Repost-Modern Land Artists Point You Back To Nature, Placing You In Time, But Whose ‘Now’ Is This, Man? What Is Nature, Exactly?

Paul Wood discusses the works of Robert Smithson (Broken Circle, Spiral Hill) and Richard Serra (Fulcrum, Spin Out):

Land-art pieces are site-specific. They require you to be there and experience them, designed as they are to be within the specific spaces they occupy.

In so doing, they break from previous modernist ‘Readymades‘ and reproduced images (I don’t know about you, but I’m tiring of so many commentaries on consumerism, the desire for craft over mass production, a certain collective vagueness against such disposability…the dream of unique Selfhood, celebrity even, amidst a thousand urinals).

As a viewer, you’re supposed to interact with these pieces and start feeling and thinking differently than perhaps you might have otherwise. Walk around, through, and over them. View one hillock from another. Walk back over to the first hillock and look from whence you came. The view is never quite what you were imagining.

Clap inside of Serra’s ‘Vortex:’

Time is clearly intended to be an element, here; the long sweep of geologic and/or historical time as the artist understands it, as well as the relative brevity of personal time during just a 10-minute visit.

These pieces can act as signposts towards Nature and what we can begin to observe of our specific natural environments (steel rusts in unique, but perhaps underlying, patterns…winds blow at different angles and around different obstacles in one grove as opposed to another, these lichens are growing here…other lichens over there, are they the same species?).

If you pull the piece out of its specific environment, it may just wither and die, looking out-of-place as many other products of civilization do amidst natural settings (a jar in Tennessee). Perhaps, though, they won’t look quite so out-of-place as mass-produced objects because of such careful design and attention to detail.

That said, these pieces will eventually look quite awkward undergoing the changes they will undergo if Nature’s Laws are any guide (Romantic/Modernist recreations of Nature can promise the comforts of Home).

Here’s Wikipedia, keeping it simple:

‘Land art, earthworks (coined by Robert Smithson), or Earth art is an art movement in which landscape and the work of art are inextricably linked.’

From the video description:

‘Robert Smithson and Richard Serra both believed that sculpture should have a dialog with its environment. This program explores the challenging dialectic of the site-specific sculpture of Smithson and Serra through examples of their work. In an interview, Serra discusses the aspects of time and context in relation to his art as well as the influence of Smithson.’

Maybe it’s worth pointing out that Serra seems interested in symmetry, visualizing and realizing abstract shapes with the help of some mathematics and the practice of drawing/drafting. Interesting problems can arise from tooling around with shapes on paper (a practice of Serra’s), the kind I’m guessing folks fascinated by puzzles and software and math love to solve.

But Serra’s not a mathematician nor an engineer nor an architect. He’s not writing a proof for its own sake nor building bridges nor houses for practical use.

Rather, the intuitive and creative impulses of the artist take over in his work, a kind of creative exploration, as well as the dialog between fellow artists, living and dead.

Much (A)rt, of course, is useless for most, if not all, purposes. It’s one of the things that can make it meaningful for people. There can be a significant gap between what the artist may have felt, thought and realized, and which emotions, thoughts and experiences any viewer/listener might have in interacting with a particular piece.

Serra, in his work, wants to alter the thinking of anyone moving through the space he creates by manipulating specific substances like steel (he has a facility with the material), and by getting viewers to a point of reorientation of spatial and temporal awareness.

Of course, this involves reorientation towards certain ideas as he understands them, and by promising people a return to themselves, or a state of experience and creative play perhaps similar to that of the artist.

Here’s a Charlie Rose interview:

More about Land Artists:

Any thoughts and comments are welcome. Feel free to highlight my ignorance…

Related On This Site:A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?

Modern Art For Sale In The Middle-East-From The New Yorker: ‘Richard Serra In the Qatari Desert’

From Arch Daily Via Readers: ‘From Psychopath Lairs to Superhero Mansions: How Cinema and Modernist Architecture Called A Truce’

Full piece here.

Addition: A lair in the California desert that looks a bit sci-fi.  It doesn’t get much more modern than that.

Wouldn’t you still rather have Monticello?

‘We all know that psychopaths prefer contemporary design. Hollywood has told us so for decades. The classic film connection between minimal interiors and emotional detachment (see: any Bond adversary) or modern buildings and subversive values is well documented – and regrettable. The modernist philosophy of getting to the essence of a building was intended to be liberating and enriching for the lives of occupants. Hardly fair then that these buildings are routinely portrayed with villainous associations.’

Have you seen the Mt. Rushmore house at the end of North By Northwest?  I suspect some among us have wanted to live in a modernist lair.

From an article in Der Spiegel on the Bauhaus, where modernism got its start:

‘The real feat achieved by Gropius and his cohorts was to have recognized and exposed the sociopolitical and moral power of architecture and design. They wanted to exert “effective influence” on “general conditions,” fashion a more just world and turn all of this into a “vital concern of the entire people.”‘

I’m always a little skeptical of such grand visions.  Utopianism runs deep.

Speaking of cinema, this blog hasn’t given up on searching for awesome badness, preferably 80’s awesome badness.  I simply offer the following scene from Gymkata, which encapsulates good and evil, gymnastics and karate, foreign policy and an American national greatness since sunken into ironic detachment and doubt:

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Want to lose an afternoon?  Visit Lileks.com.  A fine humorist with a sharp pen and a keen eye.  This is what the internet is for.

