JOYA RESIDENCY: Land & environmental art

I was announced as University of Art London's Environment International Artist Residency Programme resident artist at Joya earlier this year. This blog includes some of my preparatory work for the Residency, taking place in the Autumn.

Joya: arte + ecología is an arts led field-research centre based at the farmstead of Cortijada Los Gázquez in Andalusia, Almeria province. Joya is off-grid and emphasises a discourse between artists and the environment and sustainability. In preparation, it felt appropriate to review some examples of land and environmental art to try and understand if this type of thinking could inform my practice at the Joya residency.

In particular I have found a book entitled Land and Environmental Art, helpful in my research. The full reference for this book is: Krastner, J. (1998) Land and Environmental Art. London: Phaidon. This blog includes some thoughts on artworks pointed to me by this insightful book, and a few quotations directly from the book, which I have marked as such.

De Maria, W. (1969) Las Vegas Piece

De Maria, W. (1969) Las Vegas Piece

De Maria, W. (1969) Las Vegas Piece

De Maria’s Las Vegas Piece consists of four 244cm wide and 1.6km long trenches in the earth, orientated North-South and East-West. According to Land and Environmental Art the work “explores the ideas of measurement and orientation of the body in the landscape. By digging into the earth, De Maria also comments on how map-making devices are imposed on the natural landscape” (Krastner 1998). The four trenches create a frame which allows us to celebrate, enjoy and even fetishize the landscape’s natural contours and features, such as the flow and weave of the dry river bed. In some respects, it evokes a gargantuan version of the quadrat sampling technique used in biology/ecology, where a 0.5m square frame is tossed randomly, and all organic matter within that square is documented. There is even some similarity between De Maria’s deliberate piece and the photos I have taken of Australia from high above, where straight roads and telegraph lines divide and frame the organic terrain of the red interior (see photo).

Bennett, S.R.G. (2013) Australia

Bennett, S.R.G. (2013) Australia

Land and Environmental Art describes how De Maria’s piece is meant to be experienced at ground level. In some respects, this is a surprise given how stunning it looks from above. But it does open up another way of encountering the piece, and; perhaps most alluring (but impossible?) the possibility of understanding the ground and the aerial view simultaneously. This reminds me of a level in the Call of Duty computer game from about 10 years ago, where the split screen saw a helicopter pilot escort a ground-based infantry member through a landscape. In this case, through the medium of computer graphics, the split screen did allow one to experience both the map and the terrain simultaneously.

Dibbets, J. (1968) Perspectives Correction (Square with Two Diagonals) and Holt, N. (1973-76) Sun Tunnels

Dibbs, J. (1968) Perspectives Correction (Square with Two Diagonals). Image Source: https://projectedfields.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/making-lines/

Dibbs, J. (1968) Perspectives Correction (Square with Two Diagonals). Image Source: https://projectedfields.wordpress.com/2014/06/05/making-lines/

These two works also use the concept of framing the landscape, albeit in different ways. Perspectives Correction is a M.C. Escher style tromp d’oeil, where marks are made on the ground in such a way that, from one viewpoint only, they look like a square with two diagonals. It is an interesting interpretation of the biology quadrat aesthetic, and also introduces the question of perspective into the dialogue between the map and the experience of the land.

Holt, N. (1973-76) Sun Tunnels. Image source: http://artistsofutah.org/15bytes/12oct/page4.html

Holt, N. (1973-76) Sun Tunnels. Image source: http://artistsofutah.org/15bytes/12oct/page4.html

Sun Tunnels is a complex and grand piece. Whilst it first seems a bit ostentatious – weighty concrete tunnels placed into the Great Basin Desert in Utah - it appears to allow a pleasingly interactive and individual experience for viewers, who can tunnel through it, climb onto it, peer through it or look at it. What’s more the artwork changes depending on the time of the year, with the ultimate experience reserved for the solstices when the tunnels point towards the rising and setting sun. Sun Tunnels provides a couple of interesting interpretations of the frame concept; first, the arid and stunning desert landscape is framed by the circular tunnels; second, the framing is temporal in that at a specific time of year a certain celestial event is framed.

