Land Art, When Nature Speaks, In Our Language, About Itself
A brief introduction to this circumstantial discipline in which man, nature and language (the binder) converge.
Land art, also known as Earthwork, is not a stream of art, or even an artistic movement, it is instead a circumstantial activity between nature and man. It emerged towards the end of the 60s as a trend that sought to transform the landscape into the artist’s material. And regardless of the fact that neither a manifesto nor a specific style exists, and that its purpose differs depending on the artist, there is an essential thing shared by all the land art works: the landscape, even if intervened, can only speak of itself.
Here, the means is the message more than in any other art form because the natural space is perceived as a —very literal— semantic field, and the width of the Earth as the foundation for poetical acts. Robert Smithson, for example, who was one of the founders of the movement, perceived a latent, active rest in the micro-movements of small stones (which according to him could take up to two million years to move 30 cm). With this in mind he created a place for the convergence of science and fiction, his famous Spiral Jetty.
By intervening in the movement of those stones he summed up several millions years in a single geological, symbolic moment ––Smithson imitated the profound nature of stones and conferred them a different destiny: to be an infinite symbol in water. On a molecular level, visible through the formation of crystals on the rocks, and on a macro-stellar level, evident from the zenithal perspective, his work plays with the different correlations hidden in nature. His work is already part of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, part of the terrestrial landscape as seen from the moon, and his work is no longer his work. It is at the disposal of time and Earth (note that the term Earthwork suggests a work made by the Earth).
Perhaps Land Art can be so overwhelming because sometimes we need nature to remind us nature. Of itself and of us in it. A “land work” in in charge of highlighting this intrinsic relationship between man and the environment, it bestows it, as it were, with perceptibility. But Land Art does not solely speak of earth; it speaks of the sea, the sky and the light.
Other artists such as Walter de Maria or Peter Richards have simply let nature speak through human sculptures. In The Lightning Field, for example, de Maria makes a simple anthropic alteration of landscape to call upon millions of lightning bolts into a delimited area of the Arizona desert; Richards, in turn, with his Wave Organ, allows the sea to make music through series of pipes in a stone organ. Stunned by the unfolding of nature, these artists remind us what goes fading away through the happenings of everyday life.
One of the most beautiful examples, and the last, is that of Richard Long. He simply records the anthropic alteration that happens to landscape when one moves a few pieces out of place, but his work seems to be about spinal cords made out of the very bones he fins in situ. In this way, a row of stones found in the Yangtze River is the testimony of the work of a man, but it is also a new panorama for the river, which seems to accept the rocks’ disposition as if it had emerged from its own mineral logic. He leaves vertebral testimonies in lonely places, as if it were a landscaping act for landscape itself ––So that its stones can talk with some other of its stones.
The role of Land Art at this moment in history is more important than ever. In an almost violent fashion, and by moving just a few pieces from place, the artist manages to make the landscape reveal itself as it is; to break us back to our most elemental, ancient nature.
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