Monday, March 4, 2013

Ursula von Rydingsvard's Cedar Behemoths

Ursula von Rydingsvard was born in Germany, but has worked for most of her life in New York. Much of her work consists of large, interlocking pieces of cedar, pieced together into massive structures. Her work has a remarkable weight and presence to it.

Scale is a vital element in von Rydingsvard's work. She explains: "The whole basis of scale is in relationship to the human size. Even when it’s outdoors, it’s in relation to the human size, but also in relationship to what surrounds it. In scale it’s incredibly important outdoors to have a presence underneath the sky, underneath the sun, and I never, ever think of competing with what nature does in any way. But I do try to hold my own with the surroundings, to have a presence in the context of the surroundings."

The rich textures and sense of enormity in von Rydingsvard's work is powerful.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Patrick Dougherty's Whimsical Human Nests

Patrick Dougherty, who lives in North Carolina, travels worldwide to create site-specific works of entwined sticks and branches. His sculptures resemble large bird nests, like those a weaver bird would fashion, but conceived on a human scale. It seems to be about habitats--our human dwelling places, and how they come from and separate themselves from the landscape around us. To my eye, his work also possesses a whimsical, almost humorous, quality.

Here is Dougherty talking about his work: "Beyond the huge personal pleasure I gain from working with the simplest materials in a complex world, I believe that a well-conceived sculpture can enliven and stir the imagination of those who pass. For viewers the pleasure is elemental and beyond politics and financial forces. I like activating public spaces and being part of the world of ideas."

Pierre Vivant

Pierre Vivant is a french sculptor and landscape artist who works mainly in Great Britain. Many of his works concern perspective and perception. 
In the "Made in England" series the artist uses a simple slide projector and a portable word generator to project a word at night. This projection alters the English landscape. He does this by picking or cutting crop wherever the light of the word falls. With the light of dawn, the landscape reclaims the site and shows the word correctly only from the exact point of view of the projector. In the "Made In England" series the artist sought to show that the continued beauty of the English landscape is but a screen which conceals the massive changes in food production.The field pictured below is now a gulf course.



Saturday, February 23, 2013

Blog Spotlight: Richard Shilling

Thirty years ago, accessing the private thoughts of celebrities, artists and public figures was unimaginable. Then the Internet happened, and the public now has direct access to Twitter accounts, blogs, and personal websites - we know what our favorite celebrities are up to, what they're eating, and which words they always misspell.

In the case of artists, this instant access is very gratifying. Blogs offer backstage passes into the lives and thought process of contemporary artists. Check out this blog by land artist Richard Shilling. He writes about his travels to Nepal, his artistic musings and seeing his work heavily advertising in the paper. Before art students and admirers may have seen his work in galleries or read an interview with him in a magazine, but now they have unique access to the work of artists like Richard Shilling.

Photo from

Monday, February 18, 2013

Revival Field: Themes of Change, Mutability and Transformation

Heather Phillips
History of Contemporary Art 
Dr. Alford

January 2013

This one 1800-word blog post is a combination of the two 900-word blog post requirements. All images are credited to Mel Chin’s website:

