Andrew Rogers’ Rhythms of Life Project
Divides Admirers and Artists
Divides Admirers and Artists
History of Contemporary Art
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 andrewrogers.org.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.”
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.” 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.” 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. 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.’” 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. 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. 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. 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. In China, Rogers “assistants” were the army troops, and the completion of the project led to an elaborate fireworks display. 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. 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. 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. 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.
 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).
 Andrea R. Vaucher, “Andrew Rogers: Rhythms of Life on Seven Continents,” Huffington Post (October 5, 2011), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrea-r-vaucher/andrew-rogers-rhythms-of-_b_994975.html (accessed January 24, 2013).
 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).
 John Pancake, “Andrew Rogers’s ‘Rhythms of Life’ makes its mark on the planet,” The Washington Post (July 28, 2012), http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-07-28/entertainment/35488204_1_andrew-rogers-planet-gobi-desert (accessed January 24, 2013).
 Carol Strickland, “The ‘land art’ of Andrew Rogers,” The Christian Science Monitor (May 12, 2009), http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Arts/2009/0512/p17s01-algn.html (accessed January 24, 2012).
 Scarlett, "Andrew Rogers and the Rhythms of Life."
 Scarlett, “Andrew Rogers and the Rhythms of Life,” 56.
 Pancake, 2.
 Strickland, 1.
 Strickland, 2.
 Scarlett, “Geoglyphs Spanning the Globe,” 59.
Peter Webster. "Sculptor as Alchemist." Interior Design 80, no. 10 (2009), 50, Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed January 24, 2013).