This is a blog of ongoing projects starting with: 1) Antarctica -Dec. 2006 - February 2007 2) Work made from the experience 2008 3) Nevada Feb. - Oct. 2008
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Made from 20 Tons of slate on a site above where the Mosel flows into the Rhine, close to the Castle. The slate under the ground here is said to give the wine of the region its distinctive taste. The work was commisioned through the Heike Strellow gallery in Frankfurt and it is hoped it will remain as a permanent piece.
Taigh Chearsabghagh Museum and Arts Centre, North Uist, Western Isles, Scotland HS6 5AA
I first visited these islands in the early 80s when I walked from The North of Lewis to Barra in the South. One of the abiding images I have from this walk was the sight of Eaval rearing up above the flat, flow country of North Uist, dominating the maze of Lochs and waterways. In 1997 I was invited to make a work around Lochmaddy and made the now much visited 'Hut of the Shadows'.
It was not until Andy Mackinnon mentioned the idea of a canoe journey through this land, that I was able to re visit this land and to finally climb Eaval and see it all spread out before me.
This exhibition is the first in a series about land and water which will be curated and devised by Chris Drury and Andy
Mackinnon at Taigh Chearsabhagh over the next 2 years. It is hoped that the ongoing project will involve, artists, writers,
film makers and musicians.
The project began in September 2009 when Drury and Andy Mackinnon (TC’s curator and filmmaker) made a two day
journey by Canadian canoe across the island, from the west coast back to Lochmaddy on the east coast, threading their
way through the maze of lochs and waterways. The result is this extensive show which includes the installation of a suspended
woven canoe, made from heather, willow and salmon skins, works on the wall using digital technology and place
names, with maps and satellite imagery; works with peat and water; a photogravure of the land traversed by canoe; and a
video of a breaking wave.
‘The Uists and Benbecula are part of a flow country whose interweaving of sea, lochs and land takes on a wave pattern, as
when the tide retreats from a beach. The chain of islands and sea are dominated by Eaval (Island Mountain) in the North
and Hekla in the South, both Norse names transfixing a fluid landscape with history and language. For the experience of
this land is multi layered: from the actuality of the place; the wind, the rain, the light, the sound of the curlew, the roar
of the surf, the brown squelch of the peat bogs and the scent of the burning peat from the cottage chimneys, intermingles
with the history interred in the place names on the map, given both in Gaelic and Norse: Encounter Loch, Secure Sheep
Island, Hillock of Many Priests, Loch of the Old Woman and something of the pain from the clearances: Isle of Lament,
Coffin Loch. So language and meaning and history are embedded in this now sparsely populated place. And using satellite
imagery we can look at this pattern of land and water observe the ever changing patterns of weather fronts which
mirror the land beneath. At the same time we can look at the microcosm in the small bacteria embedded in the peat bogs
and know through the science that these microorganisms are affecting the climate and the weather in which the whole is
Three Views of Eaval - peat on paper
23rd September 2009
Looking South From Eaval - Land and Language 1
Land and Water - photogravure
Land and Language 11
The Methane Eater - Life in the Field of Death - Methylocapsa acidiphila
Land Water Vessel - willow, hazel, heather and salmon skins
Monday, June 21, 2010
Mushroom Cloud – 9th - 22nd of June
The Sky Mountain chamber team are finishing clearing the outside of the building and plastering the inside for the screen which will take the image. They will also make the door. Meanwhile we start to think about the installation for the barn, which will be a mushroom cloud made from strung mushrooms with the video Way of the White Clouds projected up in a second floor area above the entrance.
I have drawn detailed plans of the pattern of the top and bottom, between which the nylon threads will be stretched. I realized when I was here last year that because this was an old milking parlor/cow barn it has a trench which runs down the entire length of the centre of the building which is now floored in wood. The floor can be removed, so you could in theory cut a hole in the middle, glaze it with acrylic and shine a light up through it, so lighting the work from one place underneath.
So working with Gabriele, the fixit employee of Arte Sella, and Emanuele’s brother in law, we start to set this up, and then after I have drawn out the bottom plan, Gabriele makes an identical pattern in welded steel for the top. Gabriele is a climber, so by means of ladders, scaffolding and a bit of ingenious rope work, Gabriele gets the top hanging in position. So we are now ready to start threading the 3000 pieces of mushroom – a variety of Cep bought commercially.