Compilation of images of Holt, N. (1973-76) Sun Tunnels. Image sources (clockwise from top left): https://www.flickr.com/photos/85264217@N04/21229542166; https://lemons2williams.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/868.jpg; http://uk.phaidon.com/agenda/art/articles/2017/april/05/how-nancy-holts-sun-tunnels-link-us-to-the-cosmos/; https://blog.christinewongyap.com/tag/sun-tunnels/

Compilation of images of Holt, N. (1973-76) Sun Tunnels. Image sources (clockwise from top left): https://www.flickr.com/photos/85264217@N04/21229542166; https://lemons2williams.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/868.jpg; http://uk.phaidon.com/agenda/art/articles/2017/april/05/how-nancy-holts-sun-tunnels-link-us-to-the-cosmos/; https://blog.christinewongyap.com/tag/sun-tunnels/

The small constellations of circular holes in the tunnel walls provide another dimension. The play of light and shadow through these holes endlessly changes, influenced by the sun and moon’s phases throughout the year. I’m unsure if this is obvious, but when the images of Sun Tunnels are minimised and juxtaposed, I get the impression of a cosmic photograph – perhaps a remote solar system’s planets gathering around a giant star? Clearly relevant to my work at Lumen.

Smithson, R. (1969) Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan

Smithson, R. (1969) Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan. Image source: http://superdigit.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/robert-smithson-incidents-of-mirror.html

Smithson, R. (1969) Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan. Image source: http://superdigit.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/robert-smithson-incidents-of-mirror.html

Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan consists of twelve square mirrors photographed in nine different sites across the Yucatan. Each positive shape could be thought of as representing the inverse of the frames described in the last few examples, although for me they play a broadly similar function in the landscape. First, there is the introduction of something hard and artificial that accentuates the organic contours of the landscape. Second, each mirror captures an image; a tantalising moment grasped in the always changing flux of the natural environment. To quote Land and Environmental Art “the works existed for only a short timeframe, but the images trapped by the camera are timeless traces of memory” (Krastner 1998). Third, we use of the same material in each photograph emphasises the variation in the rest of the picture – i.e. the landscape and its ecology. It is almost like a touchstone or key which helps decode the rest of the image.

Smithson, R. (1969) The Map of Broken Glass (Atlantis)

Smithson, R. (1969) The Map of Broken Glass (Atlantis). Image source: http://www.artlinked.com/Object/3020/Robert-Smithsons-Map-of-Broken-Glass-Atlantis-1969

Smithson, R. (1969) The Map of Broken Glass (Atlantis). Image source: http://www.artlinked.com/Object/3020/Robert-Smithsons-Map-of-Broken-Glass-Atlantis-1969

At first I was attracted by the aesthetics of this piece, although I now think the description in Land and Environmental Art adds an extra layer to my experience of the work. “The glass is a map of a non-existent island which catches the sun’s rays and radiates brightness without electric technology. The cracked transparency of the piles of glass diffuse the light of their solar source”. The shards of glass, the glimmering light, the poetic description of a lost time and place – combines in a heady mix, in my mind anyway.

Baldessari, J. (1969) The California Map Project, and Oppenheimer, D. (1978) Relocated Burial Ground

Two further works explore the links between cartography and the ‘real world’. California Map Project consists of the ten letters spelling C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A, arranged at ten locations throughout the state (and then photographed). Their physical location is determined by the layout of the word CALIFORNIA on a map of America (see top left image). California is roughly 750 miles long, and that is, in principle, the size of this piece of work. In contrast to this grandness, some of the letters are very discreet, and in some instances simply make use of the existing landscape – the letter L is a lamppost and its shadow.

Baldessari, J. (1969) The California Map Project. Image source: http://karenmoss.art/topographies/

Baldessari, J. (1969) The California Map Project. Image source: http://karenmoss.art/topographies/

Relocated Burial Ground again applies a map feature to a corresponding landscape, but this time using a familiar and playful cartographic device – X marks the spot.

