Staging the new old and the new new topographics

We're heading to the Rochester, NY this summer to catch the recreation of the 1975 paradigm-shifting exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-altered Landscape. The re-staging of that exhibition opens June 13 and runs through Sept. 29 at the George Eastman House. It then goes on a multi-nation tour. George Eastman House and the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona are co-organizers of the re-creation.

According to the event's press release, The New Topographics is considered to be the second most-cited photography exhibition in the history of the medium.

We learned about The New Topographics from photographer/artist An-My Lê when she lectured last November on Michael Heizer at the Dia in Chelsea. It was a lecture that drew fresh connections for us among 1970s photographers' unsentimental responses to suburban sprawl and increasingly entropic western landscapes, works such as Michael Heizer's Double Negative, and the "new new topographics" perspectives of An-My Lê and other contemporary photographers.

In this way, her lecture activated what we've come to appreciate about what we've been calling the emerging field of artists + environments: you attend a lecture to hear about one thing and find yourself learning about another. Such experiences cast the net of what might be called artists + environments wider and at the same time provide a context for bringing seemingly disparate works and practices (across generations, media, methods, cultural perspectives and geographic locations) into deeper relationship and appreciation. It's a completely enriching and exciting experience that makes this "field" so dynamic.

Critics sometimes place An-My Lê's work in the continuation of the new topographics movement. The 1975 exhibition marked a significant turn among photographers--away from the romantic, idealized landscape photography that contributed to the myth of the American West, toward a perspective that takes up the "man altered landscape." This turn is both precursor and inspiration to contemporary land use interpretation photographic documentation and artworks.

An-My Lê spoke at the lecture of her fascination with the machinery of war. Her recent work has focused on how that machinery and the humans who use it occupy and create geographies and landscapes. In her lecture, she read Heizer's monumental works of land art as possible military metaphors: bunkers, blast sites, trenches.

In the context of her talk, we began making many new connections, when we realized that in the 1970s, there was a desire among American artists to alter our own country's landscapes (natural as well as political) at the same time that the U.S. military was so dramatically altering the landscapes and environments of Vietnam. In the midst of contemporary landscape and land use photography such as An-My Lê's, Edward Burtynsky, and Michael Light--it will be interesting to see what the re-staging of the first visual responses to "man-altered" landscapes might offer up in contrast, affinity, and juxtaposition to contemporary works, wars, and events--and in relation to increasingly altered global landscapes over thirty years later.

If you can't make it to the Eastman House for the re-creation of The New Topographics, you can catch the exhibition at one of eight other venues in the US and Europe.

CLUI's latest: the nation's petrochemicalscape

Photo: the CLUI Photographic Archive

On April 19, the Center for Land Use Interpretation launched an exhibit entitled "Texas Oil: Landscape of an Industry" at its Los Angeles/Culver City site. Described as an "aerial tour over the nation's petrochemicalscape," the CLUI explains:

A petrochemical system integrates the country through a continental network of facilities and pipelines. This network, assembled over the last hundred years, moves crude, gas, and chemical feedstock, from coast to coast, production areas to processing plants, tank farms to tanker ports, touching every state. It is a circulatory system of the American Land, moving the lifeblood of the economy, in this Petrochemical Age.

Though the complexity, scale, and forms of the industry resemble those of science fiction fantasy, they are real and present.

If the oil industry has a heart, then it is Texas. And Houston is its aorta.

Smudge studio will be at the CLUI in Culver City in June to see the exhibition and do some archival research there, and we'll post a review of the exhibition then.

In the meantime, check out the CLUI's Petro-America Program online. The University of Houston's Blaffer Gallery has a detailed webpage about the program. It includes a podcast featuring an interview with the CLUI's Matt Coolidge about this ambitious project, which has produced many works including:

  • an HD video "landscan" of petroleum refineries and shipping yards,
  • collaborations with students from the University of Houston, and
  • a SIMPARCH designed and built structure that serves as a floating platform on Houston’s interstitial waterways and provides a multifunctional space for creative programming.

Original exhibit details and additional photographs at the Blaffer Gallery

Art + Environment Ning

view inside the A+E Ning

You can join the art + environment social network through the Nevada Museum of Art's Ning. The interface includes personal profiles, video documentation from last fall's conference, exhibition and event information, and much more. Check it out and join the growing community.

Post Consumed Audio Tour

It isn't exactly breaking news, but in case you missed it last August, NPR covered the CLUI's bus tour of the Puente Hills Landfill. You can give it a listen here.

