It's big

on the left: Center for Land use Interpretation
on the right: Chris Taylor of Land Arts of the American West
image by Liz Ellsworth (click to enlarge)

Yesterday at the "Reclamation of Post-Industrial Territories: Land Arts and The Incubo Atacama Lab" panel at Parsons The New School for Design, we heard Chris Taylor (who is co-facilitator with Bill Gilbert of Land Arts of the American West) describe his 2007 collaboration with Incubo.

Incubo, a non-profit project in Chile for research and diffusion on contemporary art, organized a field session in the Atacama Desert. For 10 days, artists, architects, designers and scientists explored the expanding interconnections of their work in direct response to the landscape and its uses (past, present, future).

We learned that the Atacama Desert, the driest non-arctic desert in the world, is big, not only in scale (it stretches 600 miles from Peru's southern border to northern Chile), but in history, cultural and ecological significance, natural resources, and extremity of climate.

During the presentation, we came to a new degree of realization about the expanding, as-yet-unnamable trandisciplinary "field | practices" of land arts + land use interpretation + artists + (built) environments + design.

Maybe it was the fact that the Land Arts/Incubo panel took place in a New School gallery currently exhibiting "Into the Open: Positioning Practice," the official U.S. representation at the 11th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia. Chris Taylor screened his presentation on a wall across the room from the Center for Land Use Interpretation's looping slide presentation: "Post Consumed: The Landscape of Waste in Los Angeles." And this allowed us to see land arts and land interpretation placed in vivid relation to architecture, urban planning, urban researchers, community and eco-activists.

Maybe it was the appearance of four new and provocatively interconnected books in almost as many days--that collectively map the range of practices and people that currently shape the expanding territory of artists + environments.

Maybe it was because this panel was our first chance to see people in our home town (NYC) respond to images, stories, and ideas that we first encountered while on research and making trips in the Southwest--and which seemed to be much more of the American West than the American East.

Whatever it was, we found ourselves reaching a new degree of realization about this expanding, multiply-named field, namely:

It's big. It's big as in ... it's important. Significant. Perhaps revolutionary. And its momentum is only growing.
  • It breeches institutional walls, ways, and habits.
  • It revisions, rewrites, and relocates "boundaries" and "borders."
  • Far from static or definitional, it embraces movement--even elevates it to a research and aesthetic methodology.
  • It is at the forefront of exploring what new ways of thinking and knowing emerge when scientists and artists collaborate.
  • It stitches together disparate geographic communities, ecologies, perspectives and embodied experiences.
  • It engages new pedagogies that assert the pedagogical value of travel combined with the rigors of fieldwork and the primacy of one's own reaction to places and events. Theory isn't enough. This field is in the fieldwork. It is in the doing and in the making.
  • It combines aesthetic and scientific methodologies that flow into visuality and the arts.
  • It takes seriously the material aspects of processes such as research and creative response.
  • In a spirit that is often rare in academe and higher education, the people associated with this field seem genuinely open to working across perspectives and approaches that appear to be divergent at first glance. They seem to take real joy in an open source approach to sharing resources, insights, and opportunities. Maybe sharing field work in extreme situations and sites teaches how to be great collaborators. And how to speak eloquently about work across specialities in ways that don't necessarily require highly technical or esoteric language.
This field doesn't have a (definitive) name, yet we can attempt to locate its potential. We want to help map this field's expansion even as it (happily) heads off the map. That's why we started this hybrid of blog and web exhibitions. With it, we hope to give a dynamic image of the emerging "field | practices" of land arts + land use interpretation + artists + (built) environments + design.


  1. Thanks for sharing a thoughtful list of qualities of this BIG THING. I am currently writing a master's thesis that explores the intersection of art, environment, and community and this blog posting really has energized me and my writing.

  2. Hi Jorie,
    Thanks for the comment. We're glad you found the post useful. Let us know how your thesis goes and what you discover.


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