The plan is that the two women, Ivana and Annalisa, who come daily to clean and cook and who are also on a social scheme will help me with this. Ivana particularly is really looking forward to it. The stone guys would not be seen dead doing it. So we start in threading mushrooms. It soon becomes apparent however that this isn’t going to work. The air is very humid up here and the mushrooms soon become limp and slide down the threads. It is as I thought and I had warned Emanuele that we might have to dip them all in an acrylic sealer – he naturally was very against this, favoring ‘naturale’. So dip them all in sealer we did, but then of course the weather changed and it rained constantly so there was no sun to dry them. The solution was to light the woodburner in the farm house and dry them all overnight on racks. So it has been 12 days of stringing mushrooms and the work is almost complete; another day and we can take down the scaffolding. When we black out the interior and turn on the light the piece looks like a shower of gold – surprising even me.
Now, a day later it is finally complete
Friday, June 11, 2010
Arte Sella 2010
I first came to Arte Sella to make a work in 1994, an image of that work will be in the Tate’s 2011 calendar. Arte Sella is a site specific Art and Nature organisation in the beautiful high Sella valley just south of the Dolomites, close to the town of Borgo Valsugana in the Italian Alpes. It was the brain child of an art teacher, an architect and a young artist who were on a trip to Samarkand in Uzbekistan. While standing in front of the tomb of Tamerlane they had the idea to create the conditions for a site specific art aligned to their own particular region of the world.
The organisation has gone through several incarnations and has now grown into an incredibly successful site specific contemporary art and music venue dedicated to Art and Nature and attracting up to 100,000 visitors a year. The extraordinarily beautiful forested valley with its flower meadows surrounded by limestone mountains is what really strikes you first about the place, and when walking the trail it is nature that is the dominant feature and the art is almost incidental, for the ethos here is that the art should be a part of this nature. It does however attract a huge number of people and it has to be said that its current incarnation is entirely down to the vision and drive of that one young artist – Emanuele Montibeller, who while running this amazing institution, only gave up his day job of selling fabric in the local markets, as recently as 2007. Arte Sella, has not only transformed the valley but it has benefited the local economy to a considerable extent. To read more about the place visit: http://www.artesella.it/eng.
Back in 1994 about 8 international artists were invited to come to Arte Sella and make something in return for hospitality, good food and wine, a catalogue and a traveling show of images of the work made, throughout Italy the following year + our expenses and what amounted to pocket money. We all stayed in the same house, had fun and got to know each other. The works we made were all temporary and have long gone. From this small gathering and through the other artists, I was later invited to make projects in Japan, America and Germany and was also instrumental in inviting some those artists to Britain. Now in 2010, the story is very different and I am here on my own staying in the Malga Costa, and being paid a fair fee for a large and permanent work.
The work I made in 1994 paid tribute to the mountain which dominates the valley and which is often invisible because of the thick forest. In this work called Tree Mountain Shelter, you entered a mountain shaped structure from which there was a view out through a narrow slit window, through the trees to the mountain wall. At the end of the project Patrick Dougherty and I climbed that mountain. On the invitation of Emanuele, I returned in 2008 to think about a new work, but strangely my first instinct to pay tribute to the mountain was still strong even though the site was different. I searched the area around the Malga for a site within trees, but with a view of the mountain. The only site where all the criterion were met was a amongst some dark pine trees adjacent to Guilliano Mauri’s Tree Cathedral.
I knew for a fact the when Mauri first made this, his last great work that he didn’t want any other work within a mile of it. The thing about Arte Sella however is that large egos have no place, works have to play second fiddle to nature and must rub along with each other. The Tree Cathedral is amazing and I have seen whole coach loads of Italian Catholics stand close to it and sing. The Pope has even expressed a wish to visit. In time however its only human connection will be the four straight rows of planted Beech trees; all the outer wood construction, enclosing the young trees will fall away and be forgotten. By placing a stone structure close by I will reconnect this Cathedral of beech trees back to the human impulse to create. My stone beehive structure will be a kind of ante Chapel or Rondello to the trees. The group of trees surrounding the work are in themselves, dark and enclosing, shielding the stone structure from the cathedral. A group of four of these trees is remarkable as one of the Fir trees is old, huge and gnarled and the three conifers entwine themselves around a single oak which spreads its lighter green leaves in amongst the darker pine needles.
