LAND/ART Panel Discussion
with Bill Gilbert, Matthew Coolidge, Katie Holten, Lize Mogel, and Lea Rekow

Smudge is at LAND/ART's panel discussion at the Albuquerque Museum. It's Sunday, June 28. The panel was part of LAND/ART's symposium weekend, and explores the evolution of Land Art into psychogeography, land use interpretation, environmental art and eco-art with a particular focus on the American West. About 120 people are in attendance.

Live from the Albuquerque Museum

The panel is being moderated by Bill Gilbert, artist and Lannan Chair of the Land Arts of the American West program at UNM. Panelists include Matthew Coolidge, Director of the Center for Land Use Interpretation; artist Katie Holten from Ireland/New York; Lize Mogel, author of An Atlas of Radical Cartography, and Lea Rekow, Executive Director of the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe.

Bill Gilbert introduces the panel and describes how the LAND/ART project evolved into a complex, 6 month long event involving 25 institutions across New Mexico.

This weekend kicks off the LAND/ART project, beginning yesterday with the Center for Land Use Interpretation's bus tour that reflected on New Mexico as a "Land of Enchantment".

Bill poses three questions: Why land art? Why New Mexico? Why now?

Bill Gilbert

Bill: We humans need to reassess our relationship to land. Practices of what could be called "Land Art" In New Mexico range from Native American pictographs to the monumental Land Art of the 1970s. Today, New Mexico artists are contributing to the contemporary dialogue about the evolving relationship between humans and the land as expressed through the medium of art. Today's panel represents some of this work.

Bill introduces Lize Mogel, who works at interstices of geography and art.

Lize Mogel

Lize says she will talk about maps. Her work can be called "counter," "critical" or "radical cartography." It focuses on maps as political creatures. She offers her work as a bridge between land art and geography. Maps are informational, aesthetic, inherently political, and powerful tools for visualization. People understand maps and many people say they "love" maps. Much of her work takes place in public space and draws on people's fascinations with maps. She also likes to work with maps because they are works on paper. They are easy to make, inexpensive, easy to distribute broadly.

Her short talk will focus on the world map today. She begins with an image of "the hobo-dyer equal area projection" --a south-orientated world map which seems "upside down" to North Americans. It turns your world view on its head and suggests other kinds of positions within the world. Earliest maps were east oriented (towards Mecca and where the sun rises). Today's north oriented maps are dominant. The UN map is an "extreme north" orientation with no borders between countries as it tries to suggest an "equal" world. But the sphere of the world can't be translated into a flat map without encountering ideological issues such as "who is at the top" or "who is at the center." This makes the world map a design problem. It's poses the problem of how to describe global relationships and identity and this makes it ideal source material to work from.

The world map is useful for people to track global connections and flows. Lize's current work explores how the world map might be remade, rearranged so that it retains the familiarity of the world map but also depicts processes and flows of globalization and how they shape the world itself.

the San Francisco Bay

Lize's maps offer a "world tour" with a geography lesson embedded. She shows silhouette maps to illustrate a "story of shipping." They include the ports of Oakland CA and San Francisco CA, the Panama Canal, Northern Canada, an outline of 90 Navy ships in a bay near San Francisco now moth-balled and some leaching heavy metals into the bay, a map of South Asia showing sites where workers dismantle ships with few tools and at great cost to their health.

Lize's piece for the exhibition

Her maps present a story about how shipping--the transport of goods, the digging of canals, the scrapping of huge ships--shapes the world. She ends with an image of a "remade" map of the world that she says "shows how the world really works." It is a composite of the silhouettes--a "map mashup"--which combines real and imaginary geography. The composite is inspired by medieval maps that offered mere outlines of land masses and focuses instead on the watery spaces between lands ... because "the world" was conceived as those spaces relevant to ship navigation.

Lize concludes and Bill introduces Matt Coolidge.

Matt Coolidge

Matt's first image is of the CLUI logo--"another version of the world." He states the mission of the CLUI: to increase and diffuse information about how the nation's lands are apportioned, utilized and perceived.

Matt: What the CLUI does is to look at the landscape of the United States--which is a physically transformed, human artifact. The CLUI starts with the given that the world has been almost completely altered, and it can't be restored to "what it was" before human alteration. Every molecule on the surface of the earth has passed through some sort of human-induced change. Nature is a relic, and human alteration of nature is actually a "natural" process because nature isn't one thing and humans another. We are all animals and part of nature in that sense after all. We can change, transform, and alter, and "better" nature. But the CLUI doesn't operate within the polemic that nature and humans are two separate things. There are many ways of seeing a place, and the CLUI provides yet another view of the landscape, one of an infinite number of possible ones--but one that has resulted from 15 years of work.

