Friday, June 12, 2009

Land Art

This picture could easily be interchangeable as an image of my backyard edible landscape project or brain. Either way, neither have a lot going on at the moment.

Now that all the big structural stuff in my yard is done, I walk outside everyday, look around and think, "now what?" I've confused myself by reading too many garden design magazines. I have to shake off the seduction of wanting some expensive outdoor living space. One that will make me forget that I'm in the middle of suburbia, but instead at an English country cottage or maybe a Tuscan villa. It's takes big bucks to create that kind of illusion. I'm also being reminded that it would be impossible to maintain that illusion because right now I'M TRYING TO BLOCK OUT CRAZY GUY WHO IS HAVING HIS DAILY MOANING AND RANTING SESSION.

My original purpose was to really make use of this land; function over form. But I do want to create a beautiful environment as well. Transforming land. I can't think of anything more elemental in human activity. It's what we're about as a species, molding our environments, control and organization. Sadly, the idea of just letting something BE goes against our natures.

An idea for a conceptual art project would be to not touch this space, just see what blows in and grows over the course of ten years, recording the changes and details in various artistic ways. I can pretty much predict what weeds will appear and end up dominating the space, but I might be surprised by some native fern or a few annuals from some other garden finding their way here. Eventually a tree or two would probably grow when I'm old, then dead. Thinking of this reminds me why I'll never be a conceptual artist. I can't see much point. But it does make me think of 2 different large environmental art projects. (To be fair, I have yet to see either one in person, and I'm sure will never see the first, but with conceptual art, well, it's the concept that matters the most, yes?)

Husband and wife team Christo and Jeanne-Claude, best known for draping fabric over, around and through BIG things: bridges, islands, Central Park, the Reichstag, are at it again. For over a decade the Over the River Project has been in the works. In the summer of 2012, 9.4 kilometers of the Arkansas River will have a translucent ceiling of fabric above it for 2 weeks. My first reaction: how stupid and maybe harmful to the environment? I have discovered they do carry out extensive studies as to the environmental impact with their projects (as they must). The results in this case have reported some of the following: some Big Horn sheep could die of stress, eagles might fly into the cables suspending the fabric. On a human scale, traffic will be congested with gawking tourists. Gawking tourists may get bit by the heavy population of rattlesnakes.

I'm more concerned about the sheep.

There isn't some big philosophical point to this art, it really is about spectacle and as for the wastefulness of it, I've softened my stance a bit thinking of these 2 words - Las Vegas. If ever there was an example of wasteful spectacle it'd be building a city full of luxury hotels and swimming pools in the middle of the desert. So Christo's and Jeanne-Claude's big projects do leave me with a little food for thought - the ego of humankind knows no limits and now has the resources to carry out it's whims. Okay, nothing new, but is there ever?

The second art project that I DID warm to was Mark Dion's Neukom Vivarium. An old tree that had fallen naturally and in the process of decay was transported, including the organisms living on it, put in a specially built glass housing. Inside, a carefully controlled environment replicates the conditions of the trees' natural setting. In a way, no different from the Amazon exhibit at a zoo or an aquarium, although in this case, the environment wasn't recreated to mimic a faraway place, but transported relatively intact and sustained. This piece does point to the idea of letting things be and how difficult it is to replace what's lost.

Dion says,
"I think that one of the important things about this work is that it’s really not an intensely positive, back-to-nature kind of experience. In some ways, this project is an abomination. We’re taking a tree that is an ecosystem—a dead tree, but a living system—and we are re-contextualizing it and taking it to another site. We’re putting it in a sort of Sleeping Beauty coffin, a greenhouse we’re building around it. And we’re pumping it up with a life support system—an incredibly complex system of air, humidity, water, and soil enhancement—to keep it going. All those things are substituting what nature does—emphasizing how, once that’s gone, it’s incredibly difficult, expensive, and technological to approximate that system—to take this tree and to build the next generation of forests on it. So this piece is in some way perverse. It shows that, despite all of our technology and money, when we destroy a natural system it’s virtually impossible to get it back. In a sense we’re building a failure."
As I look back to my 66' strip of dirt, along with the vegetables and berries, I know that I'll fill one corner with native plants, a little recreation of what once may have been here. And yet the plants will be bought at a garden centre and were probably imported from another part of the continent. I suppose that's irony.


andrea said...

Definitely irony. But you have just shown us the tip of the iceberg in what is quite a complex idea. Making me think.

PS I now have chives and two kinds of parsley and three kinds of tomatoes. Whoopee. But I have become distracted and am totally fascinated now by my neighbours' bees. I want BEES now!

self taught artist said...

i like the green mossy tree but i wouldn't want to see it everyday without having earned it by hiking 5 miles (at least).
I too thought that about christo and jeanne.
what if you just made it bare bones nice and had outdoor art opening with a few different artists?

Caroline said...

If you can't quite manage English country garden you could go instead for the garden gnome kind - in an ironic way of course...

Word veri is saying:


my first interpretation was poinsettia but then I saw maybe its really suggesting a pond to sit beside - now that really can be a work of art hand in hand with nature...

Ellen said...

Andrea: I want bees too! Might order the mason bees and ladybugs, actually I love the idea I can mail order bugs.

Paula: Christo and Jeanne-Claude's fame is really built on the enormous scale of their projects. And it's brought them a lot of wealth. I've read to see their work in person is awe inspiring, but I think I'm too old fashioned, I can't shake that messing with nature on that scale for art sake is just such an crazy ego thing.

Caroline: I DO so want a pond and so do my kids, convincing my better half has proven a bit tricky (:

Caroline said...

We are currently planning to move our pond - that's not easy so if you plan one make sure it is in the right place!

I've a friend with quite a large garden who now has a cluster of 3 ponds - none of them huge - all of them delightful - she gets newts, toads, frogs and grass snakes visiting.

Go on better half of Ellen - try a pond - just a small one to get you going!