So the idea which slowly evolved over 2008 – 9 was to make a cloud chamber which by means of an aperture angled at the mountain would project an image inside, of the mountain and sky, upside down. In time of course the tops of the trees of the Cathedral will become part of the image. The work would be made from the same limestone as the mountain itself. I was in two minds about the shape of the building – one part of me felt that a chapel like oratory would fit, but another part of me wanted the more archaic and mysterious beehive which would seem to fit the dark space within the fir trees. When I arrived in mid May I still hadn’t made up my mind, but the weather at the time was crystal clear and for the first time, just 30 m. from the site, looking North west was a clear view of the Brenta Dolomites. Their jagged snow covered spires echoed the conical shape of the structure I had in mind – so beehive it was.
I had estimated 150 tons of stone and asked for a team of skilled dry-stone wallers who could build such a corbelled structure. In the event no such expertise existed in the area. The valleys grow fruit and vegetables and there is no need for field enclosures in the high pastures – so there are no stone walls. Building with modern materials has done for any of the old building skills. Arte Sella however is a strongly socialist organization, taking into account the needs of the people of the area. No one gets paid huge sums including the artists and it works because it makes good use of what is available in the area. Within the local commune their exists a system of giving people who are out of work and approaching retirement a job in return for a living wage. It is a social system, and four of these men have the job of renovating the sculptures, making fences and generally taking care of the area around the Malga. One of these men was astonishingly the only guy in the whole region who knows how to build with dry-stone. My own ethos is also always to use what is locally available in both materials, labor and expertise.
I had expected, aged 62 to have the roll of director of works, but in the event I was the only one who knew how to make a corbelled building, and what we had in this instance was a ground plan where a rectangular interior is surrounded a circular exterior, so as we built up, the square walls would need to become a circular ceiling and that is not easy. On top of this I was told that the health and safety regulations for people on the social scheme stated that they could not work above 2 meters – and the building was going to be nearly 5 meters tall. Reno, the expert in dry-stone walling and the self appointed foreman, got round this by building an ingenious system of wooden scaffolding that satisfied his need for safety – up to 4 meters anyway. Plus it was a long way for any health and safety officials to come and inspect! In order to understand the exact shape of the structure we were building, he insisted on building a wooden structure which gave us a clear indication of the angle of the walls as we went up. It also meant I had to make up my mind and give precise measurements from the word go. Usually I work by eye and feel, but I realized that with his system I would get what I intended. This was particularly important as no one spoke English and I have virtually no Italian, so all communication was in sign language and by example.
So five old guys made this considerably large building in 3 weeks, with a week spent on the interior. One of the other guys turned out to have an eye and an enthusiasm for stone, so three of us were building and the two who stayed on the ground passed up materials, mixed up limestone mortar where it was needed etc. When we reached their limit in height I continued working and standing on the building. Stone was lifted to us by a series of machines which Emanuele had wangled off the commune for free. At one point we had a huge JCB with driver supplied by the Civil Defense. Since there had been no earthquakes or natural disasters the driver had time on his hands. He even mucked in and helped build. Limestone mortar, mostly for the stucco walls inside was supplied by a local firm for free. The Romans invented it and this particular company were experts and supplied the building industry for most of the country.
Unless a tree falls on it, this work is going to be around for a very long time and thousands of people will see it, go inside and see the mysterious image of the inverted mountain. I have a suspicion that Emanuele has an eye on it as his tomb!
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
An Interview with British Land Art Artist Chris Drury
Pu: could you say something about how Land Art has evolved and changed in the last 40 years? In the era of globalization, is
there a new face to Land Art which is different from the 1960s’?
Chris: I think land Art has evolved and changed a great deal and most artists I know who have been given this label, do not like
it because it does not adequately describe what they do. Narrowly defined as an art made in the landscape, with the landscape
as part of the work and the work as part of the landscape, then such an art, no longer exists because it has broken out of those
parameters. What it isn’t, is works made elsewhere in a studio and placed in a landscape setting, as in a lot of sculpture parks.