Link to the main exhibition, Post Consumed The Landscape of Waste in Los Angeles here.

smudges' new blog

smudge studio's Edges of Feasibility project, Rachel NV

We welcome you to smudge studio's new media initiative--a hybrid of blog and periodic web exhibitions.

Our new blog sifts, bridges, maps, and cross-pollinates networks among an expanding field of artists + environments. We offer the site as a generative media resource for a growing network of contemporary artists, designers, urban planners, researchers, and scientists variously referred to as “New Land Arts," “Artists/Designers + Environments,” or "land use interpretation."

We launch the blog with smudge-generated posts of ideas, works, news, conversations, and provocations relevant to this emerging field. Also, in collaboration with and thanks to the Land Arts of the American West program, we launch with selected announcements of events, exhibitions, and opportunities posted to their Land Arts Listserve. Finally, we launch with a web exhibition in the making--a response to our upcoming work with the LAND/ART project in New Mexico this summer.

With this blog/web exhibition, we hope to give you a dynamic image of the emerging "field | practices" of land arts + land use interpretation + artists + (built) environments + design. We want to help map its expansion even as it (happily) heads off the map.

Into the Sunset: Photography's Image of the American West

We're heading west to Manhattan this weekend to see MoMA's "photography's image of the American west" exhibition. Featuring 120 photos from 70 photographers, themes include Manifest Destiny, the "land of opportunity," cultural dislocation, environmental devastation, and failed social aspirations. The exhibition is a response to the fact that, as MoMA's description puts it: "Photography's development coincided with the exploration and the settlement of the West, and their simultaneous rise resulted in a complex association that has shaped the perception of the West's physical and social landscape to this day."

Ken Johnson, in a review of the exhibition for the New York Times, calls it a "bleak view of America’s realization of its Manifest Destiny." He wonders out loud why the exhibition projects such a dim vision of both "pathetic" people and commercial and environmental degradation of the land.

He ends with some questions:
  • Is it impossible for serious contemporary photography to see something better?
  • Is failure and disappointment the real, unavoidable story?
  • Or is it another myth, a paradoxically reassuring narrative to which many high-minded people now unthinkingly accede?
  • If so, what would be the alternative? That could be an unknown worth exploring.
We're going to take these questions with us this weekend to see whether our suspicion holds up: that an "unknown" alternative--one worth exploring--is being generated by a number of people who are right now responding creatively to the "American West" through a variety of "Artists + Environments" works, collaborations, and projects involving photography.

If you're in NYC sometime between now and June 8, you can see the exhibition too. Next week, we'll post our own response to the exhibition and Ken Johnson's wonderings.

Spring Exhibitions at Artists Space

installation at Artists Space

On April 9th three spring exhibitions of note have opened at Artists Space. They include artist Ilana Halperin of Nato Thompson's traveling iCi show, Experimental Geography.

Descriptions from the gallery website:

Saul Becker: Nature Preserves
Saul Becker has spent the last two years collecting weeds near his home in industrial Brooklyn. From unlikely sites – gas stations, polluted Newtown Creek, corner vacant lots – Becker finds the most hearty of natural specimens in disregarded and unnatural sites. By developing a system of electroplating each plant sample, he archives what is overlooked, undocumented, and generally stepped on or built over. At Artists Space, Becker will exhibit for the first time his electroplated plants, creating idealized fields of flora from un-idealized sources. In collaboration with sound artist and composer Stephen Vitiello, Becker’s plant specimens incorporate sound, echoing their Brooklyn homes. These objects, long used as a reference for Becker’s landscape paintings of industrial sites, are preserved and unlikely objects of beauty. Fierce underdogs of our city’s industrial past and present, the work reminds us that nature is always just below (or creeping above) the surface.

Ilana Halperin: Physical Geology (slow time)
Ilana Halperin’s work explores an impulse to make physical contact with geological time. While conducting research in the geology department at the Manchester Museum, Halperin discovered a fine collection of lava medallions from Mount Vesuvius—magma pressed between forged steel plates to form an imprint (imagine a waffle iron that makes use of lava instead of pancake batter.) During her research, she also came across a small stone relief sculpture that appeared to be carved out of pure white alabaster. The object was in fact a limestone cast created via the same process that forms stalactites in a cave—the residue of a high velocity calcifying process. These findings have led Halperin to contemplate the notion of physical geological time—fast moving lava flows vs. slow time inside a cave. Halperin’s overarching project is to make a geological time diptych involving new lava medallions and cave casts, allowing slow and fast time to hover alongside each other.

