Land Art - what, how, who

LandArtFarm is a site-specific artistic venture on 100 acres of bush-farm landscape in the beautiful New England area of NSW Australia. To date, LandArtFarm projects have been created by Sandra Welsman.

In due course, other artists will likely be invited to propose land art commissions using local and found materials to create works of CONTRAST, SCALE and REPETITION - key features of art on LandArtFarm.

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Scale.Contrast.Repetition. Also a human step to the work ‘Tree Turns and Returns.’

And Land Art is?  As I see it, Land Art hovers in the fluid space between the formality of  sculpture and the wild drama of nature.

A sculpted object placed in a garden instead of a gallery, even a Rodin, Henry Moore or Sol LeWitt masterpiece, is not Land Art as such — although Land Art has sculptural elements (and sculpture specific to a land site can merge into Land Art). Equally, a magnificent waterfall, a crimson veil of climbing bougainvillea, or a stark boulder outcrop, are the art of Nature alone.

To be Land Art, a form of human creative action is needed (bold or subtle, arty or engineered, even unintended), and that intervention needs to be tied into a particular landscape or niche.

Each Land Art piece is achieved by human effort in adjusting or adding to natural features of the location and materials found there.

Most Land Art pieces are necessarily dynamic. They are exposed to and changed by sun, rain, wind, seasons, brushes with passing animals and people, and relentless plant growth or the natural process of decay over minutes, days, years or decades.

Some LandArtFarm pieces will endure, changing only slowly. For others, natural disintegration is part of the art.

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Towards Ditch and Sticks. The striking curved trench shows signs of land art elements … scale and man-made contrast.

What makes it Art?  For me, a visual spark or shock is needed to transport something you see into ‘art’.  This often comes from the discord of human action and natural materials and effects, with some drama to help us see that spot of land and what people have done in it, as ‘artistic’.

From first sight of the giant tree fallen across the old tin shed, amid the wind and the rain, an art work was apparent (see Tree Turns and Returns).

Also, back in 2003, as I watched a dozer ripping a water drain diagonally across the paddock tumbling out earth and rocks I could see a start point for a major land art piece (see Ditch and Sticks).

This artful impact can be simply from a daring clash of the shapes and colours, and the placement of human elements of the work. ‘That looks arty’ you might say at a glance.

Sometimes, though often not, a land artist will offer a statement of interpretation, about what the work might depict or symbolise. However, meaning or purpose is not essential to the sensory impact of Land Art. That said, a story about its development from and with the landscape can can add depth and meaning for viewers, an understanding of the artist’s thoughts.

More so, I respond to elements of wonder and surprise in the natural-artificial scene in front of me, the earthy often simple art in that particular (site specific) landscape context. Then my personal reaction, what it makes me think about and ‘see’, its meaning just for me.

I am also interested in how the piece came about, the story of the artistic mechanics and the creative adventure – so I have outlined such stories in the next pages on LandArtFarm works.

Here is a more formal explanation of Land Art from an illuminating book, Land and Environmental Art by Kastner & Wallis, 1998.

“Like the work that it embraces, the term LAND ART is variable, complex and fraught. … its pivot [is] the land and the individual’s responses to and activity within it. [Land Art] projects are fundamentally sculptural (in the sense of creating three dimensions) and/or performance-based (in terms of their orientations towards process, site and temporality). They are concerned with the way both time and natural forces impact on objects and gestures: at once critical of and nostalgic for the notion of ‘the garden'; alternately aggressive and nurturing towards the landscape. …

Land Art … includes site specific sculptural projects that utilize the materials of the environment to create new forms or to adjust our impressions of the panorama; programs that import new, unnatural objects into the natural setting with similar goals; time-sensitive individual activities in the landscape; collaborative, socially aware interventions.”

Who can make Land Art?  Land Art began to be noted as a type of modern art in the 1960s. From its early days, Land Art took a flexible and inventive artistic form, inviting and encouraging to potential participants and not boxed into a genre, style or school of training or ideology.

Land Art developed on the fringe of the formal modern art world. Land artists did not have to queue for gallery representation. Fringe creative types – those older, female, whimsical – were not locked out by need for patronage or expensive materials.

Although some grand and famous Land Art clearly cost a great deal (Christo Wrapped Coast, Smithson Spiral Jetty), today’s well-known land artists (such as Andy Goldsworthy) are using simple materials – leaves, rocks, twigs, dust – for intriguing works that add to the broad reach that is Land Art. Part of the artform characteristic is to create interesting pieces without spending a lot

In short, then and now, you ‘just do it’ – or in the more classic words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”. Anyone with a novel eye and access to a little land or a tree, a pond or a beach, can advance Land Art – and this is occurring across the world.

Inspirations and Variations. Many visions and experiences have influenced the development of each original LandArtFarm work, as with most art works. Direct inspirations are acknowledged in various art piece stories. At times, variations on a theme or style are discovered after the LandArtFarm piece is formed. These are also cross-referenced on each page, with links if possible, for visitor and reader interest.

You can follow the active global Land Art conversation with photographs through #landart on Twitter, or Instagram, or through a tapestry of pinboards on PInterest.

Sandra Welsman