You could say that it has become: Art in Nature, Art and Nature, Art and the Natural Environment, Body and landscape, Private
rituals in the landscape, cosmic cycles, Eco Art and there is an element of Land Art in Art and Science. Some artists, particularly
in America are focusing on ruined landscapes – industrial wastelands and the spread of the suburbs. Some have become community based and activist, where vegetable gardens are being created on the sterile front yards of suburban wastelands
transforming communities as well as landscape. In Europe Joseph Beuys politicized an art connected to nature ( he co founded
the Green Party – an anti political party) and this has now been taken forward by artists making work about Climate Change,
which is activist as well as aesthetic.
In Britain there is an organization called Cape Farewell which takes art, science and education practitioners to the Arctic and to
melting glaciers around the world, to give them first hand experience of the phenomenon. This has resulted in artists such as
Rachel Whiteread filling the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern with thousands of white plastic boxes, or Alex Hartley, making
political claim to a small island emerging from the ice in the Arctic, a comment perhaps on the Russians laying claim to the sea
bed beneath the North Pole.
So Land Art now has a very wide sphere of reference. I myself went to Antarctica with The British Antarctic Survey as one of two
artists working alongside a scientific organization which is focusing on the effects of Climate Change. I experienced wonder, but
tinged with incomprehension, confusion, regret and anger. In the face of this to simply make a sculpture or painting in that place
would be wholly to ignore the reality and this attitude must exemplify how things have changed.
Pu: Through creativity and hard work, Land Artists of Britain have earned their worldwide reputation. Do you think there is any
national and cultural identity which separates British’s Land Art from that of other countries, such as the Americans Robert
Smithson and Walter De Maria? Is there something uniquely British about it? Insert images from Long, Fulton, Nash,
Chris: Richard Long, whatever he might say, was very influenced by the Americans in the 60’s when he was at college – mostly
because they pioneered the idea of using the wild outside spaces of the world as a form of canvas for their work. Linked with
the conceptual movement, he and Hamish Fulton developed a language about walking. Fulton was actually very interested in
the conceptual language of the musician John Cage and their heroes were the British and European Climbers and Explorers of
the early 20th Century. The Himalayan climber/explorer Eric Shipton once said that if you couldn’t organize an expedition on the
back of an envelope, then it was too complicated. Fulton’s statement: ‘Take only photographs, leave only footprints’ is a similar
statement of intent. Last year at the age of 63 Fulton climbed Mount Everest. In 1975 I went with him to the Canadian Rockies
to walk for two weeks in the first snows of October and this one experience changed the direction of my Art. I understand
his attitude of not touching, but I would argue however that because we are nature, we are always going to touch and alter it,
it is a question of how much and why. Both Long and Fulton are very critical of the heavy hand of American Land Art, and hold
a strong, almost Buddhist idea of not altering the landscape in any major way. Move some stones, scrape a line with your foot,
take a photo, make an entry in the notebook and walk on.
Although David Nash’s art is based around the philosophies of the German philosopher Rudolf Steiner his work is very English,
as it focuses on the tree and plant growth, and although most of his work is carved outside using a chain saw directly into fallen
trees, it is mostly then shown inside, but that is no different to Long and Fulton who exhibit documentation of actions and walks
made outside, inside the gallery.
The attitude of a light touch was taken further in the 80’s by Andy Goldsworthy, who some criticize as being purely decorative.
Such is the hegemony of Conceptual Art in Britain that to my knowledge the Tate Gallery do not own a work by Goldsworthy.
British Land Art may have a lightness of touch and a Zen simplicity and from the outside may look like a national attitude, but
in reality is full of divisions and disagreements, which is how it should be. Today things are moving on and what is happening is
more in line with global movements advocating environmental change.
Pu: Your work seems different to other Land artists, because of your enthusiastic link to Science. This is especially evident in
your project in Antarctica, I can see science elements everywhere. And once you said the “theory of everything” has a bearing
on your works. Some critics even said you are more of a scientist than an artist. How does science influence your conception of
Explorers at the Edge of the Void - Antarctica 2008
Chris: In many ways I am an outsider, I have few works in museums and galleries around the world and I am not represented by
cutting-edge galleries. This has been a source of extreme frustration, because it makes surviving financially very difficult, but
strangely it has put me in a position of great strength, because I can operate at the borders of many disciplines, and so can make
unique connections in the world.