Artists have used land as a medium in a variety of different ways since the Earthworks movement in the 1970s. While early Earthworks artists focused on formal issues while creating minimalistic geometric forms, contemporary artists often use land as metaphors and comment on current pressing environmental and societal issues. Current day land artists use earth in a larger variety of ways, even tackling discussions of politics and social issues. For more than a decade, Mel Chin has embodied this new generation of land artists while embracing several ways to use land to offer inquiries into modern-day living. Through his array of interests, Chin’s work blends the lines of science, social activism and art in his use of land.  Chin’s multi layered work crosses through many mediums including: toxic earth, soil analysis research, video games, works re-purposing abandoned homes, and many others. These aspects of his art have caused confusion by writers and critics. Though many struggle to classify his work, it is often lumped together in the board category of activist art. This categorization, though it provides a convenient lens through which to view his work, does his work an injustice. Ultimately, Chin’s work is a cross-media poetic expression of change for himself, and others, as well as the transformation towards that change.  This central theme in his work can be seen in one of Chin’s most famous works: Revival Field.
Revival Field
Many who review the artwork of Mel Chin are quick to point out the issue of classification. Though Chin is classically trained, his art is analytical and poetic and evades easy classification.[1] Mel Chin’s work is hard to classify because of the variety of topics he explores which span across many mediums. Chin bridges fields of inquiry in the creation of his pieces.  However, this aspect of his work has gained flak from many critics and other outside sources who often describe his work as being “whatever concept fires his imagination — in whatever medium seems appropriate.”[2] Chin’s work often has a political edge as well as a research component. These qualities led to initial disappointment in the creation process of Revival Field. This work by Chin featured an experimental polluted field using plants whose offspring might hold the cure for decontamination. Though seen as a science project by some, Chin’s assertion of Revival Field as an art piece was a strategic act in order to gain funding. [3] When official government agencies were reluctant to fund the implementation of an alternative approach, Chin transferred the experiment from the domain of art, because art is exempt from regulations, certificates, and authorizations.[4] Current government methods of disposing polluted land were already expensive; agencies saw funding Chin’s work as only adding to the cost. Still, Chin’s choice was also made to assert the many possible mediums for art work as a generator of change, a central aspect of Chin’s work.
Despite Chin’s assertion, however, he still encountered opposition for another reason.  Upon a request for funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the grant was denied after council members had criticized the project for being too political in nature.[5] The grant was ultimately denied, however, because of its connection to environmental research: “Endowment Chairman John E. Frohnmayer rejected a proposal to fund Revival Field because he insisted it pertained to the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, not the NEA.”[6] Though funding for Revival Field was eventually secured, the initial funding issue displays both the confusion and objections concerning the levels of meaning in Chin’s artwork.
In explaining the multiplicity of topics and mediums in his work, Chin states: “My work takes difficult political and ecological dilemmas and expresses such topics in symbolic forms. I am interested in the mechanics of ideas... I explore Ideas and how we live, what kind of society we have. I look for a game plan, a possibility.”[7] Chin’s quest in exploring possibilities produce works which are similar in that they pertain to today’s society, and possess no limitations. By not having limitations, Chin’s work crosses many disciplines. The root of the work lies in an idea new to the artist and society in general, resulting in a work which provides possibilities unseen before. Chin’s art does possess many ideas, mediums, and statements. Even so, a common thread throughout his work is the metaphor of change and transformation. 
Working on Revival Field
Revival Field is a work by Mel Chin which accurately displays the artist’s use of change and transformation.  The art project is a circular field of polluted land which features crops that are planted, maintained, and harvested when they reach maturity. The key to eliminating the toxicity lies in re-planting. The dense roots of the hyperaccumulators absorb the contaminating metals from the soil and the harvested plants are incinerated at low temperatures. The planting process is repeated until the site's toxicity level is safe and acceptable. [8] The change in Revival Field happens literally as soil purification occurs through the growing and replanting process. Chin started the project with a hunch about toxin-absorbing plants and contacted scientists throughout the world. Eventually he learned of a research paper that led him to his collaborator. Working with U.S. Department of Agriculture agronomist Rufus Chaney, the artist proposed an art project introducing a variety of species called hyperaccumulators that Chaney had been studying [9]. In Revival Field “[t]he success of his work is measured in terms of real, not metaphoric, change.”[10] One display of change in this work occurs through the well documented results. These results, if they portray success in the purification process, could also lead to a change in how we handle hazardous waste sites.

The hard facts showing change is but one way this work expresses transformation. A change in your way of thinking occurs. Chin has listed this change as an important condition. Chin believes that the survival of his own ideas may not be as important as a condition he might create for others’ ideas to be realized.[11] In today’s world, land (unpolluted land especially) is becoming more and more scarce. Revival Field also presents a change in a person’s way of thinking Chin pursues in the viewer as well as in himself: 
If you approach everything with a critical eye or mind, then the world will reveal itself as something that's quite impossible to change. The human ecological track record is so horrific that I don't have much hope for it, really But the moment that you're captured by some other possibility, the moment when you discover art that's new to you , other philosophies, other music —those moments are very rare, but they transform you. Art can change who you are. I don't think about changing the world; I think about changing myself.[12]
Revival Field displays how change plays a central role in the artwork of Mel Chin. Chin goes about trying to change his outlook on societal topics, eventually seeking to share these possibilities with others. This process can be seen in how Chin went about planning Revival Field. After studying the nature of pollution, Chin was able to find another who shared in his theory for purification of earth. The outcome was a new way to view the rate of land consumption through the possibility of purifying land previously unworkable. This new way of thinking is first new to the artist; this new found method then becomes a possibility when shared as an artwork to the public.
Art:21 Segment on Mel Chin
            Another way to view the art projects of Mel Chin is through not just change, but mutability. Chin’s works embody the notion of mutability through the transformation process that so often occurs in his works. The changes he instigates apply to three categories-nature, the human mind, and art-and can affect reform throughout culture.  Revival Field is a prototype for converting many forms of careless behavior into responsible action. In this way Revival Field mutates as it transmutes despair over terrestrial despoilment into rays of hope. [13] Change occurs in Revival Field literally as the land becomes cleansed. A transformation also occurs through a change in the way one views land consumption. However, another level of transformation is present in the polluted land itself. The toxic environments Chin works with are products of irresponsible misuse of hazardous materials. From this portrait of carelessness Chin crafts a project employing responsible action, research and purification. An irresponsible action mutates into a responsible one considerate of humanity, in an effort to make a change for the greater good. 
Mel Chin ultimately uses the aspect of change in order to present a catalyst of sorts: “My goal for art is to create a condition where one can see the possibility of change. Art is not static, it is catalytic. Art is not just a language, its useful, it makes things function. It has a critical relationship in society, not members of an elite. We have our function in society.”[14] In light of this goal, an example of a successful work of art in Chin’s eyes is seen in Revival Field. Chin’s goal of finding change in the way he thinks, resulting in a new possibility for society to benefit from, is achieved in Revival Field.  This possibility transforms the mindset of society as well.  Revival Field is a catalyst for change both through the way one thinks and the functionality of earth itself. If the project is successful, it will change how we treat toxic land, making it functional once more.  Therefore, Revival Field is not just an example of Chin’s thematic use of change, transformation, and mutability. Its catalytic nature makes it, in the eyes of the artist, a successful work of art society can draw from.
 Revival Field serves to portray many aspects of Mel Chin’s work. The controversy involving the funding of the work displays the confusion surrounding the multi-disciplinary and multi-media approach Chin uses in his works. This work shows the theme of change, transformation, and mutability resulting in the catalytic quality Chin strives for. These themes are present in many layers of the work. The first layer of change is seen through the literal change from toxic to purified, dangerous and untouchable to useful once again. From this transformation, a second change has the possibility of occurring: a change in how the government treats hazardous waste. A second layer is present that demonstrates Chin’s proposed method in all of his works. Chin arrives to a new way of thinking which he shares with society. This new way of thinking and treating hazardous waste gives Revival Field the catalytic quality the artist strives for. Lastly, a third layer is present in what the land stood for in its beginnings. By using the toxic earth as a catalyst for societal change, Chin displays a mutation from land showing the irresponsibility of humans to land showing transformation for the greater good.