CLUI bus tour

One of the perspectives that shapes the CLUI'S approach to land use interpretation is that when something gets pointed out, gets attention drawn towards it, everything else is by definition ignored. For every interpretive action there's an equal and opposite reaction. Directing "attention toward" is conversely an act of negation. This is something the CLUI keeps in mind with all programs they do. The CLUI tries to consider as many sides of the coin as it can.

The CLUI also focuses on dynamics between and integration of the virtual and the physical world. Humans' ideas and perspectives toward the physical world have been altered by the virtual. The CLUI grew up with the evolution of the infosphere through the internet--and most of its audience is virtual, accessing the CLUI through the web. The CLUI still programs for people in a face to face fashion through bus tours such as yesterday's. The tours start with notion that the landscape is a cultural expression of America. They explore how is culture inscribed on the ground through physical things and land use. Matt reminds us that "We're all using land right now, every human here is using up a couple square feet of carpet covering a couple of feet of ground in Albuquerque." The CLUI looks toward the physical continuum of the continental land mass and draws from it ideas, illustrations, to tell stories.

CLUI tours take people to the physical site where they can encounter-physical things that can't be put within a museum and can't be fully encountered outside of their context. In effect, the CLUI brings the vitrine into the landscape in the form of a tour bus. Tours string landscapes together in a way to create an interpretive odyssey.. Touching the material artifact gives you a bodily sense ... People say: been there done that ... "you haven't done that till you've been there." This is especially so as things are more and more mediated. The idea of going back to the common ground is increasingly important and it's why the CLUI does bus tours such as yesterday's.

Matt concludes and Bill Gilbert introduces Katie Holten.
Her work focuses on the relationship between the individual and her environment.

Katie Holten

Katie begins with images of work that she created upon arrival to New York, the place where she had her own apartment for the first time. Her tree drawings started for her as maps. She would walk the city as a way of trying to get to know the city--walking is part of her process. As she found herself drawing the trees that grow on city blocks, she realized she was missing green spaces. Being in the city such as New York allowed her to confront what it means to be a human in the environment--since the city forces you to deal with the questions of what is nature, what is the environment. Her simple black and white drawings of the trees made in 2004 reflected a depressing time to be in New York (the time of the 2004 election). The trees reduced ideas such as growth and human bodies into simple terms.

Katie shows a second image of an installation in St. Louis--a room-filling sculpture of a life-sized, native to St. Louis tree made from scrap papers collected by the museum before her arrival to create the installation.

Katie's work at the St. Louis Museum in 2007

Her third image is of a set of globes-"misshapen" earth "maps"--one in the shape of a tear drop, another with "kinks" and "dents" ... made of newspapers and ink. She made these while listening to news about world events, and they constitute a series of drawn "memories" of the planet.

the Grand Concourse in the Bronx

The fourth image is of her public art project that opened this week in the Bronx in New York. It was commissioned two years ago as a project for a street the runs four miles through the Bronx. She selected 100 trees representing the 100 years of the street's existence and turned the street into a tree museum. Anyone on the street is, in effect, a visitor to the museum. Passersby can dial a number and hear a recording about the tree they are looking at. It's a way of relating to the street that might not come to mind when people think of the Bronx or New York.

Katie concludes and Bill introduces Lea Rekow.

Lea Rekow

Lea is curating "Mapping a Green Future" for the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe. It will include artists' and community members' perspectives on "mapping a green future." She is drawn to people who work to create networks and integrate communities into their work. In her own work maps issues of sustainability in New Mexico and includes data mappings related to seed banks. She is interested in mapping how humans try to dominate natural systems, and in how attempts to dominate systems such as cellular structures or bee colonies usually fall apart when we try to control them. Her previous work has included images of effects of elephant migration on vegetation and an installation of water bags from El Salvador. She believes that the Experimental Geography show signals the era of new cartography triggered ideas put forth by Deleuze and Foucault--as they each addressed questions about how mapping manufactures and builds worlds. The Experimental Geography exhibition provides an alternative way of seeing maps as propositions. What's at stake, she thinks is a is education. Experimental Geography gives us a vision for seeing things differently and thinking differently and through those imaginings, we can extend possibilities for a better future.

Lea's work

Bill Gilbert poses questions to each of the panel members:

Addressing Lize:
Is map making a part of a larger movement in our culture toward interdisciplinary practices?

Artists are definitely looking toward interdisciplinary practices. But there's an art historical trajectory of map making that spans land arts, conceptual arts, and intervention practices. And every 15 years or so there seems to be a resurgence of interest in maps on the part of the art world. Right now she thinks interest in mapping is being driven by a convergence among art, architecture, geography, land use interpretation--and technology has much to do with it. Social networking and mapping technologies such as Google Earth cause us to think in maps and in networks. Pre-Google Earth we read in order to find out where we were or where we were going. But now the ways we find out such things is more map-like.