The Art world and the Art market is very narrow in its terms of reference, it is rife with positioning and infighting and tends to be
self referential. It rarely bursts out of its own bubble. It reminds me of the heating system of a car in cold weather, switched to
internal recycled air. The car gets nice and warm but all the windows mist up so you can’t see out. That’s the Art world. I prefer
to let the air come in from outside, so I can see the world clearly as it is, or better still, get out of the car altogether.
This attitude, together with the circumstances of my life, means that I must go with whatever is coming towards me. It is in effect
a Taoist attitude and it means that I am interested in all ways of looking at our connections to nature and poses the question:
How can we live sustainably in the 21st Century? It means that I have collaborated with people from many areas of expertise.
Science is one of them and an important one, but I have also worked with small, often marginalised rural communities, farmers, doctors, clinicians, architects, town planners and local authorities, also technicians of many varieties including dry stone wallers, wood craftsmen, basket makers, radiographers, film editors and digital wizards. All of these people see the world in different ways and add to the complexity of how we see nature and how we live on the Earth.
The world of science is much like the world of art – often narrow and compartmentalised. Of course there are people from both
fields who make breakthroughs and see the bigger picture. Science is so complex that most scientists only have time to read
about their own field and often fail to see the whole. As someone who acts on the edge, I am in the unique position to make
connections, which is what my so called Land Art has evolved into doing.
Pu: how do you understand Nature?
Chris: Nature simply is. Nature is also a word, which is language and language is culture. Culture is our conditioning as an individual, through to a society. In the 21st century culture is global. Culture is the veil through which we see nature, so we rarely
see it as it is – we see it through the veil of our conditioning. From the first early farmers we have tried to control nature and right now that is causing immense problems because we are changing the climate of the earth and heading towards the 6th mass extinction of most of the biosphere. Sixty five Million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous period, 95% of the biosphere became extinct. We have evolved from the 5% which survived and are in danger of becoming a part of that 95% which will disappear again. Understanding our disconnection to nature, may yet save us.
Pu: in your philosophy on Art, you talk most about the idea of “macrocosm and microcosm”, can you expand on this more for
Chris: Like I said, we set up divisions. Nature is not something ‘out there’. We are nature. We are made from the dust of stars,
millions of years old. The energy and laws which underlies the creation of the universe, also created us. The underlying energy
driving the universe, creates the same patterns of flow in our bodies as it does in weather systems, so everything is linked by
this creative force.
Pu: To continue, it seems that in your art you often draw attention to the similarities between two different things. For example,
mushrooms and atomic explosions, the radial form of Destroying Angel Trinity to the shape of a Mandala; this is like a
mysterious metaphor between different worlds. Is the similarity just the bridge connecting macrocosm and microcosm?
Destroying Angel Trinity and Destroying Angel - 2008
Chris: Similarities and comparisons certainly form a bridge, but perhaps to more than just microcosm and macrocosm. The
bridge opens up further possibilities. For instance in Nevada I asked a plant ecologist, working on the desert of the Nevada
Test Site (NTS), what was growing in the soils of the area where from 1951 to 1963, 14 atmospheric tests were carried out. Her
answer was to produce two images: one a magnified image of a soil sino-bacteria, and the other an image of that area of the Test Site,(Frenchman’s Flat) taken from space. The dried out river wash of Frenchman’s Flat was remarkably similar in pattern to the
string of fibres in the sino-bacteria. These two images became the first work – Life in the Presence of Death 1. I then took this
idea for a walk, looked up the gene sequence for the plant – at that time only partially decoded at 559, and stencilled this
sequence in groups of 100, onto a 18 m. long wall like rows of grave stones, in soil collected from the NTS.
We then collected 559 stones from the desert and constructed a very primitive and fragile stone fallout shelter, with a floor plan
like a splattered explosion. So here there are multiple layers that bring in all sorts of associations. In the final show at the
museum, each work was bridged to the next in a train of thought.
Life in the Field of Death 1 & 11
559 Shelter Stones - 2008
Before I can make a work, I need to make a connection and this is intuitive. I am drawn to something for no particular reason
other than that I feel an excitement in the pit of my stomach. This may be a reaction to a particular place, landscape or
experience, or it may arise from a conversation or something I have read. In this case language is a guide to memory of the
actual physical world.