[1] Art21, Inc., "Mel Chin." Last modified 2012. Accessed February 15, 2013.

[2] Cudlin, Jeffry. 2010. "Working By Any Means Necessary: A Conversation with Mel Chin." Sculpture (Washington, D.C.) 29, no. 2: 32-39. Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed February 17, 2013).

[3] "SEGMENT: Mel Chin in "Consumption"." Consumption. Art21, Inc.. 2001. Web,

[4] Weintraub, Linda. 1996. 47.  Art on The Edge And Over. Art Insight, Inc.

[5] Masters, Kim. 1990. “Arts Chief Ignores Advice, Vetoes Grant; Environmental Project
Criticized as Political.” The Washington Post. LexisNexis (accessed Feburary 15, 2013).

[6] Weintraub, 49.

[7] Weintraub, 48.

[8] Phillips, Patricia C. 1997. "Subverting landscape: the work of Mel Chin." Public Art Review 8, 4-8. Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed February 18, 2013).

[9] Phillips.

[10] Weintraub, 47.

[11] Art21, Inc.

[12] Cudlin.

[13] Weintraub, 50.

[14] Weintraub, 51.

James Turrell: Roden Crater

Land artist James Turrell is currently at work on one of the largest pieces of art on the planet--his Roden Crater, begun in 1979. He is transforming the three-mile-wide site (located near Flagstaff, Arizona) into an enormous installation: an observatory of sorts, configured towards the summer and winter solstices. This work functions as a massive nexus between heaven and earth, and as such is an outrageously ambitious project. Vast, empty, and suffused with light, it represents a true American Sublime.

Of his work, Turrell says, "It’s about perception. For me, it’s using light as a material to influence or affect the medium of perception. I feel that I want to use light as this wonderful and magic elixir that we drink as Vitamin D through the skin—and I mean, we are literally light-eaters—to then affect the way that we see. We live within this reality we create, and we’re quite unaware of how we create the reality. So the work is often a general koan into how we go about forming this world in which we live, in particular with seeing."

I would love to experience this site in person. I imagine one would feel dwarfed by the immensity of both earth and sky.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Beginnings of Land Art

Contemporary earthworks manipulate the land into art. As Heather's thesis points out, it's impossible to disconnect these contemporary works with ancient ones -- ancient earthworks continue to inspire modern artists, but the causes for creation have evolved over the years.

The topic of my own thesis is Andrew Rogers' enormous geoglyphs. He was inspired by the Nazca Lines in southern Peru. At first formed in the shapes of monkeys, hummingbirds, whales, etc., these gigantic geoglyphs started transforming into geometric patterns like trapezoids and rectangles. In National Geographic Magazine, Markus Reindel of the German Archeological Institute says, "Our idea is that they weren't meant as images to be seen anymore, but stages to be walked upon, to be used for religious ceremonies."

Nasca Lines, Southern Peru:

Photo from National Geographic. Read the article here.
In present day, geoglyphs are not carved into the earth as ceremonial walkways, irrigation systems, or as -- in one theory -- messages to the gods. In the case of artist Andrew Rogers, he wanted to make a mark on the world and connect the Earth with his larger-than-life sculptures. The causation for creating land art has changed significantly since the days of the Nasca Lines in southern Peru.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Georgia Papageorge's Rifts and Bloodlines

Georgia Papageorge is a South African land artist. Much of her work centers around the theme of rifts: rifts between races, countries, and continents, as well as internal rifts. Her piece, Africa Rifting: Lines of Fire, for example features broad lengths of red cloth wrapped around the oceanic borders of two nations: Namibia and Brazil, who once shared a border before the continents drifted apart eons ago.

