Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Land Art

Exploring Concepts
Assignment 3 – Landscape


Contemporary Landscape and Land Art

Christo and Jeanne-Claude

A husband and wife team with roots in Bulgaria then Czechoslovakia and Morocco respectively. They moved to the US in 1964 and at that time started producing earth or environmental art. Their work is reminiscent of the earth mounds and various earthworks found around the world, and the large carved heads on Easter Island. Planning these projects can take up an enormous amount of time and money, the Wrapped Reichstag building took 24 years before approval was given. Christo studied in Sofia and Prague, Jeanne-Claude studied Latin and philosophy in Tunis.

The land art of these artists mainly involves the technique of wrapping buildings or parts of a landscape in order, they say, to enable people to perceive the environment with new eyes and a new consciousness. They maintain that even after the art work has been removed, visitors can still see and feel them years afterwards. I find myself feeling sceptical with regard to the latter comment and wonder how they know this with particular reference to their own work. It is also clear that great effort is made to establish the fact that the cost of these projects is covered by the artists themselves, presumably for fear of vilification. On a relatively small scale I concede that a different perception is achieved, for example with the Wrapped Reichstag building (see picture below) which morphs into a ghostly shape, and when lit sympathetically can become something different again, much as one might light a figure or face to create a different perception. Christo produces the drawings for the project. The aim of their work is simplistic, to bring joy and poetry to people making them feel free and smile.

                                ©Bridgeman Education Wrapped Reichstagg Building, Christo and Jeanne-Claude

Nonetheless, part of me finds this attempt at extreme art profligate and missing the mark artistically, and I want to say please spend the money on something useful. Build a model and wrap it up, if the idea is to produce a different take on something familiar. I find it difficult to accept that installation work is art, I consider it merely something out of the ordinary and therefore interesting – the shock of the new, so I guess I am going to find this section difficult. I have never been influenced by received ideas but prefer to make up my own mind. My work in studying Philosophy tells me that reality is nebulous at the best of times so the arrays are endless. It is true artists uncover possibilities, representing aspects of ourselves and our environment that can be perceived in different ways, but that can be mere novelty. Does it mean that anything that presents reality in a different way is art? A charged question that does not have an easy answer. Yet when we see something that quintessentially fulfils our own criteria for an art object, we instantly know it, but feel duped or unconvinced if such criteria are absent or found wanting. As a project, these undertakings by these artists are to be admired, but, in my opinion, more on the grounds of a structural engineering effort than the creation of a work of art

Andy Goldsworthy

 Andy Goldsworthy is a British sculptor, photographer and environmentalist born in 1956. His influences are: Brancusi, Richard Long, Ben Nicholson, Paul Nash and David Nash amongst other. He studied at Bradford College of Art and University of Central Lancashire. Although he now lives and works in Scotland he originally lived in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria. He is considered the founder of Rock Balancing.

His Drawn Stone was a commission from the Fine Arts Museum to incorporate a crack at the de Young Museum characteristic of the tectonic plates of California. The crack runs from the edge of the Music Concourse roadway in front of the museum up the main walkway into the exterior courtyard and to the main entrance. The crack bisects in two where stones serve as seating for visitors to the museum. Goldsworthy aims to display forms that are just beyond the realms of reality, and in this particular work a fine line between the artificial and natural.

I was particularly interested in Goldsworthy’s approach to the materials he used and the techniques he devised in using them. The stalks and blackthorn thorns made a particularly interesting curtain of shapes. Almost like mark-making on canvas, except that these marks were oriental in the style they produced. He appears to have a sympathetic understanding of the materials he uses and if, as in the cracked wall, something goes wrong he is keen to understand why, and may incorporate the effect in the finished work. As these installations are not meant to be permanent I wonder how the judgement is made as to when they have reached their sell-by date and should be removed and or destroyed. Christo and Jeanne Claude maintain there is an “after-image” of their work many years later, I wonder if the same idea applies to all temporary installations, in which case is it the installation or the recollection of it that validates it?

This last question hangs in the air for me as I suppose I tend to regard art as permanent, as permanent as it can be. The question of legitimacy and provenance must at some time be called into question. One of John Martin’s paintings has recently been restored and a large section has been completely re-painted. To what extent does the work remain an original? I guess I think of this because in the world of historic cars these issues are hotly debated and the value of a vehicle, often in the millions of pounds, is at stake. Was the nut and bolt collected after a famous car crashed at a circuit sufficient to validate the car subsequently re-built around it? That same argument could be used to say that art should be regarded as something temporary then such questions do not arise. This conflicts with my objections to a throw away culture and obsolescence. Throughout art history we have examples that provide us with a path of exploration and development would could not exist if art is to be lost without trace.

Also, if, as suggested in an earlier paragraph the “art” becomes a recollection then it must be a different iteration in each person’s mind. Perhaps in later generations the “art recollections” might be electronically linked to the brain to display another and perhaps even more interesting work of art, now that really would be a different perception on an epic scale!

                                          © Bridgeman Education Library Conch Shell, Andrew Goldsworthy

©Bridgeman Education Library, Leafwork - Andrew Goldsworthy

I find intervention in the landscape a hollow art akin to architecture, which does not have the same status as art, although possibly some buildings should if such work as Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty is attributed in that way. I don’t think we would refer to Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral as art, perhaps we do now, who knows? When such earthworks as the White Horse in the South Downs and many other figures produced throughout the country, these are mostly pre-historic and have either political or pagan roots. They are valuable because of their historical context. So they have significance. I can’t see the ecological point to modern works, perhaps I am missing something. I am concerned about the effects of pollution on the environment and loss of habitats for our flora and fauna, and feel that scarring the landscape in this way is merely adding to the general detritus that man imposes on his surroundings by despoiling the earth. I am sorry if this offends but I have to tell it as I see it. In their favour Christo and his wife do clear up after them.

John Piper (1903-1992)

The son of a solicitor, John Piper trained at the Royal College of Art. Living as he did in Epsom as a child he was able to explore the countryside, making drawings for a little guide book he was producing. Although keen to take up a career in art, his father had other ideas and agreed that he could do so after working as a solicitor for three years first. That was not to be has his father died soon after John failed his law exams, so he was then able to pursue his chosen career.

Piper’s early work was representational but hinted at the brooding style he would later adopt. This no doubt was influential in his appointment as a war artist from 1940-1942 and his wonderful painting of Coventry Cathedral has been compared with Picasso’s Guernica. His work does not command dizzying fees, but for me his near abstraction and subtle use of colour, coupled with fascinating mark making makes his work particularly interesting and produces a lively texture.

                                                  © Bridgeman Library John Piper Near Newcastle, Emlyn, Carmarthenshire

                                            Interior of Coventry Cathedral of the Blitz 1940,  John Piper ©Bridgeman Library

Piper’s use of colour in Coventry Cathedral uses blue and yellow with red as an associated colour closer on the colour wheel to yellow than the blue, the use of yellow ochre helps to pull the picture together, and the various greys modulate the prime colours. The colours act as a foil for the black and white scribed arches, windows and rubble. There is a sense of desolation but also of hope.

 I would like to explore this style of painting and I think it will make me more aware of the importance of neutral colours in a painting, particularly when using primary colours. I like using black to strengthen outlines and have also been looking at Abstract Expressionists such as Pierre Soulages, George Mathieu, Franz Kline and Hans Hoffman.

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