Francesco Simeti: Volatili
For over a decade Francesco Simeti has disrupted the decorative history of wallpaper. Through the composition and collage of images borrowed from news and world media into patterns for domestic interiors, Simeti instigates social commentary and political tension. For his most recent project he has collaborated with ten patients in a long-term care facility for the mentally disabled. Located in San Colombano (northern Italy), Simeti’s collaboration is the fourth of an ongoing series of residencies called “Acrobazie” (Acrobatics), conceived and organized by Elisa Fulco at the Atelier Adriano e Michele. After months of experimentation with the group, Simeti introduced his ongoing interest in the work of American orinthologist John James Audubon, whose paintings and 435 life-size prints in “Birds of America” have become an iconic treasure for naturalists. As a symbol of freedom and mobility, birds have a particularly deep resonance for the patients who suffer a feeling of homelessness and instability due to periodic uprooting and transfer by the Italian government. The final wallpaper is a compilation of their drawings inspired by Audubon’s work and assembled by Simeti. The wallpaper is presented with the individual work of the patients, framed and mounted on a papered wall. Patient-artists involved in the project: Giuseppe Bomparola, Luigi Cremaschini, Luigi Zucca, Patrizia Fatone, Andrea Vicidomini, Umberto Bergamaschi, Curzio Di Giovanni, Claudio Salvago, Elisabetta Catena, and Marco Acquani.

smudge studio at LAND/ART (June 2009)

smudge studio will design, produce and web host information, documentation, and creative responses to LAND/ART, a collaborative exploration of Land-based art in New Mexico, Summer and Fall 2009.

We will be in Albuquerque to cover the LAND/ART Symposium Weekend June 27 - 28, 2009. The LAND/ART Symposium Weekend will take place around the opening of Experimental Geography (curated by Nato Thompson) at the Albuquerque Museum, and include a series of artist talks, discussions, excursions and tours.

The Center for Urban Pedagogy, The Cargo Chain (detail), 2008, from Daniel Tucker (project organizer), The We Are Here Map Archive, 1997–2008

Our participation is supported in part by a grant from the University of New Mexico College of Fine Arts.

Support LAND/ART and receive smudge studio's artist edition of 30 postcards depicting Limit Case landscapes and land uses encountered on our recent journey in the Southwest. To view the postcards and order your set of 30 for a tax deductible donation of $20, please visit the LAND/ART BOOKS page.

Change of Course: The Gowanus Canal

image from Kevin T. Allen's Phonoscope Gowanus

It appears that the fabled "Lavender Lake" of Brooklyn could be about to start a new chapter in its exceptionally polluted life. Last week the EPA proposed to make the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site. Even though the Canal has been highly contaminated by industrial waste and pollution for 150 years or so, the news of possible reclamation came as a surprise.

Urban legends run thick around this two-mile long body of water. Its storied history includes a crucial role in George Washington's triumph in the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. Yet, like most New York icons, the Canal has an abundance of former lives.

One result is that the Canal is too contaminated to support any form of life. The oxygen levels within the Canal currently test at around 1.5 parts per million (4 parts per million are needed to sustain life). While writing this, I reflect on the fact that the canal runs through Brooklyn only two blocks from where I live. It's odd how much psychological distance this actually equates in an urban environment. Though the Canal technically passes through the ever flexible borders of Carroll Gardens, South Brooklyn and Red Hook, rather than a vibrant ecotone you might say it actually constitutes an anti ecotone-- a stark division between the industrial and residential thoroughfares of Second and Fourth Avenues that is seemingly avoided or sped past by everyone except local artists.

Kevin T. Allen has been canoeing up and down the Canal for several years producing extremely high-quality sound recordings. His resulting works have been exhibited both locally and internationally. For his Gowanus projects he has held microphones right to its surface, and even plumbed its shadowy depths with a specially designed hydrophone (inexplicably picking up Polish radio frequencies in the process). His byline for GOWANUS: Over/Under-Water, says: "A first person journey above and below one of America’s most polluted waterways." Yet, Kevin hasn't made his engagement with the Canal a public activist project. He has often been the only one "out there". It has been a purely exploratory, aesthetic, and local practice. Instead of producing pieces that aspire for the Canal to be other than what it is, Kevin has come to it as it is -over and over again.