In addition, much of her work, she says, is "very religious. I’m Catholic, and I’m dealing with the trans-substantiation of matter. I’m taking and applying the idea of  mass –  the body and blood of Christ, which  is transformed into bread and wine – and transforming mere cloth into lines of fire and blood. They are symbolic lines, symbolic of fire and blood. In my Kilimanjaro works, I see water as the lifeblood of Africa.”

Watch a short interview with the artist here.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Earth, Blood, and Feathers: Ancient Northern Mesoamerican Tradition in the Work of Ana Mendieta

Earth, Blood, and Feathers:
Ancient Northern Mesoamerican Tradition in the Work of Ana Mendieta

Is it true one really lives on the earth?
Not forever on earth,
Only a little while here.
Though it be jade it falls apart,
Though it be gold it wears away,
Though it be quetzal plumage it is torn asunder.
Not forever on earth,
Only a little while here.
-Nezahuacoyotl (tr. Miguel Leon-Portilla)[i]

In a relatively short span of time between 1972 and 1985, Ana Mendieta created one of the richest and most distinct bodies of work among the early earthworks artists. Though she was of the generation of artists like Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer, she eschewed their geometric, formal minimalism in favor of a fully embodied, spiritually infused earth art. Jane Blocker writes, of Mendieta’s relationship to the earth: “To anthropomorphize the earth is to endow it with sentience, desire, and identity: it is to think of the earth as more than merely sculptural material.”[ii] Breaking land art from its geometric precedents, she embraced an alternative aesthetic heritage in the feminist earth goddess movement, and drew from religious rituals like those of Santeria, Mesoamerican religion (such as those of the Aztec, Zapotec, and Mayan), Taino religion, and Catholicism. In addition, her practice drew from the tradition of the performance and body artists more than the minimalists. Mendieta’s earth was an extensions of her body, and that body was permeated with spiritual immanence. In this essay, I will explore Mendieta’s view of landscape through the body, specifically the female body, and particularly how this exploration was informed by the religious ritual and practice she was inspired by. While the influence of Santeria and Taino religion on Mendieta’s work has been well documented, the role of Northern Mesoamerican (Aztec, Zapotec) though and ritual has been explored less. This essay will focus on the role of Northern Mesoamerican art in the earth/body works of Ana Mendieta, particularly her Siluetas and bird series.

As a young girl, Mendieta was taken out of Cuba and away from her family by counter-revolutionaries intent on rescuing the young from the threat of impending Communism.[iii] Raised by nuns in Iowa,[iv] Mendieta felt a strong sense of exile from her homeland—a sense of being “ripped from the womb” as she described it later. In this borderline space between nations, not feeling at home in either territory, she felt compelled to engage with the meaning of her own identity. As a young art student, she received an opportunity to travel to Mexico in 1971 and work at an archeological site in Teotihuacan, site of the ancient Aztec capitol city (the largest city in the world, in its day). Here, surrounded by Hispanic culture and art, she began to feel a sense of the culture from which she was exiled for the first time since childhood. Exiled from Cuba and uncomfortable in the United States, she “saw Mexico as a surrogate motherland.”[v] As she said at the time, “Plugging into Mexico was like going back to the source, being able to get some magic just by being there.”[vi] In Mexico, her exposure was not only to living Mexican culture and contemporary life, but also to the ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica—specifically the Aztec and Zapotec, with whom she was already familiar through study but was now able to experience more directly. Thus, her reacquaintance with her roots was filtered through her exposure to ancient Northern Mesoamerican archeology and mythology. On returning back to Iowa, her painting shifted to include themes and motifs from Aztec culture.[vii]

She was able to return to Mexico on several occasions, and created some of her earliest characteristic work while in Oaxaca at the Yagul archeological site, including the beginning of her long Silueta series. Thus, Northern Mesoamerican art and mythology as experiences at the Yagul site in Oaxaca became the impetus for Mendieta’s most distinctive body of work.

One of the first pieces created on her Mexican sojourn was Image from Yagul, the work that Mendieta considered to mark the beginning of her Silueta series. Created in 1973, the photographic documentation of the performance depicts Mendieta lying nude in an ancient tomb, her body mostly covered by layers of white flowers, which almost appear to be growing from her supine form. It is an iconic image, and one of Mendieta’s most recognizable. Flowers played an important role in the symbology of the Northern Mesoamerican imagination. Flowers were mythologically conceived to have been created from a bit of flesh torn from the genitals of Xochiquetzal, the goddess of love, thus giving them a highly sexually charged significance.[viii] Flowers also played a hugely important role in Aztec life through the Flower Wars—ritual mock wars fought with flowers instead of weapons in which enemies were captured rather than killed (though many of these captives were simply saved for later ritual execution).[ix]  Thus flowers played a powerful role in Aztec thought, their hidden corollas functioning as a portal between the intertwined realms of life and death. In Image from Yagul, Mendieta references this significance. Although her prostrate body is laid in a tomb and appears lifeless and dead, it also brings forth flowers and new life. Mendieta was fascinated by this theme of death and renewal, the endless cycle of nature, and would return to it again and again throughout her Silueta series and further career, creating works made from melting snow, spreading grass, and blooming flowers. This crucial aspect of Mendieta’s work appears to have direct roots in ancient Northern Mesoamerican thought.