Oppenheimer, D. (1978) Relocated Burial Ground

Oppenheimer, D. (1978) Relocated Burial Ground

Heizer, M. (1972-76) Complex City and Mueller, C. P. (1997) A Balancing Act

Heizer, M. (1972-76) Complex City. Image source: https://s3.amazonaws.com/classconnection/270/flashcards/4955270/jpg/0029_the_city-_complex_one-14CB63849E535B01399.jpg

Heizer, M. (1972-76) Complex City. Image source: https://s3.amazonaws.com/classconnection/270/flashcards/4955270/jpg/0029_the_city-_complex_one-14CB63849E535B01399.jpg

A couple of cautionary tales to finish off with. First, Heizer’s Complex City. It is an enormous construction of concrete and volcanic rock located in the middle of the empty Nevadan desert. It is probably easy to take a dislike to the work given its environmental and climate impact, its grandiose scale, and its disharmony with the local environment. On the other hand, all that could be said about Las Vegas, and similar to Las Vegas, it is undoubtedly place worth experiencing. Perhaps Complex City is a critique of Las Vegas? Possibly, although the euphoric language in Land and Environmental Art suggests otherwise: “The presence of the objects overwhelm with the immensity of its scale. Heizer remarks: ‘It is interesting to build a sculpture that attempts to create an atmosphere of awe […] Immense, architecturally-sized sculptures create both the object and the atmosphere […] awe is a state of mind equivalent to religious experience […] to create a transcendent piece of work means to go past everything’” (Krastner 1998). Heizer’s intention, conveyed via Krastner, is almost the exact opposite of the promise Walter Benjamin saw in new forms of art available in the 20th century, where the long-held quasi-religious ‘aura’ of art is corroded by democratised technologies (see Benjamin, W. (1935) The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility).

Beuys, J. (1982-87) 7000 Oakes (left); Muelller, C.P. (1997) A Balancing Act. Source of both images: http://www.christianphilippmueller.net/index/works/a-balancing-act

Beuys, J. (1982-87) 7000 Oakes (left); Muelller, C.P. (1997) A Balancing Act. Source of both images: http://www.christianphilippmueller.net/index/works/a-balancing-act

Finally, a slightly poignant piece. Mueller’s A Balancing Act is an installation based around the Friedrichsplatz in Kassel. Kassel, remember, is the location for Joseph Beuys’ pioneering work 7000 Oakes, which I have already briefly written about. The permanent parts of this work, alongside some of the original oaks (see image), previously resided in the Friedrichsplatz square, alongside Vertical Earth Kilometer by De Maria. Mueller’s piece commemorates the work of Beuys and De Maria, which have been displaced as part of the construction of an underground car park. Much environmental art is fleeting and temporal – but one would usually think because of environmental processes more than town planning. This is perhaps an inherent danger of art outside of the exhibition space. Can practice embed this recurrent risk of damage and destruction by humans?

LUMEN residency: alternative processes

A summary of some research undertaken on alternative printing/photography processes using the sun's energy - ahead of the 2017 Lumen Residency. Using the sun as a direct intervention in my practice feels like an interesting approach given much of my practice addresses the world's changing climate. The Lumen Residency is in Lazio, a place, like much of the Mediterranean, which is currently getting seriously frazzled by the sun...

Cyanotypes

Atkins, A. (1849) Dictyota dichotoma, in the young state; and in fruit. Source: From The New York Public Library, available here. 

Atkins, A. (1849) Dictyota dichotoma, in the young state; and in fruit. Source: From The New York Public Library, available here

In summary

  • Mix up a chemical formula: Potassium ferricyanide and Ferric ammonium citrate (green) are mixed with water separately, then two solutions are then blended together in equal parts. Although there are other combinations that work. See here (also references how Cyanotypes are linked to John Herschel).
  • Apply to a material - paper, board, fabric. If using paper needs to be pretty robust (as later wash). Perhaps not that absorbent?
  • Cover fabric with a pattern / flower.
  • Let expose to sun. Again minutes/hours (not seconds). 
  • When ready (the paper starts turning bluish?) - wash paper in water. No fixer or developer required. 
  • Potentially a toner can be used. Short video explaining this here. And this guide, produced by Jacquard, is just brilliant. Tea, coffee, wine...