I feel my way towards finding the best way to explore it and look for a visual form. Usually each new work has to start from
zero and it may mean that I end up using a process, medium or material for which I have no prior experience, so I look for
experts to help me. My work therefore has no particular style or medium. Its cohesion rests in the connections it makes.
To finally make a work, everything has to be in balance – idea, process, material and form. Because of this, in any one work
there are many layers and I may not be consciously aware of them all. Microcosm/macrocosm may well be in there. For the
viewer, however there is work for the eye and mind to do to extend those connections and find meaning within the context of
their own lives and experience.
In a work outside, this process is condensed into the one piece and because it is a tangible thing – often architectural, like one
of the Cloud Chambers, which have an inside as well as an outside, there is an outer form and an inside experience which has
an almost bodily way of communicating – beyond language.
Willow Domes on The Este - Hamburg 2003
Star Chamber 2006 - inside and out
Pu: Besides exploring a philosophy, your works are also involved in many social problems, such as in the project Mushroom/
Clouds, where there is reference to nuclear issues, but you know, “reflecting the world” and “changing the world” through art
are not the same thing. May be we cannot change anything through art. So, besides their great visual strength, what more can
we discover from your Art?
Chris: Yes, I agree that Art is not really going to change anything and it does reflect society as it is at that particular moment in
time. Mostly change happens very slowly, so slowly we don’t notice it, but the world is a very different place now to what it was
when I was a teenager. Sometimes an idea reaches a critical mass and then change happens fast as in a political revolution. The
idea of Climate Change, which has been around since the second world war, has now reached a critical mass and politicians are
having to take action.
As humans though, we don’t seem to have changed at all. We are still as much driven by greed, anger and violence, as we were
thousands of years ago. Greed will in the end destroy us. An art connected to nature can be a superficial thing – a love of
mountains, fresh air, fitness etc is a romantic notion – Hitler’s Youth movement extolled all this and look where that led. If we
want to move from what you call Land Art, the connections will have to go deeper than mere scratches on the surface. Of course Land Art can become political and subversive, as it has, but art is a visual, non-verbal language, and any work which is in tune and in balance communicates a kind of harmony without trying to ‘say’ something.
Pu: Concerning Nature and Humanity, you have said, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty is not an egocentric imposition on a landscape. But in fact, is a masterpiece of human civilization. It has had a great impact on the surrounding environment; Its iconic
nature is a reflection of the focus of human attention over the years. In such a context, is there any difference between Spiral Jetty and your works which use similar spiral patterns, such as Ice Print?
Heart of Reeds - 2005
Chris: There is a great deal of hype about Smithson breaking away from the city/gallery based art markets and using the landscapes of the South West as the place of his art – negating the market. This is not really true; Spiral Jetty with its purchase of
land, construction and documentation was all financed by the art market and was sold and broadcast by that market. Much of
his other work – the site and non-site work was also gallery based. Spiral Jetty, however is iconic because it has a life beyond
the market. It exists as a reality in the land. It changes and reacts with the landscape in which it sits very beautifully. Its shape is
archaic. It changes colour in reaction to the salts of the lake and it appears and disappears as the water levels change. For this it
is truly extraordinary.
Despite the archaic native form of the spiral, in the final sequence of the film of its making, there are elements of transcendence
and redemptive Catholicism in the blinding rays of the sun and kaleidoscopic colours surrounding the lone figure of the artist within the work itself. Catholicism was the religion he was brought up in and something that interested him a great deal in earlier works. This in itself would set him apart from my own and other British Land Artists, although in the project Mushrooms|Clouds I am talking about the cycle of life, death and transformation and there may well be cross-over’s there. Smithson did however genuinely try to place his art in other contexts. He tried to interest strip-mining companies in working with him, but he was way ahead of his time and they all turned him down. In he end he was killed in a helicopter accident while researching a work for a site in Texas. It took artists like Herman Prigann in Germany in the 1990’s to finally get strip coal mining companies to see the worth of working with Land artists to find creative solutions to clean up these devastated landscapes. For myself, having been ostracised by the Art Market I found that other organisations: scientists, architects, clinicians, environmentalists etc came towards me with proposals.