Another piece, created in 1974 while Mendieta was in Oaxaca at the Yagul site, is Untitled, pictured above (Mendieta didn’t expend much energy on titles). This piece, a continuation of her Silueta series, uses the “Labyrinth” site at Yagul as it’s setting, and features a body imprint Mendieta created by pouring animal blood on her body and lying on the earth. This performance was then documented in a photograph. The effect is haunting, and becomes a record of Mendieta’s absence as much as her bodily impression. The ancient sacrificial site only reinforces the sense of mortality and evanescence which this piece evokes. In Aztec practice, as Mendieta was aware, blood contained a vital, life-giving energy. In one creation myth, the feathered serpent-god Quetzalcoatl bestowed life to humanity by offering them his own blood, and there are other examples of Aztec gods offering their blood to mankind as a form of divine aid.[x] In return, man’s blood was required to keep the universe in a kind of cosmic balance. Thus, at Aztec temple sites like that in Teotihuacan, human sacrifice was practiced routinely to replenish the life-force of the earth. This ritual fascinated Mendieta, and informed Untitled, which functions almost as a memoriam to the slain victims of the Aztec priests. The record of violence remains, the body’s blood forever connected to the earth, but the body itself has long since vanished. But the work is not purely negative—again the life-force of blood plays a role, and the piece can be read as a recognition of the continuation of life in nature. Again, life and death are presented not as opposites, but as complements—differing points on a vast and endless cycle. The presentation of this piece and it’s specific location reveal a clear Northern Mesoamerican, and specifically Aztec,  connection.

Mendieta also worked extensively with feathers, connecting the human body to the earth and also the avian kingdom. Feathers have an important role in ancient Northern Mesoamerican art. Aztec artists created elaborate headdresses and masks with feathers from the sacred quetzal bird, and also wove feathers together into tapestries. One of the most important gods of the Aztec pantheon was Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent—as a mixed creation, he was able to traverse the worlds of both earth and sky, making him a boundary-crosser, a transgressor. Like flowers, the feather became a symbol of traveling between states, of moving between one state and another—for example, navigating between the states of life and death. Mendieta’s 1977 Silueta piece, Untitled, annexes this meaning to create a profound experience of both connectedness and loss. In this piece, Mendieta has again created a silhouette of her body in the earth. This time, her shape has been dug into the ground and filled with large white feathers. This feathered shape has then been surrounded by newly growing grass—another allusion to the cycles of death and rebirth which Mendieta returned to again and again. Here she has used the Aztec theme of feathers to represent the liminal state between life and death, creating another portal between worlds. This becomes a transgressive boundary-crossing, a view which becomes even more apparent when looking at another, slightly earlier work, Bird Transformation.

In this piece, conceived soon after Mendieta’s return from her first trip to Mexico, she has adhered bird feathers to the body of another woman. In doing so, she creates a boundary-crossing transgression between human and animal, as she has elsewhere between earth and body. Like the god Quetzalcoatl, the woman in this piece begins to mysteriously take on the elements of both worlds. The feathered face recalls feathered masks created by Aztec artists. Mendieta has left the genitals of her female form unfeathered and intact, allowing the creative sexuality of the creature to continue to play a role. For Mendieta, sexuality cannot be separated from nature. And in her eyes, this refiguring of the human body is a source of transcendence. In a review of her work, Donald Kuspitt remarks: Mendieta wants to reconsecrate the body, that is, restore the sense of it as a miracle, and with that, restore the value lost by its reduction to a kind of machine—its modernization, as it were. The body becomes increasingly differentiated—grandly simplified and emblematic—in her art, and finally becomes a vital aura, a ghostly abstraction of organic life. Mendieta’s mystical body stands in opposition to the body as conceived by science.  Hers is the body as it is experienced from the inside, rather than the body as it is understood from the outside. Her art is an attempt to demonstrate that woman’s body is holy, not profane, as science and man have conceived it to be.”[xi] Mendieta’s religiously inspired art aims at a celebration of the body as sacred and sublime. In her bird series as well as her Siluetas, the source of that divinity is nature, and specifically life on earth itself, rather than an abstract, otherworldly deity.

Mendieta continued the bird series with Ocean Bird Washup, created in 1974. In this piece, as in her earlier Blood Feathers, she covers her nude body in animal blood and then adheres white bird feathers to herself. In Ocean Bird Washup, she then floats out at sea and allows the feathers to slowly, over time, dissolve away from her until she returns to fully human form. This process was filmed on a short, four-minute reel. The theme of temporality and passing away, central to Aztec poets like Nezahuacoyotl (as in the poem quoted at the opening of this essay), is poignantly expressed in this image. The body has become a sacred space, and a divine metamorphosis has occurred, if only for a brief amount of time. Before long, the feathers drift away and the image, as is so often the case in Mendieta’s work, becomes one of a pulsating absence. Jane Blocker describes this as Mendieta’s “performative practice of marking through disappearance…a redundant absence, an amplified sense of death” also apparent in her Siluetas. Mendieta chose to disappear into the elements rather than dictate to them, just as the Aztec poets described. As Nezahuacoyotl sang, “Not forever on earth / Only a little while here.”[xii]

