Saturday, January 26, 2008

land art

Land art is a movement that began in the 1960's, when artists sought to place sculpture outside of the commercial gallery, and instead created works using the landscape itself. Such works utilized materials present in the environment, and were subject to the environment; blown by the wind or eroded by water. Here you see Spiral Jetty, a very famous piece of land art by Robert Smithson.

Andy Goldsworthy is my personal favorite of all the land artists I've looked into. What appeals to me, I think, is how his artwork is much like something I myself would have made as a little girl. All that free time wandering around in the desert wilderness, inspecting rocks and plants and making things out of them - I wish I'd known then that I could have called it art! I suggest that you borrow the book Hand to Earth: Andy Goldsworthy Sculpture 1976-1990 from the library, and view the documentary film Rivers and Tides to see how he works.

(Goldsworthy uses autumn leaves around a hole, pieces of ice slowly frozen together with water, rocks and branches, and dandelions woven together with grass stems)

My own attempt at making land art was entertaining. I wanted to try several types of sculpture, all of them using a single theme. In an attempt to subvert my overly enthusiastic maternal drive, I decided the theme would be infant related.

Initially, I wanted to
sculpt an earthen baby, perhaps from mud. I drew pictures of what I wanted it to look like. I scouted out locations, and finally found the perfect hollow tree, into which I built an elevated platform from stones. I covered the platform with moss to soften it and give it color. When I went to find mud from which to sculpt the baby, however, none of it had the right consistency. Rocks and sand for hundreds of miles.

conferring with my teacher, I decided to try suet (like Joseph Beuys). We pictured wild birds as they symbolically ate the baby, returning it to the earth. Perhaps I could make a mold of a baby and cast it in suet. That seemed artsy, right? In actuality, no one sold the quantity of suet that I needed, save for the butcher. Suet from the butcher is not like the suet you feed birds. It is big hunks of hard pig fat, which, I discovered, take years to render into grease, which then has to be cooled into lard. I gave up. I had no intention of suffering that smell for the sake of art.

In the end, I made a clay baby.
Clay is still earth, I figured, even if it didn't come from that exact location. Having become attached to the idea of how the fat baby would look, I wanted to cover the clay in a similar substance. I used beeswax, which smelled much better than the fat, and looked much the same. I had fun melting the wax in a double burner on my stove and pouring it all over the clay baby.

I took the baby to the woods, and with great internal
fanfare, placed it onto the platform, scattering birdseed all around it. It looked peaceful and protected sleeping there.

A few weeks later I went back, and someone had put up a sign that said "Rock Garden," and there were balanced stacks of stones all around the area. I felt very glad that someone had come across the baby and been inspired to add to it's surroundings.

Since then the snow has slowly been melting the baby. First all the wax cracked, and now the head has nearly entirely disappeared. I look forward to seeing if there is any of it left by spring.


  1. I love Goldsworthy's work! He inspired alot of my work my senior year,but I took the forest and put it on the human body in the form of botanically inspired jewelry. I still would like to do some site specific temporary jewelry out of natural materials that would decay and make some statement about mining and consumerisum. Maybe someday I will pull that idea together.
    Love the new blog!

  2. "When the babies born
    Oh, let's turn it to the snow
    So that ice will surely grow
    Over weak and brittle bones
    Oh, let's leave it to the wolves
    Oh, their teeth turn it to food
    Oh, its flesh keeps them alive
    Oh, its death helps life survive
    Oh, the world can be kind in its own way."

    Jocasta by Noah and the Whale.

    Good Job!