The concluding remarks

Matt Coolidge: The interest in maps is tied to the interest in trying to figure out where we are. We humans are always trying to figure out where we are, we're always making maps. Maps are how we individually and collectively try to figure out where we are, as we move toward more of a global ism, toward a bigger view, maps become a symbolic as well as a practical way to express that move.

Lize: The interest in maps is also driven by the fact that we're so overloaded with information. Maps are an ideal way to process information and rid ourselves of anxiety of too much information.

Bill Gilbert: that resonates for me--the notion that all maps are maps for something--which means there are also information. They parse out the information of most interest to you from the enormous amounts of information out there.

Bill asks Matt: Does the move from creating sculptural Land Art to interpreting cultural Land Use reflect a desire for a larger cultural pause in our interventions in the land or a logical extension of the conceptual trajectory of Land Art.?

Matt: What's happened in the last 40 years is that we've caught up with idea that we live in space outside of boxes (such as the gallery). Everybody moves between spaces and outside to the outdoors, so you make your art in the world. All art should be in space outdoors, outside of gallery because that's where we are. "Land art" is a term for the historical emergence of a kind of art--but all art is land art because all human activity takes place in space--so it's logical that "land art" has progressed to mean "everything art." (The audience laughs.)

Bill Gilbert:
That's not my question: If you look at earthworks, there's a certain sense of the artist having gone out and having had a direct engagement with the land, and then leaving a gigantic mark. It seems all of us at this table are less about making huge monuments and more about reflecting to the culture what the culture has made of land. Was the building of those earthworks about the frontier ... has that sense now gone?

Matt: The frontier is now inside ourselves. We Americans have bounced against the Pacific Ocean, and turned around. After WWII, we looked back to ask what we've made of this country. WWII was a fulcrum. We turned around and created a self-conscious sense of America. We began to look inward, and all art after that is not about generating new things but re-contextualiing old things. There's enough in the world and now we're curating by breaking down, re-sequencing it. We can do this forever with existing material. We've realized the world is finite and in a postmodern way art is now an investigation of itself without creating things whole cloth anymore.

Bill asks Katie about whether Land Art is becoming "world land art"--more international than American Land Art in the 60s and 70s.

Katie: She couldn't connect with the "big bulldozer, big man" version of Land Art in the American frontier, where you make your mark. But then she saw Richard Long's work on walking ... and his tracing of the line of walking, leaving nothing after but a photograph. Seeing his work while she was in college made her realize that there's also this way of being in the world and you don't have to impose something. How we are with the planet at a small scale is important and that is what she was interested in. Around the world people are thinking of how we move in the world, and the questions they're asking through land art they're making are more intimate questions, more thoughtful.

Bill asks Lea: Some of the current land art practices fall under other labels such as environmental art. Do you think that these green shows are a different form of business in the arts?

Lea: It's important to challenge the institution, all these new labels of eco art can be considered eco logistics, a new business of art, and I've noticed in my own work how 10-12 years ago nobody here wanted to show anything about the concepts I was interested in. There's been a shift in consciousness and awareness, and in terms of research practices and more interdisciplinary practices bringing together arts and sciences. We're challenging our consciousness around what we're doing and producing work that has an aspect that has reflection and action with it. As we create work we reflect on our systems and processes of making ...this is what Matt and the CLUI seem to be doing. And yes, maybe there is a business aspect to it.

Bill Gilbert sends two questions that he didn't have time to pose to the panel. We add them here as provocations for further dialogue and welcome your thoughts. Please post your thoughts to "comments."

Bill's questions:

#1) In my research for the introduction to our upcoming book on the LAND/ART project for Radius Books I have been looking for threads that connect the artistic practices of the 60s to the work being created today. One initial impetus for the earthworks artists was a desire to get free of the commercial gallery commodity system by moving to remote locations in the west. In many contemporary practices I see a similar attempt to operate in new contexts for art. How do you see the commodity aspect of your work? Is there an inherent anti-commodity stance to Land Art?

#2) There is a fundamental seriousness to contemporary Land Art that seems to value information over poetics and even aesthetics. Is there a role for playfulness and humor in contemporary Land Art?

To view photos by 516 ARTS of the symposium weekend click here.


  1. The panelists had interesting things to say- i liked Matt's comment about everything art! I went to Basia's ice book release and i really enjoyed that. I have been in AB since Tuesday and spent time going to galleries and then went to the conference. Today i felt as if we had just seen the tip of the proverbial melting iceberg and that there is enough talent and work here to fill a whole week of discussions. I am going back to Vancouver Canada tomorrow and I wish i could stay for some of the other events coming up. I will not be here for the opening on August 1st at the Richard Levy Gallery but i will be thinking of you all. I have posted photos of the CLUI tour and Basia's performance on my Flickr site- check it out-
    Hasta Lueguo
    Nicole Dextras

  2. pity we didn't have time for Q+A. it would have been fun!

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