Ana Mendieta’s art is unquestionably informed by religious ritual. As Donald Kuspitt asserts, “Mendieta’s art… is profoundly religious—eschatological…She experiences the body as a sacred space: a kind of cathedral in which consciousness can soar.”[xiii] The roots of much of this religious impulse lie in the ancient Northern Mesoamerican artists and thinkers. In the Aztec art of ancient Mexico, Mendieta found her inspiration and muse, and this experience ignited her imagination to produce some of the most incredible land art of her time. Her religious study and experience were enriched by Santeria, Taino religion, Catholicism, and other sources, but her deep passion and recognition of Aztec art remained central to her work and provided her with a rich tradition from which to draw inspiration. Mendieta’s use of Aztec ideas and mythology was not only exhilarating and innovative, but also relevant to her time—and, through her universal themes of body and earth, just as relevant to our time as ever.

[i] Miguel Leon-Portilla, Fifteen Poets of the Aztec World, (London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992), 80.

[ii] Jane Blocker, Where Is Ana Mendieta?, (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999), 18.

[iii] Olga M. Viso, "The Memory of History," Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance 1972-1985, ed. Olga M. Viso (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2004), 38.

[iv] Mary Jane Jacob, "Ashe in the Art of Ana Mendieta," Santeria Aesthetics in Contemporary Latin American Art, ed. Arturo Lindsay (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996), 191.

[v] Olga M. Viso, "The Memory of History," Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance 1972-1985, ed. Olga M. Viso (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2004), 143.

[vi] Petra Barrerras del Rio, “Ana Mendieta: A Historical Overview,” in Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1987), 31

[vii] Olga M. Viso, "The Memory of History," Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance 1972-1985, ed. Olga M. Viso (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2004), 143.

[viii] John Bierhorst, The Mythology of Mexico and Central America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 147.

[ix] Miguel Leon-Portilla, Native Mesoamerican Spirituality, (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1980), 6.

[x] John Bierhorst, The Mythology of Mexico and Central America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 84.

[xi] Donald Kuspitt, "Ana Mendieta, Autonomous Body,"Ana Mendieta, ed. Gloria Moure (Barcelona: Ediciones Poligrafa, 1996), 39.

[xii] Miguel Leon-Portilla, Fifteen Poets of the Aztec World, (London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992), 80.

[xiii] Donald Kuspitt, "Ana Mendieta, Autonomous Body,"Ana Mendieta, ed. Gloria Moure (Barcelona: Ediciones Poligrafa, 1996), 39.

Locating Earthworks

   A great resource I found for locating Earthworks and other interesting sites is the Center For Land Use Interpretation.  Through this database you can search by state or throughout the United States to find sites near you. The database provides a description of the site as well as information on how to visit and links with more in-depth information. On the database website, The Center For Land Use Interpretation describes some of the sites listed:

"[I]ncluded in the database are works by government agencies involved in geo-transformative activities, such as the Department of Energy, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Defense. Also included are industrially altered landscapes, such as especially noteworthy mining sites, features of transportation systems, and field test facilities for a variety of high-impact technologies. The database includes museums and displays related to land use, and one of the most thorough listings of land art sites available."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Georgia Tech Students Win 2012 Land Art Generator Initiative

The Land Art Generator competition is an annual contest for beautiful land art installations that are also designed for clean energy generation. These twofold designs are created in Freshkills Park in NYC and combine art and utility. You can learn more about the competition here.

Bringing the competition closer to home, in 2012 two teams of Georgia Tech students took first and third place! The first place project, "Scene Sensor" by James Murray and Shota Vashakmadze, is two panels that are designed to harness the strong winds of Staten Island Park. On a spring day, this installation could power 1,200 houses.

Opportunities like the Land Art Generator competition elevate land art to be more than just a pretty surface. It's also an interesting statement of urban values: cities could be enhanced both aesthetically and energy-wise by encouraging such installations.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

SCHOLARLY BLOG: Andrew Rogers’ “Rhythms of Life” Project Divides Admirers and Artists

Andrew Rogers’ Rhythms of Life Project
Divides Admirers and Artists

Hally Joseph

History of Contemporary Art 
Dr. Alford 
January 2013

This one 1800-word blog post is a combination of the two 900-word blog post requirements. All images of the geoglyphs are credited to


While working as an artist-in-residence at Technion Institute of Technology in Israel in 1998, sculptor Andrew Rogers discussed the possibility of a work in the nearby Avara Desert. Known for his sophisticated bronze sculptures, Rogers recognized that a space as arid, massive and open as the Avara Desert would require something unique. The immensity of the desert and the sky inspired Rogers to step outside of his traditional sculptural object, which would be dwarfed in these new enormous parameters, and create a gigantic work of water-washed stones.[1] This first geoglyph began Rogers’s Rhythms of Life project, which would eventually encompass forty works throughout twelve countries. Over 5000 people have worked on these large-scale projects, erecting gigantic stone sculptures that encompass Rogers’s thoughts on connection, synchronicity and time.[2] Rogers has used the phrase Rhythms of Life frequently before in his work – it served as the name of several sculptures, the title of two exhibitions, and the title of a book – but matching it to these global geoglyphs is perhaps the most fitting use of the name.[3] Making such large marks on the land, Rogers’ work gets noticed and has its fair share of admirers and critics. By making the Earth his canvas, Australian sculptor Andrew Rogers’s Rhythms of Life project has resulted in artwork that connects the world and divides artists’ opinions by using traditional sculptural style, working with locals, and using generous funding to cover a lot of ground – literally.


