Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Landscape Vortex: Spectacular Earth and Culture Dialogs

Robert Smithson: Spiral Jetty

Nature means chaos. Art is about order and meaning. Nature is opposite to culture. Art, along with philosophy and science, is culture's breath. Nature sets borders for civilization. Civilization destroys nature. While the two concepts of "art" and "nature" seem to oppose each other by definition, nature is a respected member in the long list of mediums used by humans to express their spiritual insides: it is called Land Art, Earthworks or Earth Art - a sculptural art movement emerged in the late 1960s in the USA. With Land Art creations, instead of sculptures being placed in the landscape - landscape becomes the sculpture itself. The majority of Land Art works are located in distant locations where they are "left to change and erosion under natural conditions." Here few examples to help you figure this out.

Robert Smithson: from Spiral Jetty to Amarillo Ramp

The plane crash that killed Robert Smithson on July 20, 1973 just a few hundred yards from Amarillo Ramp was of the most tragic, sad and poetic endings of any artist career. He was of the earliest Land Art pioneers. Despite of his young age (35) at the time of the Amarillo Ramp air survey, Smithson had left a few of the most remarkable, mysterious and thought-provoking hybrids of art and nature ever made. He was accused to be more interested in promoting himself than the idea of Land Art. Yet, even with relatively few surviving major works many contemporary artists have homaged his art. The Amarillo Ramp that once cost Smithson his life is today a barely noticed partial circle of rock located in Tecovas Lake, 15 miles NW of Amarillo in the desert of Texas. The completion of this 140 foot diameter structure, previously 15 feet high above ground level, was performed by Smithson's widow Nancy Holt with the help of Richard Serra and others just a few months after his death. Amarillo Ramp photo sources (1) stephan.barron (2) (3)

After three Land Art experiments – namely Asphalt Rundown (Rome, Italy October, 1969) Glue Pour (Vancouver, Canada, December, 1969) and Partially Buried Woodshed (Kent, Ohio, January, 1970) Smithson had developed a deep interest with spiral and centrifugal shapes. This led him to the making of Spiral Jetty, a 1,500-foot coil of black basalt rocks assembled by Smithson in Rozel Point, at the shore of Utah's Great Salt Lake in April, 1970. Spiral Jetty has become Smithson's most familiar work and a symbol to the ambivalent love-hate relationship between culture and nature. Above: Smithson during his work on the project. Top on this story: Air view of Spiral Jetty. Photo sources:

According to Nancy Holt, as quoted in a fascinating NYTimes article Spiral Jetty is a "vortex that draws in everything in the landscape around it.'' The magnificent "vortex" was covered by the water of the Great Salt Lake for many years but since 1999, according to the NYTimes, drought has lowered the water level and in early 2004 it was completely re-exposed. Photos taken in December 2006 and April 2005 illustrate how, same as in the Amarillo Ramp case, the magnificent battle between Smithson and nature is still in process. Here is a Google Earth kmz file for Spiral Jetty.

D.A.ST: 100,000 Square Meters of Desert Breath

Desert breath was completed in March 1997 on a flat sandy span between the Egyptian Red Sea and the nearby desert mountains. Created by D.A.ST – a group formed in 1995 based on the common desire of the three artists to create their own installation in the desert – piece occupies one hundred thousand (!) square meters of desert and involved the displacement of eight thousand cubic meters of sand. Following is a recent satellite photo of the Desert Breath site and here is a Google Earth kmz file.

More about this work by Sculptor Danae Stratou, Industrial Designer Alexandra Stratou and Architect Stella Constantinides on

Crop Circles: From Bower and Chorley to The Circlemakers

Crop circle making is another form of artistic landscape shaping involving the flattening or cutting of crops to create circled geometrical patterns. This art form become popular over the past 20 years following two Hampshire based artists Doug Bower and Dave Chorley who in 1978 crated a circle in a corn field as a prank. Bower and Chorley wanted to see if they can make people believe the circle was made by a flying saucer. The prank worked well but also attracted countless of followers, headed by The Circlemakers a group of British Land artists focusing in crop circles and other geometrical shapes such as the above.

The Store Ord circle (Danish for "Big Words", shown above) in a field near Aarhus, Denmark is especially interesting because it shows how crop circle making becomes a trendy fashion. Store Ord was made as part of a PR campaign for a Danish newspaper. The group also makes gigantic landscape shapes by other means. Amongst its creations is also the largest Sudoku puzzle ever made. This piece outside Bristol, UK was made as a publicity stunt for Sky One and their TV show "Carol Voderman's Sudoku Live". Photos: The Circlemakers website

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1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    These are incredible artworks.
    I don't think that Nature is chaos though.
    For me, Nature is a continuous path to balance.

    Kind regards,



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