￼￼Land Art as a Platform for Interaction
By Una Rebić and Metod Blejec
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
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
￼￼”You belong with me, not swallowed in the sea”
By Ivana Golob and Natali Bosić of the Benčić Youth Council
When the two artists came to us with the proposal of creating a collaborative land art intervention, we recognized it as an interesting educational framework. They proposed a multi-day workshop where children and adults would work together in order to make a collaborative art piece in the landscape well known to children. Since Rijeka is a coastal city and has a long tradition of sunbathing and swimming on city beaches that have in recent years been neglected, we decided to pick one of them as the location for our workshop.
The concept of the workshop draws from land art principles of temporality, reconnecting with nature, and variability of art that is subjected to environmental impacts. As a result, the focus is on the process of creating work, not the result itself.
Landscape and nature have been the source of artists’ inspiration since prehistoric times, but the 20th century saw the rise of the artist who actively forms a dialogue with nature and immerses themself in it. By extension, process oriented work and ecology have become more and more important to artists. Contemporary landscape artists bring these issues into the very center of their work, so today we can see extremely temporary works of short duration or with a pronounced component of change. Also, artists are increasingly concerned with the issues of alienation of man from nature and ecological pollution.
What is the meaning of working on something that is so prone to erasure as pebbles on the beach?
This is why we have recognized land art intervention not only as a great artistic and learning experience, but also as a great opportunity to initiate a dialogue on several topics such as: nature in the urban context, relationship between process and product oriented education (or work), and dealing with loss.
￼As expected, at the very beginning of this project, it had become clear to the children that the process we were suggesting to them implied creating their work and then leaving it to be erased under the influence of man and nature. To school-aged children which are already immersed into a rigid and goal oriented educational system, this was a very strange suggestion at the outset.
New questions arose:
What is the point of work that is made to disappear? How do we justify (as individuals and as a group) the time spent on a work that may disappear tomorrow? Where can we find a substitute for the pleasure and reward that results in the production of one’s work? How do we let go of our attachment to the final product? And finally—how do we focus on process?
Many of aspects of our lives, beginning in the education system and continuing through our working life, are goal oriented, but it could be argued that humans are by nature process oriented. And although we often tend to think that goal orientation has absorbed into all pores of our lives, many aspects of our daily life have remained process oriented. Most of our social and relaxation activities are focused on process—spending time with family and friends—experiences of being together. Cohen calls this “in-the-moment experience” and describes it “as a critical dimension of excellent communication that will lead to meaningful dialogue, contact, and increased intimacy.”
From Doing to Being
In addition to focusing on doing—the work of collecting and sorting the stones—the goal of the workshop was to focus on the aspect of being (in the moment): encouraging children to explore, be creative, and guide their own play in order to remind themselves of the value that free play and time spent in nature brings to us. We focused on balancing doing and being— building something together while at the same time enjoying and savouring the process by playing, expressing ourselves, and exploring different ways of being together. In this way we had started to build our process oriented community around the hands-on experience of this collaborative art piece. The art piece itself was left to be enjoyed by random passersby and eventually swallowed by the sea.
As 10-year-old participant Lovro nicely articulated, this workshop did not mean just moving stones, but leaving a trace in nature, doing group work, socializing on the beach, and sharing new ideas. In the end what he enjoyed the most was spending time hanging around with friends.
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