Unlike most land artists, Rogers does not manipulate the land to create art: his sculptures rest on the ground. The designs are plotted out and then marked with steel stakes as lines of “bucket brigades” move rocks from hand to hand to begin creating the desired forms.[4] Thus, the stones are set together in large symbols and figures, but do not alter the lay of the land or incorporate additional natural materials; they are massive sculptures resting on top of the land. His contemporary geoglyphs are inspired by the Nasca Lines in Peru, giant lines incised into the earth that created the forms of animals and could only be seen from above.[5] Rogers brings these symbols above-ground with the same concept of creating fascinating aerial views in unexpected spaces. Other artists criticize his standard sculptural technique, saying it does not push the boundaries of earthworks as an artistic genre. John Pancake outlines one of the chief complaints:
William Fox, a leading authority on art and the environment… says Rogers is not doing what museums and art critics and art historians admire most: “Are you pushing forward the medium with which you’re working? The answer’s no. He’s not doing anything in terms of the actual earth or the arrangement of stones on the earth that we haven’ t seen before. He’s using pretty traditional technology, if you will.”[6]
Fox makes a good point: if a work doesn’t push the envelope of its category, is it as great of a work as art that does push its limits? Perhaps there are several types of art: the kind of art that makes artists happy to create and the kind that strives to push the boundaries of its industry, with room for art to overlap both categories. Rogers’ geoglyphs, however, fall more into the former category, as he believes “that his lack of formal training has given him a freedom to experiment, since he is not restricted by what is known to be possible or impossible.”[7] Rogers never attended art school, so his lack of study allows him to think outside of the box because he never knew the box in the first place. This lack of training is manifold: not only does it allow him the freedom of thinking without personal limits, but it also detaches him from the critics as he strives to create artwork that resonates personally. Unlike artists pushing the envelope of their mode of art, Rogers admits that he’s not interested in immortality, and he doesn’t sign the works for posterity. Backed by anonymous donors and his own bank account, Rogers claims that his only pay is the joy of making the geoglyphs, calling the massive work sites his “sandbox.”[8]  If other artists call their working environments their studios, their retreats, their workspaces, etc., it further emphasizes Rogers’ creative technique that he calls his worksites his “sandbox.” Sandboxes are a place of imaginative creation, where ideas can take literal shape and are not meant for critique or display, only pleasure and experimentation. We associate sandboxes with children and unhampered creation; perhaps for this reason, critics find Rogers’ geoglyphs “simple.” By making the world his sandbox, however, Rogers clarifies that he is not creating artwork for museums or galleries. Should he be judged by the same parameters that those indoor artworks are judged? Though some critics call the Rhythms of Life project clichéd, writer Ken Scarlett is a big fan, calling the geoglyphs “accessible and life-affirming,” particularly in a day and age when the news is a constant catalogue of murders, burglaries, missing persons, and other tragedies. He says Rogers’ work provides optimism.[9] The sculptures may not be reshaping the earthworks genre, but that does not devalue their simplistic beauty.

            The Rhythms of Life works also impact their individual communities significantly. This leads to another musing on art: is the approval of one art critic more powerful than the happiness of an entire village? For Rogers, it is not. To create huge works in remote areas of the world takes time collaborating with local governments and seeking approval of the general public. Ron Robertson-Swann, one of Australia’s most famous sculptors, told The Washington Post that he believes “Rogers’s work has ‘very little soul or innovation.’ He says Rogers’s strongest suit may be in marketing himself, then adds: ‘That may sound a little like sour grapes.’”[10] Sour as those grapes do sound, Rogers’s marketing skills are indeed phenomenal as he works with local governments to get permission, organize teams of workers, and create a temporary industry. Carol Strickland writes that Rogers differs from other earthworks artists by being collaborative in his efforts. His crews often involve up to 5,000 local workers, making his geoglyphs not only a “public art project” but a “public works project,” as noted by White Box gallery curator Lilly Wei. By bringing these temporary micro-industries to local communities, Rogers’ projects not only change the lay of the land but the lives of the employees.[11] In this way, Rogers’ contributions to grand-scaled land art may not be groundbreaking within art criticism, but the projects become essential to the communities both as an industry and a cultural experience. As a working environment, the Rhythms of Life project comes with plenty of benefits. Rogers puts an unheard-of standard on gender equality by hiring an equal number of men and women and providing equal pay. Other benefits include paying twice the going rate, providing food and drink, and creating medical stations for workers and their families to take advantage of.[12] In these poor communities and tough working conditions, this micro-industry brings new vigor into town and allows everyone to partake in the “business” of building geoglyphs.


