejec (b. 1979 in Ljubljana) is a multidisciplinary hybrid-producer in art, design, photography and education working on experimental and engaging process-based projects. His work crosses boundaries in media, scale, modes and concepts both in personal and collaborative practices. He is based in Ljubljana, Slovenia and works internationally. For more information please visit www.metod.xyz.

Una Rebić

Una Rebić

Una Rebić (b. 1986 in Rijeka) is a multidisciplinary art practitioner. Her practice is multifaceted and fluctuates between individual and collaborative projects. She is concentrated on exploring ways of communication within the social, physical, mental and spiritual realms. Una works in Croatia and Slovenia, as well as internationally.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.