His work makes me think that meeting (any of our planet's many) ecologically challenged spaces as they are, and creatively engaging them "there" as such, might be one of the most inventive contemporary art practices that can presently be taken up. By developing a relationship with the Canal, and through that process rendering it aesthetic, Kevin generates space for this site to become something else in the future - a future that is now arriving. With the call for reclamation the area is potentially open to being newly populated and enjoyed by many forms of life.

Other artists also have contributed to the culmination of this moment. Last summer David Eustace made several paintings "with" the Canal by submerging large pieces of canvas for extended periods of time. They were incrementally stained and marked over time by the Canal's industrial pigments and particles of mysterious origin. Deborah Loxam-Kohl, a critic-curator writing about David's project, wrote, "A recent exhibition of Project for Calendar Studies in Brooklyn had him leading boat tours of the canal, visiting the site where canvases are strapped to pilings and submerged beneath the murky waters. Introduced to the work in these surroundings, many viewers tend to interpret it within the context of environmental issues. Without intending to comment on the ecological state of the Gowanus Canal, or to draw general attention to industrial contamination of the environmental, the work, nevertheless, captures the viewer’s imagination. Eustace recognizes the inclination to align the work with political and social concerns associated with the environment, and understandably, it’s a natural response to the dark watermarks and sooty shadows of the canvases when one understands what created them. Though the work raises issues that weren’t a factor in its formation, Eustace supports a dialogue that enables people to address the matters the work brings up for them."

There is the familiar tale of urban artists taking up the derelict, remote, gritty fringes of the city and rendering them more livable and often more interesting than they were once considered to be. In a time of growing tension about the earth's ecology, it is interesting to see artists move indirectly in response to the contaminated landscapes (and seascapes) so readily available. Instead of confronting them directly as subject of environmental art, some artists, more interestingly, create dynamic images and sensations of these spaces as they currently exist. They create signals in response to these sites as they are, and in the case of the Gowanus Canal, they have perhaps assisted in materializing the necessity of transformation through a means that is less overtly political.

I would like to think that it is work of artists such as Kevin and David, and the efforts of local institutions such as Proteus Gowanus and Gowanus Dredgers, that have helped to usher in an interest and a reason to turn towards what lies in the backyard of many but has been overlooked for so long.

The 60 day Public Comment Process to determine if the site will become a Superfund Site is underway. Visit the EPA website for the Gowanus Canal and add your thoughts.

Read an article in the Times about the proposed EPA intervention.

things aren't as they seem--even when they are

Geoff Manaugh and a post terrestrial, post-natural arch
image: Elizabeth Ellsworth

Geoff Manaugh (BLDG BLOG) presented work in New York City at the School of Visual Arts, as part of their Design Criticism program, on Tuesday, April 14. We met Geoff briefly while live blogging at the Nevada Museum of Art Art + Environment" Conference, and we've been following his blog--and now his new book--ever since. (It was a blast to watch the Postopolis! presentations by Geoff and others--including Matt Coolidge--webcast by the Storefront for Art and Architecture March 31-April 4, 2009.)

Geoff's presentation at SVA was titled "Designing the Post-Terrestrial," which he defined as designing technical stand-ins for the planet--earth simulations and replicants or replacements for Earth.

The "natural" arch in the image above is a case in point. Geoff told a story of how the federal government experimented with "transforming the geology of the American West into a permanently shellaced presence" via the "Arch Stabilization Project," using a product made by B.F. Goodrich in its test on several "natural arches."

This true story propelled Geoff into an evening of speculation (much of it also "true") about the built environment's relationship to the earth's surface. For example, what if the built environment is not something simply constructed on top of the "real" earth--but something that is continuously becoming the planet itself. In other words, what if the surface of the Earth was not really the surface of the Earth at all? What if what appears at first glance to be hills are actually buildings? What if a path that seems to go underground is actually going further into an architectural construct that precedes you? What if cities such as London developed glass bottomed buses, complete with ground penetrating radar capable of displaying to tourists the buried ruins beneath London's streets? What if--as Geoff actually experienced--you're walking along a surface street in Berlin only to realize suddenly that you're no longer on the earth's surface at all--you've crossed a seamless threshold onto an elevated walkway/bridge and you're high in the air but didn't notice because everything around you is designed to look as if it's still part of the earth's surface?

Geoff used the word "speculative" several times in his presentation. It left us wondering where speculation blurs into the purely "imaginative" (like the glass bottom bus). Regardless, speculation is an extremely useful and playful rhetorical device. Its active address keeps an audience's imagination in motion, offers a position from which one can project creative ideas, perceptions, and dreams in the name of shaking up the sometimes seemingly static world of theory and criticism.