Good sources of information

  • https://www.sciencecompany.com/The-Cyanotype-Process.aspx (inc. link to John Herschel).
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozxuEhYQq1I
  • http://cyanotype.co.uk/toning.html

Lumen prints

Source: LOMODESBRO via Lomography website (Accessible at: https://www.lomography.com/magazine/59543-lumen-printing)

Source: LOMODESBRO via Lomography website (Accessible at: https://www.lomography.com/magazine/59543-lumen-printing)

In summary

  • Old photographic paper
  • Assemble collage/objects on paper in dark room
  • Expose by sun, between minutes and hours
  • Use fixer NOT developer. And use hypo fixer not rapid fixer (I think this product is right, because of the information in the description in this page, and the explanations of name changes provided here & here)
  • Variables to give different images include: paper type; paper age; exposure time; strength of light; interfering with the paper (e.g. water on it)
  • distance from surface of objects, transparency etc.

Good sources of information:

  • https://www.lomography.com/magazine/321837-how-to-make-lumen-prints
  • http://fstop138.berrange.com/2015/07/an-introduction-to-the-lumen-printing-process/
  • https://www.lomography.com/magazine/59543-lumen-printing
  • http://davidarnoldphotographyplus.com/2015/01/17/morning-glories-lumen-print-making/
  • Here's some information on different types of fixer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photographic_fixer

Bromide

Serge (2007) Bromoil Nara. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/10233991@N08/2556359215

Serge (2007) Bromoil Nara. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/10233991@N08/2556359215

In summary

  • Frankly this one looked a bit more technical and less achievable at short notice, on location at Lumen. 
  • Make a conventional photographic print on Bromide paper (I think this requires darkroom & chemicals which I currently do not have access to).
  • Make a 'matrix' by applying a solution called bleach-tan (diluted with water) to the print. Fairly precise timings and temperatures required. Once you arrive at the matrix, this is fixed and can be stored indefinitely. 
  • Soak the dried matrix in water. Dry it so there are no droplets.
  • Apply standard ink with a brush. This then gets picked up in the grooves of the matrix, a bit like an etching.
  • End up with an inky, handmade and unique version of the original photograph.
  • NB - the image shown above by Serge is, I think, actually a Photoshop process, and not in fact a genuine Bromide print. It is included here as a) I wasn't impressed by the images available to use online, and b) as it is food for thought - could be a digital process that is relatively accessible for me.

Good sources of information

  • https://www.silverprint.co.uk/bromoil/
  • http://www.alternativephotography.com/making-a-bromoil-print/
  • https://www.flickr.com/photos/10233991@N08/2556359215

Solar Fast Dyes

The Mighty Zorvig (2015), source: https://themightyzorvig.wordpress.com/tag/solarfast/

The Mighty Zorvig (2015), source: https://themightyzorvig.wordpress.com/tag/solarfast/

In summary

  • Cheating?!
  • Dyes are produced by a range of companies e.g. Inkodye, Jacquard. Summary of them at the beginning of this video. Seem to be focused on dying T-shirt audience, but I believe can also be used on paper and presumably mounted board.
  • Appears that you apply the dyes on the surface, and dyes can be thinned with water (see bottom of this page). Dyes can be mixed, applying water directly onto the surface gets a bleeding effect.
  • Then apply positives onto the surface. E.g. leaves are used in the above image. Most of the instructions I've seen suggest getting the material as tight as possible to the surface to get a sharp image. Of course you can play with that, and get more ghostly shadows by putting objects further away.
  • Other techniques include: making stencils, potentially on acetate; using salt to give a texture; if using material, folding or scrunching the material.
  • Then leave assemblage in the sun for a few hours. Results will differ depending on time of day, directness of sunlight, cloud etc. Most seem to suggest a few hours in direct sunlight, so doesn't seem too powerful. 
  • I think the next task is to fix the dye. With some products this seems to involve heat-sealing with an iron. For Jacquard I believe this involves fixing with their Solar Fast Wash in hot water 'agitating vigorously'. Product instructions should explain more.

Sources of information

  • http://www.georgeweil.com/ProductGroup.aspx?Menu=1&Level1=83&Level2=1209&Level3=0&PID=21368
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3TKb1XHUac
  • https://themightyzorvig.wordpress.com/tag/solarfast/

From this survey of processes, I am planning on incorporating cyanotypes, lumen prints and solar fast dyes into my practice at Lumen. As far as I can work out, this requires acquiring cyanotype chemicals, soda ash, old photographic paper and a solar fast dye kit. Next stage is to think through some of the subjects and concepts to address using these materials.