[Written by Qiyan Zhang]
[Image Credits: ‘Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970’ by Steven Zucker (accessed through Creative Commons)]
Land art or earth art is generated from nature, with artists drawing on local and natural materials. Resources that we take for granted, like stones, sand, or leaves, could be used to create environmental art. On Earth, we are surrounded by nature. Earth is a canvas, and nature is the material. Land artists break new ground, promoting a connection with nature by using natural materials to create.
The Land Art movement is a global movement starting in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The essence of land art is its simplicity. Land artists, such as Robert Smithson, consider the interaction of humans with their works. They aim to reconnect with the environment through art. Smithson founded the concept of sites (outside locations) and non-sites (galleries and museums). His representative site artwork, Spiral Jetty (1970) used rock, mud, and algae, rearranged, to form a 1500x15ft spiral-shaped jetty jutting out into the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Although Smithson died in 1973, his work is still alive, leaving thoughts and spirits about land art for the world.
Today, more environmental artists follow in Smithson’s footsteps, creating in different places with different raw materials to promote greater connection with the earth. This concept and awareness is passed on to the viewer. Land art today, like flowers, blossoms in every part of the world, in both its creation and the attitude it inspires. This is an attitude of care towards our shared home.
Land art comes from nature and vanishes in nature. Environmental artists make use of environmentally friendly methods to create their artworks, making good use of raw materials such as stones, sand, mud, leaves, and branches to show the beauty of art. However, the climate is changing, nature is changing, and the world is changing. Like waves in the sea, it brings the water to us and washes it back out again. Land art is impermanent since the artworks are embraced and taken away by nature.
Land artist Andres Amador creates very temporary geometric art pieces on beach shores. Because of this, his works will be washed away by the tide in the blink of an eye. He works in-sync with the cycles of the natural world and derives inspiration from the world around him. When his artworks are taken away by the water, they can be replaced with a new version meaning it is fluid and ever-changing. Water is compatible with art, absorbing what artists produce and offering a new page for them to recreate. It is like a mirror, reflecting the nature of art and what artists do with it.
“The art that I did today is going to be washed away, but everyone who watched feels happy and spreads the happiness to others around the world.”
Another land artist, Michael Grab, specializes in rock balancing and creates short-lived artworks in remote places near river or ocean shorelines including in Loch Ness. To construct his artworks, he uses found rocks and molds them into different shapes or formations, using gravity as the glue which holds them together. The constructions are built into the water, and, like the water, the rock formations have a beautiful sense of peace and stillness. Grab’s artworks, in tune with the environment, achieve the cohesion of art and nature. His works also derive from nature and return to nature. For example, wave lashes against the rocks and knocks out the construction. Water splits, and rocks sink.
Land art enhances the beauty of the environment it is made in, and the harmony that people could find in it. But what if the earth is covered with scars and wounds, and nature is filled with rubbish? How can environmental artists generate art of natural beauty based on a ruined land and environment? Indeed, water can take away natural artworks produced by artists, but cannot wash away the scars carved by the human on the earth. Without taking care of the earth, it will be difficult to make something beautiful out of it. Land art invites people to think about humanity’s connection with nature: protect or devastate.