This deliberate address of wondering "what if", even when standing before solid architectural structures, the landscape, or even the geologic depths of the earth, breaks new ground and dramatically departs from some academic approaches of more cannon-ized fields.

Acts of speculation keep the environment around us unfixed, unfinished, and always potentially more than what it seems on the surface.

Geoff's "things aren't what they seem--even when they are" perspective is actually a key conceptual frame getting wide use within the emerging field of Art/Design + Environments.

In Geoff's presentation, this perspective took the form of pointing out how sometimes we think we're walking on the surface of the earth, say, on a hill--only to find out that it isn't (just) a hill--it's a burial mound or an overgrown pyramid. In the Center for Land Use Interpretation's current installation for Parson's "Into the Open" exhibition (Post Consumed: The Landscape of Waste in Los Angeles), this perspective takes the form of pointing out that Los Angeles' trash removal infrastructure has also become monumental elements of the landscape.

In Chris Taylor's recent presentation about the Land Arts of the American West's field work with Incubo in the Atacama desert, it took the form of pointing out that what looks like the unimaginably huge empty space of the Atacama desert is actually filled with traces and remnants of human history, mineral extraction, political terror, aesthetic practice and powerful geo-forces.

In fact, in the Q&A session after Geoff's talk, an audience member hit it on the head when it comes to naming a gesture that is at the heart of the emerging field of Art/Design + Environments. This expanding field is very much about that shift in experience that comes when what one thought was (of) the earth is suddenly perceived/understood to be a building ... or infrastructure ... or an earthwork ... or a manufactured landscape ... or a human-altered weather event ... or not a shooting star at all but a top secret surveillance satellite falling back to earth. And, in the other direction--what looks at first glance to be a "painted desert" is suddenly perceived/understood to be the results of monumental and microscopic processes, flows, and dynamics taking place across unimaginably deep time.

The audience member asked: "what's at stake in this shift in experience?"

One thing that appears to be at stake is the current emergence and expansion of an entire interdisciplinary field of study and creative response. In an effort to make something of that shift, bloggers, scholars, artists, designers, art educators, land use interpreters and curators are chasing it, provoking it, inviting it, desiring it--and using it as the starting point for all sorts of trandisciplinary innovations, including speculative design.

Land Arts Listserv: Constructural Theory and Land Arts

First, second and third order constructs of the constructal design of a cooling system.
Coolant, cooled material and heated fluid are respectively shown in blue, yellow and red.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document
under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

"...if a flow system (e.g. river basin, vascularized tissue, city traffic) is endowed with sufficient freedom to change its configuration, the system exhibits configurations that provide progressively better access routes for the currents that flow." --Adrian Bejan, Gilbert W. Merkx, Constructal Theory of Social Dynamics

Today's Land Arts Listserv saw a flurry of comments in response to Andrea Gomez's post about her email exchange with Adrian Bejan on "Constructal Theory" and its potential relevance to Land Arts. The theory predicts animal design and geophysical flows and makes evolution a part of physics.

Here's Andrea's post and responses from Bill Gilbert, Chris Taylor and Bill Fox:

Andrea Gomez:
Last week, I wrote to Adrian Bejan, a professor at Duke, about He has developed a way of understanding design in nature which he calls Constructal Theory. There are many parallels in his vision and in much of the landarts work. He agreed and asked me to make his
website known to those on the listserve. I've copied his response to me below because I'd rather he explained his thinking. I will add to it, though, that people in all disciplines, from engineering to poetry, find Constructal theory applicable--a wide umbrella, much like landarts.

Adrian Bejan:
"Thank you very much for making this connection! This work is superb, and a lot closer to my thinking than I have written yet. Basically, all of design in nature (including animal design) is flow with configuration, and that means scouring the earth's crust. Many of the images in this book and the other presentations are about the scouring---with the constructal law, in them I see the flow designs. Please tell Chris Taylor about the work being done with the constructal law, plus I think this connection would be fabulous."
Andrea Gomez

Bill Gilbert:
Many thanks for the link to Adrian and the Constructal Theory site.
At UNM we are expanding the Land Arts program into a new Art & Ecology area with a close relationship to the sciences. I will have to spend some time getting up to speed with Constructal Theory.

In my own work, I have been collaborating with Biologist and head of Sustainability Studies Bruce Milne here at UNM. We recently completed a proposal for a fractal based, native species planting design for Lucy Lippard's Weather Report exhibition in Boulder.