Another critical complaint Rogers repeatedly runs into is not the technique, but the symbolism in his artwork. John McDonald, an art critic at the Sydney Morning Herald, says he believes that Rogers is without a doubt Australia’s most successful living sculptor, but that his work is very clichéd. From his standpoint, Rogers has taken advantage of his wealth to achieve prominence.[13] Rogers’ geoglyphs often take on the symbols of their surrounding cultures: a dragon in Chile, a Jewish symbol meaning “To Life!” in Israel. These unsurprising subjects are actually the inspirations of local communities. Not only do locals partake in making the sculptures, but they also assist in creating the design. The symbols are taken from local culture or findings near the site, so that when Rogers leaves and the geoglyph becomes part of the community’s landscape, it fits into the belief systems of the local people. The geoglyphs are also treated with the utmost respect of their respective cultures with ceremonies to bless and celebrate them. Rogers does not use his money to buy or privatize the land for his sculptures; on the contrary, several countries have personally invited him to create something on their land, and the artwork is embraced by the community. According to Ken Scarlett, the Bolivian people made the Rhythms of Life project their own by having two Andean ritual ceremonies to bless and celebrate the geoglyph. Before construction, a shaman sacrificed a llama, burying its entrails throughout the geoglyph location and sprinkling its blood on the land before cooking the meat for a meal. After the project wrapped up, the Bolivian people had a huge celebration, showing up in the thousands to dance in colorful costumes.[14] In China, Rogers “assistants” were the army troops, and the completion of the project led to an elaborate fireworks display.[15] Truly distinguishing himself from other land artists, Rogers’ incorporation of local workers, ceremonies and collaboration means the sculptures are more than just artwork: they are an industry, a shared experience and a cultural symbol. These are sculptures “for the people and by the people,” and Rogers works as the catalyst who dreams them into being and makes them come to life.


By creating gigantic geoglyphs and mini-industries, sculptor Andrew Rogers pushes the boundaries of art by not pushing them, a choice which divides artists’ opinions of his work and connects communities worldwide. Writer Peter Webster notes that Rogers's geoglyph series echoes aboriginal art in his native Australia. Indigenous Australians drew symbols and landscapes that could only be perceived from the air, many of which modern technology now allows us to see as they visualized.[16] Instead of pushing the envelope on new land art techniques, Rogers echoes the past with his traditional sculptures. He may not have the love of the critics, but people worldwide are fascinated by the incredible symbols he is etching across the Earth, and the local communities celebrate the opportunity to be part of one. John Pancake suggests that while the art world’s criticism illuminates Rogers’ work, it may also offer insight into the attitude of the art world itself.[17] The art world expects more out of Rogers’ Rhythms of Life project when it provides plenty of happiness and wonder to the general public, calling into question how much critical approval is worth. Once created, the massive stone structures are left on their own in their native lands; like traditional land artists, Rogers does nothing to preserve them. As foliage and earth shifts around them, the geoglyphs truly integrate with their locations, looking as though they have been there for many years and unmarked by any signage or explanation. Writer Andrea Voucher discussed with Rogers how the geoglyphs could potentially be mistaken for ancient etchings, and he said does not mind at all. His goal to is to take viewers out of the ordinary, and he is fine having his geoglyphs be in the domain of speculation.[18] The largest-scale geoglyph project yet, Andrew Rogers’ Rhythms of Life is indeed out of the ordinary, and will spark conversations, critiques and compliments for years to come.

[1] Ken Scarlett, "Geoglyphs Spanning the Globe: Andrew Rogers." Sculpture 28, no. 10 (2009) 58, Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed January 24, 2013).
[2] Andrea R. Vaucher, “Andrew Rogers: Rhythms of Life on Seven Continents,” Huffington Post (October 5, 2011), (accessed January 24, 2013).

[3] Ken Scarlett, "Andrew Rogers and the Rhythms of Life." Sculpture 23, no. 3 (2004) 58, Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed January 24, 2013).
[4] John Pancake, “Andrew Rogers’s ‘Rhythms of Life’ makes its mark on the planet,” The Washington Post (July 28, 2012), (accessed January 24, 2013).
[5] Carol Strickland, “The ‘land art’ of Andrew Rogers,” The Christian Science Monitor (May 12, 2009), (accessed January 24, 2012).
[6] Pancake.
[7] Scarlett, "Andrew Rogers and the Rhythms of Life."
[8] Strickland.
[9] Scarlett, “Andrew Rogers and the Rhythms of Life,” 56.
[10] Pancake, 2.
[11] Strickland, 1.
[12] Strickland, 2.
[13] Pancake.
[14] Scarlett, “Geoglyphs Spanning the Globe,” 59.
[15] Vaucher.
[16]Peter Webster. "Sculptor as Alchemist." Interior Design 80, no. 10 (2009), 50, Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed January 24, 2013).
[17] Pancake.
[18] Vaucher.