Land Art and Power Stations
As Hurricane Bertha is busy throwing whatever she can at the British Isles – which to be honest doesn’t amount to much more than particularly heavy rain and some impressive thunder – I’ve decided to stay in today and catch up on some reading. I’ve chosen a book about Land Art. From the mid 60’s onwards, this is a movement that has used the environment to create works of art, often on a huge scale. This was a reaction both against the idea of art having to be contained within a gallery and against what was – and still is – perceived as the over commercialisation of the art world. The artists would create pieces in outdoor places to alter people’s perceptions of their surroundings. Sometimes this would be in an area of land that could be visited and at other times, the work could only be viewed in photographs or through other means of recording. Some artist did bring elements of the natural world into gallery settings. Richard Long’s beautiful stone circles are a good example of this. In Land Art the outside world is not the frame for the artists’ work, it is their work and they aim to explore and change how we see it.
A lot of this resonates for me as I love photographing outside places. The more open and the less densely populated the better. This can be beautiful stretches of parkland or forgotten expanses of wasteland. These are the spaces where I feel at home.
I also enjoy incorporating new elements into the outside world to convey a certain mood or theme. Last year, I took a small clock with me into New Farnley Park to create the image below which celebrates Autumn.
And a few weeks ago, the protective plastic mesh from a laptop keyboard allowed me to create a mysterious view of Breary Marsh.
Land Art tends by its nature – no pun intended – to be very hands on. Some of the most ambitious projects have required the involvement of a lot of people and machinery. For example, Robert Smithson, the most famous artist in the movement, created a huge spiral road on the Great Salt Lake in the USA in 1970.
More recently, digital developments mean that an image of the landscape can be artificially altered to create new perceptions. Below are a couple of early attempts of my own to do this, using photographs of trees as a starting point.
One downfall of Land Art is that of accessibility. Some of the outdoor pieces can be difficult for people to get to. However, I feel that sometimes an inspiring, creative experience can be had around something entirely functional. Near where I live, surrounded by trees, long grass and grazing horses, there is a power station. It’s full of narrow towers, cylindrical generators, security cameras and wide paths. You can’t get in of course, but you can see most of it through the wire mesh fence. It’s like a landscape unto itself, both futuristic and familiar, ominous and fascinating. It’s something we depend on for light and for all our modern devices. Like the nearby trees, it supports our lives.
In 1977 Walter de Maria created a lightning field of steel rods in the New Mexico desert. The rods have a special relationship with their surrounding landscape, especially when struck by lightning. It sounds amazing but it’s not somewhere I imagine ever being able to visit. However, places like the power station offer their own unique, dramatic experience.
Art is where we find it.