I look forward to an expanded conversation.
Bill Gilbert
Lannan Chair
Land Arts of the American West

Chris Taylor:
Hi Andrea,

Thanks for this great addition to the list. I look forward to spending some time with the resources on The first thought that popped was how this seemed like a combination of Juhani Pallasmaa's _Animal Architecture_ and Don Kunze's "Boundary Lanuage". (Curious to see the the connection with Adrian's collaborator to Penn State. . .)
During recent Q & A sessions at the New School and Yale the question came up about specific linkages between Land Arts and science. While our work has definitely been open to those connections for some time, there remains much opportunity to make the relationships more fertile (in all directions).
c h r i s t a y l o r
College of Architecture – Texas Tech University – LUBBOCK

Bill Fox:
Hi All,
The linkages among art, geography, and systems science--and how those transdisciplinary arcs give rise to land arts as a general mode of operation--are exactly the subjects for the book I've started work on this year, The Art of the Anthropocene. It starts with Alexander von Humboldt's discovery of isotherms and the invention of ecology at the beginning of the 19th century, and his influence on painters such as Church and Turner, then through early formations of ecology (Marsh, et al) and photographic typologies--and then onto minimalism and Arte Povera (both with roots in systems science) and into earthworks, land arts, and climate science.
Sort of a tangle at the moment, but the links are there and robust, and it's not surprising that people would inquire about the relationships among the sciences and land arts.

William L. Fox
Director, Center for Art + Environment

Nevada Museum of Art

160 West Liberty Street
Reno, Nevada 89501

Land Arts Listserve: Spacebuster

Kitchen Monument by Raumlaborberlin with Plastique Fantastique,
Duisburg, Germany 2006, photo by Marco Canevacci)

Ahoy all,

This seems worth checking out. . . . and considering as a strategy deploying further afield. . .

Brings to mind the filling of Double Negative
and, the Uberorgan.

Spacebuster is a mobile inflatable structure that serves as an entirely portable, expandable pavilion. A new iteration of a past Raumlabor project, the Küchenmonument (presented in Europe in 2006-8), Storefront will bring Spacebuster to the US for the first time this April, when it will travel throughout New York for 10 consecutive evenings hosting various community events.
Click here for more information

c h r i s t a y l o r

This post is reproduced from the Land Arts of the American West listserv with permission.
To join the list, visit the listserve webpage here.

Land Arts Listserv: LAND/ART 2009 Project in New Mexico

Photo courtesy of LAND/ART
Hi all,
Over the past year I have been working with Suzanne Sbarge, director of 516 gallery, and Kathleen Shields on the LAND/ART 2009 project. This summer and fall over fifteen venues in Santa Fe and Albuquerque will present exhibitions, performances, lectures, and films addressing the relationship between land and art. Radius Books will publish a culminating book on the project in December. Former Land Arts of the American West participants will be featured in at least five different exhibitions.

You can find more information on the project and a schedule of events at

I hope to see you at some of the events.
Bill Gilbert

This post is reproduced from the Land Arts of the American West listserv with permission.
To join the list, visit the listserve webpage here.

Land Arts Listserv: Field Reports reviewed in Artlies

L. Chris Taylor, Projecting Art Lies into the Void, near Deming, New Mexico, 11 OCT 2006
R. Jenna Price, Performing Land Arts: The Philadelphia Experiment, 2009

April 12, 2009 11:05:11 AM EDT

Ahoy all,

Yesterday I learned that the new issue of Artlies has a review of the exhibition "Field Reports: documents and strategies from Land Arts of the American West" at Temple Gallery in Philadelphia. Since the review is not on their website, i encourage everyone to pick up a physical copy. In the meantime here's a late production draft.

Travel well,


c h r i s t a y l o r
This post is reproduced from the Land Arts of the American West listserv with permission from Chris Taylor.
To join the list, visit the listserve webpage here.

Land Arts listserv: Land Arts and Atacama Land at Parsons/New School

With this post, smudge studio begins a collaboration with Chris Taylor's Land Arts of the American West listserv . We will publish and archive selected listserv postings here on a regular basis. At times, we will add images and build on postings from Chris that we bring into the blog. We invite comments and elaborations (see "comments" below). You can view the growing archive by clicking on "Land Arts of the American West listserv archive") in the menu on the left.

