9 SEP 2003 Gloria J. Haag prepares for video Baptizing on the Bonneville
Salt Flats, near Wendover, Utah.
Photo by Chris Taylor
Psychogeography in the desert: between LAND ARTS OF THE AMERICAN WEST
Spending two months and 10,000 miles traveling throughout the American West to visit and make work in response to contemporary and pre-contact land art is to open oneself to the space between the destinations. This presentation will document the growing history of a new academic program and cast forward a set of relations between psychogeography and traveling through the arid land of the American West.
LAND ARTS OF THE AMERICAN WEST is a studio-based, field study program that investigates land arts from pre-contact Native American to contemporary Euro-American cultures. It is a program that views place as a continuum across time and cultures, a program that demonstrates the potential of situating questions between disciplines and definitions, between the land, art, and design. Land arts practices can include everything from constructing a road, to taking a walk, building a monument, or leaving a mark in the sand. We learn from the fact that Donald Judd surrounded himself with both contemporary sculpture and Navajo rugs; that Chaco Canyon and Roden Crater function as celestial instruments; and that the Very Large Array is a scientific research center with a powerful aesthetic presence on the land.
Land Arts is a collaboration between Studio Art at the University of New Mexico and Design at the University of Texas at Austin. Fourteen students and two faculty, spend a semester living and working in the southwestern landscape with guest scholars in disciplines including archeology, art history, architecture, ceramics, criticism, writing, design, and studio art. Occupying the land for weeks at a time, living as a nomadic group and working directly in the environment, students navigate issues of culture, site, community and self. They develop skills of perception and analysis unattainable in a standard classroom setting. LAND ARTS is an interdisciplinary model of education that hinges on the relation between place and human interventions in the land.
The desert provides an amazing laboratory to read the lines of force that exist in the world. It is a pedagogic landscape that exposes itself in ways that are both unforgiving and highly focused. Creating a situation where students are exposed to and engaged by the realities of the land; the marks left by past inhabitants—water, wind, animal, human, industry, carelessness, willful conquest, and hopeful coexistence. We strive not to differentiate the value of traces left by humans, animals, or environmental factors. Instead we ask what can be learned from reading those traces, those marks, and what is the particular nature of that reading. Unlike a model that seeks to explain or deduce a truth from a set of conditions, here we are seeking to re-invigorate invention (not in terms of opposition, but in terms of connection). The goal here is one of opening out and connecting work to conditions beyond oneself. LAND ARTS transposes the studio and classroom into the environment. Set apart from the Grand Tour, a tradition of collecting and consuming, LAND ARTS is about making. As artists and designers, we move away from issues of interpretation towards the possibilities of what we can make.
LAND ARTS hopes to confirm the idea that if you bring students out into the world instead of the world into the classroom, you can fundamentally change how we learn, create, and view our surroundings. In this context we strive to make deeper and more precise connections within our work and be inspired to create work that makes broader connections outside of ourselves.
LAND ARTS course topics have included:Site-specific Sculpture places contemporary site work in the context of a continuous tradition of landscape based art making that is thousands of years old; Site-specific Shelter investigates issues of inhabitation, the record of life in the landscape, and asks students to construct, detail, and document site-based interventions; Indigenous Ceramics introduces artists and designers to the use of native materials gathered on site to make, decorate, and fire vessels related to the functional and ritual needs of the group; and Documents: Body, Landscape, Memory explores the question of mapping within the landscape and the relation of the body to site.