PRESS J AND THEN SHIFT R
Landscape and Western Art (201-223)
Land art blurs the distinction between what is land and what is art. It becomes even more difficult when the material used in the project is also the inspiration. Traditionally, there’s always been nature and then the artist’s interpretation. Throughout history, there has literally stood a wall between the landscape artist and his artwork, but since the 1960’s to present day, land artists have been increasingly ‘dirtying’ their hands and their galleries…
As the sculptor Michael Heizer said, “Earth is the material with the most potential because it is the original source material” (203). In other words, landscape art is going back to its roots to mingle with the nature that inspired it. Many critics wonder how far will this line be drawn. Even artists have to differentiate between what used to be called ‘indoor’ and ‘outdoor’ to now having to call it ‘site’ versus ‘non-site’.
There are many different forms of land art so it stand that there are many types of artists. Some Earth artists consider themselves gardeners or sculptors because their installations are designed to be experienced with the surrounding environment. Some are filmmakers and photographers. Many artists like Andy Goldsworthy have made films about their creation processes so that their audiences can try to get a feel for work that went into it and also to see the art on a larger scale.
A lot of land art is associated with eco-friendly and environmental efforts. Many artists like Michael Snow think that nature and the wilderness will one day vanish. Snow believed the wilderness is by definition the absence of human interference. He wanted his work to show the beauty of what nature used to be so that in the future, when it might be gone, we will still have a record of it. “I want to convey a feeling of absolute aloneness, a kind of Goodbye to earth which I believe we are living through” (222).
Whenever we take a picture of a glacier, isn’t there a part of us that knows one day, in the future, we won’t be able to?
A map of the Great Wall of China and which dynasties produced each section of this vast construction project. It is obviously the longest building ever made.
Designing the Earth (94-96, 113)
Chinese military and defense cannot be talked about without discussing the Great Wall of China. Built of stone, brick, rammed-earth, and wood, this series of fortifications spans across the historical northern border of China from east-to-west. It’s an engineering feat that is not only a work of ancient military prowess but also an amazing work of art.
The construction of the wall started in the third millennium B.C., and what started out as only 4 miles long and 30 feet high turned into and estimated 2,150 miles with additional branches of 1,780 miles. What most tourists think of when they imagine the Great Wall is the 400 mile stretch in the Yanshan Mountains from Beijing.
The wall was built to keep the nomadic and Mongolian tribes in the North from invading. It has stood for thousands of years, but by the 1930’s when Japan invaded the Great Wall had finally became defenseless. Though it has lost its usefulness, the wall symbolically unifies eras and dynasties from China’s past. It is a testament for the use of natural resources and proves it by standing the test of time.
Designing the Earth (pages 44-51)
A real life hobbit dwelling? Or just modern adobe architecture?
Frank Lloyd Wright reinvented and revitalized the ancient practice of earth-pressing architecture in his turn-of-the-century designs. Wright used large sloping banks of dirt, also known as berms, to serve as both walls and insulation for his designs. Philip Johnson, another prominent architect, wedged his homes into the sides of hills.
Both of these architects and their designs were not only primarily focused on the aesthetics of these projects but also their functionality. Particularly with the energy crises in the 1970’s and even today, these modern adobe structures more effectively used natural resources, both conserving nature and saving energy.
Inspiration for this type of architecture can be found as far back as the Native American earth mounds and cave dwellings (discussed in a previous blog post). These designs are not only for the wealthy, but this “raw” type of construction is perfect for poverty-stricken countries. I love how the article points out: “Homo sapiens sapiens, after 100,000 years or so on the scene, is about to complete a full circle in the housing cycle” (51).
Personally, I would love to live in one of these homes. I cannot imagine to the extent these homes are environmentally and economically friendly!
Another example of locus amoenus! The gardens of Versailles.
Landscape and Western Art (pages 53-75)
Locus amoenus means ‘pleasant place’ and was a phrase to try and describe the relationship between the natural world and landscaping. A ‘pleasant place’ is supposed to be naturally crafted. It’s a balance between two opposites: wanting to cultivate the land and letting it grow freely. However landscapers and architects finally accomplish this goal, the product always ends up being a beautiful oxymoron.
The popularity of ‘pleasant places’ has spanned from Renaissance era to today. Villas built on the sides of hills allowed Italians to ‘frame’ the countryside as though nature itself was a work of art. Villa culture created a new form of art as well as a new way of life. “Pliny’s way of suggesting the extraordinary beauty of the real landscape is to make it seem more the product of art than nature… Pliny’s description confers a high value on the visual experience of landscape afforded by the villa” (59). The influence of villas extended past architecture and later evolved into painting and literature.
For example, many landscape portraits have tried to imitate the villa’s careful dance between the exterior and the interior. Landscape frescos tried to merge human and nature onto the interior walls of palaces. It many cases locus amoenus reigned especially, andit was hard to see where the room ended and where nature picked up. No matter how beautiful the artwork, it was still not enough just to look at a painting to capture the meaning of locus amoenus. Leonardo da Vinci suggested that “…your soul could not enjoy the pleasures that come to it through the eyes”; it’s the experience that is therapeutic and not the painting (63).
In 18th century England, gardening became the new locus amoenus. Alexander Pope recommended that gardens try to create an ‘artful wildness’. From this we see the trend where English homes are surrounded by overgrowing yet intentional gardening. Letting the plants grow freely, one virtually eliminated the line between garden and landscape. Though visually the wild and the domestic were one is the same, “these were carefully managed scenes, designed to look natural, but actually contrived on a vast scale” (70).
Locus amoenus has changed a great deal over the years, but the theme is the same, uniting the natural and human elements to create a pleasant and therapeutic experience.