Barbara Palomino (Incubo), Gonzalo Pedraza (Incubo) and Chris Taylor (Land Arts of the American West)

Posted on Listserv on April 11, 2009 4:06:21 PM EDT

Ahoy all,

The Land Arts and Incubo Atacama Lab panel discussion yesterday at Parsons was well attended and received. It was great to see alumni from the program---thanks Jessica, Amanda, Chappell, and Alex for making the effort. The event was video tapped and will be posted on the School of Design Strategies at some point soon. I know some of you asked about that and I'll send out the link as soon as it's live.

Yesterday was an interesting day at the New School. I arrived as the police were shutting down the intersection of 5th Avenue and 13th Street. After talking my way through two police barricades I made it inside and upstairs where I was scheduled to visit with a studio Cameron Tonkinwise is co-teaching. Evidently earlier Friday morning a group of student protesters had occupied the building catty-corner across the intersection. From Cameron's studio we could see the police continue to amass (there were easily over 100) and prepare to retake the building. This involved getting up on the roof to remove the protest banners left by the student group and to cover the security cameras. My first thought of course was how are we going to have a panel discussion with our visitors from Chile in a building nearly inaccessible to the public on account of the police blockade. . . Well fortunately for the panel the stand off ended some time during lunch and the majority of police presence (and their riot control units) left. The Chileans took the whole episode as an homage and thought of it as a welcoming gesture. Unfortunately for the protesters some the police response got a bit out of hand----dueling videos can be found here.

Chris Taylor

All in all it was a very successful day for Land Arts and Incubo. Many thanks to Miodrag Mitrasinovic for organizing and putting the event together, to Joel Towers, Dean of the School of Design Strategies, for a wonderful introduction and contextualization relative to the new programmatic initiatives at the New School, to Carin Kuoni, Director of the Vera List Center, for serving as an outstanding moderator and respondent, and to Flora Vilches and the members of Incubo, Josefina Guilisasti, Bárbara Palomino, and Gonzalo Pedraza, for traveling from Santiago to share their work.

As I mentioned on Thursday a shipment of the books documenting the Chile project arrived in Lubbock last week, so orders through Amazon should be filled in a relatively timely manner. . . .
Info here.

Travel well,

c h r i s t a y l o r
This post is reproduced from the Land Arts of the American West listserv with permission from Chris Taylor.
To join the list, visit the listserve webpage here.

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.

Reading Across

This past week we found out about four new books related to the expanding field of art + environment: Incubo Atacama Lab, Land Arts of the American West, Geoff Manaugh's BLDG BLOG, and William L. Fox's Aereality. This watershed of reading material and visual stimulation convinces us even more that the expanding field is indeed exploding with creative energy and has established material momentum. These books' development and production, and the experiences they recount, testify to years of travel, collaboration, transdisciplinary exchange, field work and reflection. Together--they offer an opportunity to read across this emerging field and its varied manifestations. We look forward to reviewing all four (on this blog) in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can place orders for each here: Incubo Atacama Lab, Land Arts of the American West, BLDG BLOG book, Aereality.


We met Chris Taylor, director of the Land Arts of the American West program (Texas Tech) at the Nevada Museum of Art's Art + Environment Conference in October 2008--where we were all too busy to share more than a few words. We're happy that we get a chance to learn much more about his work this Friday, when Chris appears on a panel at The New School in New York City.

We'll post notes from the event at the end of this week. In the meantime, you can read more about it here:

Friday, 10 April 2009, 2:00-4:00pm
Parsons The New School for Design
Aronson Gallery, 2 West 13 Street, 1st floor, New York, NY 10011

Laguna Cejar, Second Exercise of the Workshop Atacama Lab/ 07. Work by Nicolás Sanchez. Photo J. Brantmayer

Buckminster Fuller Symposium, The Whitney Museum

image courtesy Durl Kruse

In collaboration with the Whitney Museum, smudge studio live blogged the Buckminster Fuller Symposium last September:

"Visionary designer, philosopher, poet, inventor, engineer, and advocate of sustainability, Buckminster Fuller was one of the great transdisciplinary thinkers of the last century with a legacy that extends to nearly every field of the arts and sciences. This symposium takes its cue from Fuller's dictum, "I always say to myself, what is the most important thing we can think about at this extraordinary moment," and explores the diverse ways in which contemporary scholars and practitioners are pushing Fuller's ideas and projects into the 21st century."
--Whitney Museum

We were especially curious about how the symposium's participants might address:
  • Bucky's idea of comprehensive understanding: "an understanding that does not remain stuck in the rational but becomes a comprehensive and inclusive grasping of the whole person, becoming a physical experience." --Claude Lichtenstein, Joachim Krausse (Your Private Sky: R. Buckminster Fuller The Art of Design Science, p. 16)
  • Why Bucky? Why now? What does Bucky lend to the contemporary convergences of art, science, design, and architecture? And to the dilemmas and opportunities of today?
You can view the archive of our live blog by clicking on "replay" below:

Art + Environment Conference, October 2008

Last October, smudge studio attended the Art + Environment Conference at the Nevada Museum of art and live blogged the sessions for two days. Sessions featured artists presenting their work, collaborations among artists and scientists, stories from the field, and diverse approaches to interpreting landscape, land use, and built environments.

