Questioning the art object 5: Land art, Christo and Jeanne-Claude Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Surrounded Islands, Biscayne Bay, Greater Miami, Florida, 1980-83
How have artists interacted with the land – or the idea of land- in the past? We may remember the Romantic tradition, that responded to the drama within Nature and emphasised it’s power and terror, equating it with God, and also emphasising our insignificance in relation to it... Turner: Shade and darkness: the evening of the deluge, 1843.
Or else, used the environment to emphasise age, history, memory, death and emotion. The use of dawn or evening, or certain seasons to evoke various moods… Casper David Friedrich, Cloister Cemetery in the Snow, 1817-19
The Australian Impressionists romanticized the landscape in a different way, suggesting the rightness and nobility of taming of the land…the idea that mankind was in charge, so all is well. The civilising influence of mankind. Streeton, Golden Summer Eaglemont 1889
The French Impressionists responded to the increasingly urban environment; or else depicted the middle classes at leisure. Either way, the landscape tended to be the ordered backdrop to civilisation. Renoir, Boating on the Seine
The Surrealists turned the landscape inwards, as a symbol of the unconscious mind…here De Chirico creates his ‘theatrical’ scape. De Chirico, The Red Tower, 1913
As we have seen with Conceptual, Minimalist and Pop art, the art object and conceptual relationships within the art world were being challenged from around the 1960s . Another challenge was posed by Earth art (aka land art, or earth works) which involved using materials of the earth and creating the work out in the environment; getting away from the idea of an art object in a gallery space. One of the pioneers of this art was Robert Smithson (US, 1938-1973.) Smithson was interested in having art, not so much sitting on the earth, as being a part of it. Aerial view Spiral Jetty, 1970, black basalt rock and local earth, Great Salt Lake Utah USA. 457m long x 45m wide.
We may recall that the 1960s was a time of social activism, and this included environmental concerns. Land art acted to focus attention on the environment in a new way. We looked at Andy Goldsworthy (UK, b. 1956) when we were considering Landscape in art. Goldsworthy is interested in totally (sometimes rapidly) ephemeral work, and on a smaller, more personal scale than Smithson. Though beautiful, his work is quite ‘matter of fact’ and documentary in its nature. He logs his work in a systematic way that is like the Conceptual artist’s style. Slate arch, made over two days, fourth attempt, Wales 1982.
Walter De Maria (US, b. 1935): Lightning field, 1977 This installation is in a remote desert location in New Mexico USA. 400 stainless steel poles are laid out in a grid 1 mile x 1 km. They are approx 6 metres high and embedded so that their tops are all on a flat plane. The area receives frequent lightning strikes, average 60 days per year which is one of the reasons it was chosen. It is beautiful to be seen at any time though; best at dusk and dawn as the poles are most visible then. Only 6 people are allowed onsite at any one time, and they have to pay to go out there and stay overnight. It is only open for several months of the year and is several hours drive from nearest town.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude do not use natural earth-based materials (and in fact they do not care for the label of ‘Land art’, preferring ‘Environmental Art.’ Ok then.) They use industrially-produced materials, which they are careful to recycle after their works are taken down. They interact with both natural and man-made structures with site-specificinstallations, that is, structures/artworks/creations that respond specifically and uniquely to a certain site. Valley Curtain, Grand Hogback, Rifle Colorado, 1972. The curtain is 381m wide, and from 55 to 110m high. Try to imagine how this would have looked, if you were there in person. How might we respond to this work?
In Wrapped Trees, the billowing fabric and it’s qualities of opacity or transparency create interesting forms, and encourage us to consider the subject in a new way. In an interesting contrast with, say the work of Sol LeWitt or Jackson Pollock, they are interested in their work being ‘… a work of joy and beauty…’(Christo & Jeanne-Claude website.) Using the conceptual framework, how could we describe this type of declared intention? Wrapped trees, Riehen Switzerland, 1998 – two views
Wrapped coast, one million square feet, Little Bay Australia, 1969 In 1969, thanks to John Kaldor Projects, Christo and Jeanne-Claude came to Australia to do their first big wrap project. At the time this was the largest artwork ever constructed. It covered a stretch of 2.4 km stretch of coastline and cliff face in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, on the grounds of Prince Henry Hospital. Professional mountain climbers as well as artists, teachers and art and architecture students were employed over 4 weeks to make it happen. It stayed up for 10 weeks. http://www.christojeanneclaude.net/videos/interview-with-christo-about-wrapped-coast http://www.christojeanneclaude.net/videos/wrapped-coast
C & J-C do a lot of lecturing and discussion of their work. They see this as integral to the work. They raise money by selling the preparatory sketches and lithographs of drawings of their work. They fund all their own projects and do not take any sponsorships or grant funding. It is very important to them to remain completely independent with regard to where and what they do. Obviously, they have to work in with governments and all sorts of bureaucracies to get the projects done. Again, this is part of the artwork. Many projects don’t get actually made because they don’t get permission. Others can take years to come together (Wrapped Trees took 32 years and was planned for various other venues before they got the Swiss to agree.) The Gates, Central Park NYC, 2005
Resources http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lU5oBJ0zoV8&feature=related Christo & Jeanne-Claude: http://www.christojeanneclaude.net/ Felicity Fenner, ‘The Nature of Art’, Art and Australia, Autumn 2007, Vol 44, no.3 Robert Smithson: http://www.robertsmithson.com/index_.htm http://umfa.utah.edu/spiraljetty National Gallery of Art, Washington DC: http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2002/christo/curtain.shtm Richard Long:http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/long-silence-circle-big-bend-texas-t06472/text-summary Andy Goldsworthy: http://www.ucblueash.edu/artcomm/web/w2005_2006/maria_Goldsworthy/biography.html