Like most of my British contemporaries however, my work is small scale, hand made and often ephemeral. When I was in
Antarctica I wanted to observe and experience, rather than make. The few works I did make on the ground used ice and snow
and disappeared in a few hours. Iceprint was a human fingerprint brushed onto a fresh fall of snow on blue ice with a dustpan
and brush – the documentation of it highlighting our inappropriate presence in such a place – do not touch!
The only work of mine which approaches the scale and shape of Spiral Jetty and was also constructed using heavy machinery
is Heart Of Reeds in my home town of Lewes. This work however, lives, grows and changes, providing habitat for other species.
The shape uses a complex chaos pattern from blood flow in the heart to create the conditions to maximise the biodiversity of
a small local nature reserve on a piece of land once used as an industrial railway siding on the edge of town. A work made for
small creatures as well as people. You can get up close and see the microcosm, or climb a nearby hill and see it from above and
at a distance.
In creating the conditions for plant and animal life, these living systems become a part of the work. Unlike Spiral Jetty which is in
a sterile saline environment, Heart of Reeds is a living system, in which people have to play a part. The work therefore is managed, not as an artwork, but so that it continues to provide maximum habitat for biodiversity. I explained this work to one of the Paiute tribe I worked with in Nevada, and he was intrigued, because of course a concern for all of life is at the centre of their belief system. This is something which was never a part of the thinking of Heizer or de Maria, but if Smithson had lived I have a hunch that is where he would be at now, Nancy Holt has gone on to make ecological works.
Pu: I really appreciate your art project “the heartbeat of the Earth” in Antarctica. There is a nervous tension when you use radar,
a human technology, to represent the natural world. How does this fit within the wider context of your art-making experience?
Chris: the work I made with scientists in Antarctica was in fact an extension of the work I have made in connection to blood
flow patterns in the heart, which came about through collaborations with clinicians in hospitals. Antarctica was in many ways
a difficult social experience – two artists amongst many scientists and technicians, many of whom thought that we were taking
up valuable science resources. We were advised therefore, to connect with people by giving talks about what we do. I gave two
slide presentations and as a result of this was approached by a scientist who was anxious to show me the parallels in what he
was doing and introduced me to the images of the echograms they were working on.
Later I spent time with him deep in the interior, living in tents on the ice. In a conversation we had he made the statement “Our
echograms are like the heartbeat of the Earth”. A great statement and he was right – an echogram is very similar to an
echocardiogram of the heart. One is produced by radar fixed to the wings of airplanes, and the other by ultrasound through the
body; both show flow patterns. A surgeon can read the medical life history of the patient in an echocardiogram, just as a
scientist can read the history of the Biosphere in the echograms of the ice.
One of the works in this series was called Double Echo. I superimposed the echocardiogram taken from the heartbeat of the
pilot who flew these echogram flights, onto a fragment of one of his echograms. So the whole project was a continuation and
deepening of my research into universal patterns of flow, the underlying energy of the universe made visible.
Pu: The last hypothetical question: supposing I have a ticket for you to attend Shanghai Expo in 2010. You will create an artwork
for this city, which is different from the desert in Nevada and the glaciers of Antarctica. In Shanghai, there is a multi-perspective
on culture. What should you do to have a dialogue with this charming city and not lose your sense of the natural environment?
Dust to Dust, Ashes to Ashes - 2008
Chris: This is your hardest question yet, because in order to make something I need a context and I have never been to Shanghai.
If the brief is to come for a short time, make a temporary work and leave, and if the space is a white wall in a building, then
I would use a universal symbol and make it particular to place by the use of a local material or pigment. Or if there was a space
outside, I might use a vortex pattern, which spirals downs into the earth, maybe using bamboo or recycled timber from industrial pallets, laid on edge and charred black as they move into the centre.
The thing about cities, however is that they are complex places. Most modern cities look superficially the same – high-rise
buildings, transport flow systems etc. However all will have layers of history within them. That history will have been built from
culture and language, but still be deeply connected to its particular place in the land. Its customs, language and food will have
been shaped by this land.
What would really interest me would be a longer term project which peeled back some of these layers. Perhaps it could be a
collaboration between myself, a neurosurgeon, a botanist and an engineer, which could be open ended in terms of an eventual
work, but which might be a garden or small park which reflected our findings. Send me that ticket any time.
Carbon Sink drawing.
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