You can view our live blog archive by clicking on "replay." We also filed "field notes" from the conference for students in a course at The New School. You can view our notes here. And you can visit the Art + Environment conference site here.

Interview with William L. Fox

Bill standing in a crevasse at the snout of the Worhtington Glacier, Alaska, 2008. photo by Matt Coolidge

William L. Fox, who is variously called an art critic, science writer, and cultural geographer, has published ten books on cognition and landscape, numerous essays in art monographs, magazines and journals, and fifteen collections of poetry. He is also an artist who has exhibited in group and solo shows in seven countries. Fox is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and National Science Foundation, and has been a visiting scholar at the Getty Research Institute, Clark Art Institute, and the Australian National University. He is currently the director of the newly established Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno.

smudge studio interviewed Bill in New York City in November 2008.

Link to the interview.

Interview with Matthew Coolidge

Matt at South Base in 2007, photo by Jamie Kruse

smudge studio interviewed Matt about the Center for Land Use Interpretation's work. We focused on how the CLUI uses media to create a perspective--a way of seeing the landscape.

Link to the interview. promotes Generative Conversations posted an event listing for smudge studio's collaborative blog project, Generative Conversations on March 5, 2009. Check out their calendar for upcoming art + environment events.

Expanding the field of Artists + Environments

Sixteen artists, art educators, museum educators, and media designers took part in a three-week long web event (March 5-26, 2009) designed and produced by smudge studio. (

William L. Fox, Director of the newly formed Center for Art + Environment, Nevada Museum of Art, convened the event as an interactive blog: “Artists + Environments: Generative Practices and Conversations."

Participants experimented with five new “elements and principles of art”: hybridity, time, space,
performance, appropriation. They used these concepts to creatively respond to their own and other artists’ works that address natural, built, and virtual environments. One of the conversation’s moderators, Susan Rotilie, Program Manager of the Walker Art Center's School Programs, has developed museum programs based on the five elements. She uses them to make contemporary art more accessible to new audiences and to students and teachers.

Our moderators kicked off each week of the event with a provocation. Participants responded with posts, uploaded works, and comments.

On March 26, 2009, smudge studio took the resulting images, ideas, and insights to Penn State’s School of Visual Arts “Web 2.0 Pedagogies” class, taught by Karen Keifer-Boyd. We had a great experience facilitating a two day design charrette with students in the class. We came away with plenty of inspirational data for designing the web exhibition about Generative Practices and Conversations that we will launch on in May, 2009.

We'll distribute the web exhibition to art educators and museum educators. And we'll invite them to creatively appropriate it for their museum education programs, websites, courses, and events.

“Artists + Environments, Generative Practices and Conversations” grew out of our participation in the Nevada Museum of Art's "Art + Environment" Conference in October 2008. That conference provided a "360 degree view of emerging art practices and perspectives that respond to natural, built, and virtual environments. The conference both expanded and breached traditional notions of "land art" or "art and environmentalism." Participants happily resisted naming what new "movement" or "vision" is now emerging from recent collaborations among artists, scientists, experimental geographers, media producers, museums, and land use interpreters. After creating a web exhibition and about the conference for, we felt that the current moment of experimentation and discovery should be prolonged--and we initiated “Generative Practices and Conversations” as an expansive resource for the emerging field of Artists + Environments.

You can experience the archive of the conversation here. We'll announce the web exhibition's launch in May.

ARTISTS: Kim Stringfellow, Caryn Cline, The Canary Project, Chris Drury, Emily Scott
ARTIST/ART EDUCATORS: Bill Gilbert, Catherine Harris, Karen Keifer-Boyd, Julia Christensen
Colin Robertson, Curator of Education, Nevada Museum of Art
Susan Rotilie, Program Manager, School Programs, Walker Art Center
William L. Fox, Director, Center for Art + Environment, Nevada Museum of Art