Related On This Site:  They designed a city in the heart of Brazil that really doesn’t work for people: Brasilia: A Planned City

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator: The New Humanism…From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…From The City Journal Via Arts And Letters Daily: Andre Glucksman On “The Postmodern Financial Crisis”

Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’ Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-’Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

Friday Poem: Design By Robert Frost

Design

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth–
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth–
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.

Robert Frost (wikipedia)

Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’

Full piece here.

Click through for the photo.

‘The system, designed by British cybernetician Stafford Beer, was supposed to allow powerful men to make decisions about production, labor, and transport in real time using up-to-the-minute economic information provided directly by workers on the factory floors of dozens of newly nationalized companies’

A shag carpet probably would have been out of place, but I like the white pod chairs (Captain Kirk to the bridge for fuel price re-allocations).

In fact, the network that fed the system was little more than a series of jury-rigged Telex machines with human operators, transmitting only the simplest data, which were slapped onto old-style Kodak slides—again, by humans. The controls on the chairs merely allowed the operator to advance to the next slide’

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In working towards a theme, check out Buzludzha, the abandoned communist monument in Bulgaria’s Balkan mountains, which still draws up to 50,000 Bulgarian Socialists for a yearly pilgrimage.  Human Planet’s Timothy Allen visited the structure in the snow and took some haunting photos.  You will think you’ve stepped into a Bond film and one of Blofeld’s modernist lairs, but with somewhat Eastern Orthodox tile frescos of Lenin and Marx gazing out at you, abandoned to time, the elements and to nature.

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Continuing towards that theme, here are two quotes from a recent Harvey Mansfield review of Steven Bilakovics new book, which could possibly help explain how, say, the Chrysler building and St. Patrick’s Cathedral have become two of New York’s most iconic buildings (hint: we’re not a socialist society):

Tocqueville almost uses the above phrase in a chapter on “why American writers and orators are often bombastic.” He says that there is “nothing in-between,” or more literally, “the intermediate space is empty,” implying that there might have been something there. In democratic societies, each citizen is habitually occupied in the contemplation of a very small object: himself. If he raises his eyes, he sees only the “immense object of society” or even the whole human race. If he leaves his normal concerns, he expects it to be for something indefinitely vast instead of something definite and greater than himself.”

Artists have a particularly tough time in America, because they’re often particularly alone in America.  Ezra Pound and T.S Eliot abandoned the place completely, and many aspiring artists get their training in Europe. This blog believes Wallace Stevens to especially be representative of this dilemma (he never left).  He was an insurance executive by day and perhaps one of America’s best poets;  a romantic, a modernist, as well as a man who possibly had a deathbed conversion to Christianity:  From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

On this view, being the good democratic citizens that we are, we reject the aristocratic elements from gaining too much traction, and thus do not create the vine-ripened literary, artistic, and cultural traditions that can make good artists into what they become, and what makes European cities, novels, poets, museums, and Europeans themselves something of what they are (a broad brush, I know).

I think Mansfield’s point is that some folks in the U.S see this dilemma of the democratic man only in terms of a vulgar materialism that must be overcome with the Arts, or High Culture, or Poetry or with a ‘Let’s be like Europe’ approach, especially in many a Liberal Arts Department.  It’s a deep wish.  Democracy is a leveling force.   It’s worth pointing out that the Arts can also be united with a Left-of-Center political philosophy as they are at NPR for popular consumption.  On this site, see: From ReasonTV Via Youtube: ‘Ken Burns on PBS Funding, Being a “Yellow-Dog Democrat,” & Missing Walter Cronkite’Repost-From NPR: Grants To The NEA To Stimulate The Economy?

Some of these same folks see religion (the Puritan roots especially) as a restrictive, repressive force that needs to be overcome in order for freedom, free artistic expression and individual autonomy to flourish (I believe this is a driving tension in Hollywood).  There’s some truth to this, because I believe religion and politics, and even philosophy itself, have troubled relationships with art.

Mansfield goes on:

‘The theorists of materialism tell us that the long term will take care of itself so long as we do not obstruct materialism in the short run in our everyday lives. With a view to supporting political liberty, Tocqueville wants to limit everyday materialism and to concern us with a long-term goal, such as improving our immortal souls. This is why he fears for the state of democratic souls and speaks so strongly, if not fervently, in favor of religion. This is also why he showed such disgust for socialism.’

Perhaps we can keep it simpler, and not get taken with grand theories, or at least socialist ones anyways:

Too much politics into the arts?


First National Bank of Houlton, Maine

Related On This Site:  From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’…Marketplace aesthetics in service of “women”: Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty: Pascal Dangin And Aesthetics

Some of Le Corbusier’s work here, examples of Modern Architecture here.

See AlsoBrasilia: A Planned City and Review Of Britain’s “Lost Cities” In The Guardian

Cities should be magnets for creativity and culture? –From The Atlantic: Richard Florida On The Decline Of The Blue-Collar ManFrom Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily says the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

How might Nietzsche figure in the discussion, at least with regard to Camille Paglia.  See the comments:  Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful…Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…

Nothing that Allan Bloom didn’t point out in the Closing Of The American Mind: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

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