Archive | May, 2013

Land Art and Time 1

31 May
When looking at the work of a group of artists loosely termed Land Artists, for a recent talk to the EnglaID team, (by which I mean artists from the 1960’s to the present day), there seemed to be be no obvious common link between them, if you compared their creative process and work.

However, when reading some of these  artist’s statements, references to time, and alignment between themselves and previous artists , to human presence in the land, were common threads. Why does connection to the land prompt these similarities? Despite differences in practice?

Here are a few gathered statements and images:


The Spiral Jetty, Robert Smithson 1970

This earthwork was started in 1970, in the Great Lakes, Utah, USA, it is made of mud, salt crystals, rocks, 1500 feet long and 15 feet wide, supported by the DIA Centre for Arts, New York.

Smithson writes in 1972:

‘Once when flying over the lake. The dizzying spiral yearns for an assurance of geometry. One wants to retreat into the cool rooms of reason. But no, there was Van Gogh with his easel on some sun-baked lagoon painting ferns of the Carboniferous Period’.

As a slight aside, recently, looking at drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci, (always drawing for the future, it seems!), I came across this drawing, that when flipped digitally, has similarities to the Spiral Jetty.

arno flipped horizontal  a

Plan of an embankment for diverting the Arno 1502, Royal Collection, Windsor Library. Pen and ink, water colour.

Another ‘Land artist’, who directly refers to time, is Nancy Holt, wife of Robert Smithson, a key artist of this period. She visited Britain with Smithson, before they made these works. After going to Stonehenge, Old Sarum and Dartmoor in 1968, she states:

“Bob and I were both fascinated by how the landscape over long periods of time has been changed and reformed by humans out of necessity, not just as something to look at’ (1968)


In 1974, Holt, when searching for a site for her work Sun Tunnels in Utah, writes:

‘After camping in the desert alone, awhile, I had the strong sense that I was linked for thousands of years of human time with people who had lived in caves for so long, I was sharing the same landscape as them. From the site, they would have seen the sun rising and setting over the same mountains and ridges’.

Her audience however, rarely does share this, but maybe this is no longer the point, they imagine the scene via a photograph and the documentation.

James Turrell, has created, or is still creating, since 1974, a piece called Roden Crater, he states in his opening page of his web site:

‘I admire Borobudur, Angkor Wat, Pagan, Machu Pichu, the Mayan mountains, the Egyptian pyramids, Herodium, Old Sarum, Newgrange and the Maes Howe. These places and their structures have certainly influenced my thinking. These thoughts will find concurrence in Roden Crater.’25fink.xlarge1



James Turrell , detail of Sky Tunnel, inside Roden Crater 1977.

Richard Long, the British artist, who has used the simple act of walking as his expression and as a way of merging concepts states:

‘I make art which makes fairly transient sculpture. I can pour water, I can move stones around, to use time, space, distance.’

richard long walking a line in peru 1972

Walking a line in Peru 1972

He has not wanted to align himself with the monumental quality of Smithson, Holt and Turrell, yet like them, he refers to time and links with past human contact in the land, also using text and photographs to record his work.

Five Six Pick Up Sticks 1980, Richard Long


‘I like to use the symmetry between time,

Places and time, between distance and time,

Between stones and distance, between time and stones.


A walk is just one more layer, a mark, laid

Upon thousands of other layers of human

And geographic history on the surface of the

Land. Maps help to show this.’

Cerne Abbas Walk 1975 by Richard Long born 1945

Cerne Abbas 1975

But to end on an artist that makes you want to smile, look at Francis Alys, and a piece of film called :’ When Faith Moves  Mountains 2002′

Alys is an artist who uses land to contrast geological time and technological time, intertwined with individual and collective memory, maybe this work will resonate with archaeologists who have spent long months on a site. Although this piece lasted for just a day, it did involve 500 people, who using shiny spades and wearing white t-shirts moved a mountain in 2002, 4 inches from the original geographical position. The oral recording of peoples reactions after the event, was uplifting in many ways, and the memories and stories of the day, the sense of precisely when this happened and sense of time since then, was almost the strongest element, it seems.

So although, it could be said that the reason humans refer to time and human connections ,when land is present, is that they imagine other humans having been there beforehand, is this always the case? And why is it that artists drawing a bowl , or an indoor scene do not seem to ask themselves the same questions so often ?