Around the Practices of Land Art

The Land Art (art of the earth or art of nature) has its main focus of emergence in the Anglo-Saxon world, being in the United States where it was defined in shows such as “Erthworks”, Dwan Gallery, New York (1968) or “Antiform ”, Gibson Gallery, New York (1968).

It is about a series of artists who emerged in the sixties, in a period of break with modernity, in a search to go beyond the traditional limits of art. These artists want to rediscover the capacity of nature, its physical and energetic potential. Create using the processes and energies that govern it, to overcome the division caused between nature and man by technology and its use within the parameters of the capitalist system.

The work associated with this trend, as Simón Marchán Fiz points out, and in relation to the artistic object, is not properly an icon, but rather an index, following the indexical category of the philosopher C.S. Peirce (1839-1914). Peirce’s theories on the index are synthesized by Philippe Dubois noting that:

“[…] the indexes (or indices) are signs that maintain, or have maintained at a given moment in time, with their referent (its cause) a relationship of real connection, of physical contiguity, of immediate copresence, while icons rather they are defined by a simple relation of timeless similarity and the symbols by a relation of general convention”[1]

The works that we are going to select for this itinerary share the indexical characteristics that Pierce defines with respect to nature, with a real connection, of cause-effect in many cases, and of physical contiguity. Precisely Robert Smithson, one of the exponent artists of this movement, in a text said that the timelessness associated with works of art had to end, referring to the preponderance that had traditionally been given to the iconic over the indexical.

Continuing with the idea of Marchán Fiz, the usual polarity between art-nature or representation-nature is suppressed by a declaration of the identity between both at the level of art.

In this sense, the concept of ENTROPY will be fundamental, which will be closely linked to the formal characteristics as well as to the creative process of these artists..

Entropy concept

The scientific concept of Entropy was defined in the Second Law of Thermodynamics whose postulates were established by the Pole Rudolf Julius Emmanuel Clausius in 1850. It can be summarized as follows:

  • The amount of entropy in the universe tends to increase with time.
  • Entropy is that in which every complex system tends to be destroyed, which tends to level everything, to disorder it in order to reach equilibrium.
  • The entropy of an isolated system is measured by the number of configurations of its various microstates. In any isolated system, entropy, or the degree of disorder, always increases from one microstate to another.
  • Entropy has been called the arrow of time, since it is what allows us to distinguish between past and future. Entropy is the only thing that is created in the universe, since matter is always the same and energy is neither created nor destroyed, it is transformed. Entropy moves the world.

Entropy and the universe

The universe starts from an initial system of absolute order (Big Bang) – very low entropy, acquiring higher entropy since then, until a moment arrives in which equilibrium is reached (maximum point of entropy), in which everything will apparently stop. . Without (thermal) imbalance there is no possibility of work, of transforming nature into order.

In this state, the work required to return to order will be impossible to obtain from the energy contained in the universe, since it is widely dispersed. Furthermore, any process that tends to order increases entropy in another part of the universe. The lower the entropy in one piece of the universe, the higher the entropy in another..

In this scheme there are two unknowns. One, how everything arises from a system as little improbable as the Big Bang. There is talk of the existence of a parallel universe where entropy behaves inversely, from disorder to order, and when the two extremes of the system are reached, they are mutually inverted.

This is where the fascination of these artists for places with great entropy such as deserts, lagoons and the sea comes from. Or because of what is fragmented, what is fractured, or because of the elements that tend to a greater transformation, to greater entropy or disorder, as we will see.

Understanding the concept of entropy will be essential to understand what the works of the artists that we will see in this itinerary consist of.

[1] DUBOIS, Philippe; El acto fotográfico. De la Representación a la Recepción. Barcelona, Paidós, 1986, p. 55

Robert Smithson (Passaic, 1938 – Amarillo, 1973)

Since he was little, he organized family trips to natural places such as Yellowstone Park, the Grand Canyon or the Mojave Desert. His interest in art led him to be awarded a scholarship to study at the Art Students’ League in New York in 1953, where he came into contact with abstract expressionism. In 1957 and 1958 he hitchhiked across the United States and met the leading men of the Beat Generation, such as John Keourac or Allen Ginsberg. It was not until 1963 when he began to create “structures based on a special concern for the elements of the material itself”. In the mid-sixties he came into contact with the minimalism of Judd, Flavin or Dan Graham and began to make his mirror works (representation is a reflection of reality itself).

In 1966 he began to be interested in what he called entropic landscapes:

“the low profile landscapes, the quarry or the mining area […] a kind of backwater or marginal area”, and it is then that he conceived his first earthwork, “Tar Pond and Gravel Pit”.

His work is influenced by geology (he will travel the great North American deserts to obtain material for his non-sites), natural history, anthropology, new physics and science fiction. He is based on or assumes the transitory nature of matter, precisely because of the concept of entropy.

Richard Long (Bristol, 1945)

Trained at St. Martin’s School of Art in London between 1966 and 1968, he is one of the greatest exponents of Land Art practices since the mid-1960s. Since then, he has turned the act of walking into an artistic practice and hallmark of his works, establishing an intimate relationship with nature. He leaves his slight individual mark on the landscape through the geometric arrangement -mainly circular, linear or spiral- of residual elements taken from it, which only last in photographs or which he transports to paintings, drawings and installations.

Both Robert Smithson and Richard Long carry out their work in relation to or through the action of the forces of nature. The main thing is matter, energy and time (entropic). Long points out about his work that “it can be understood as balance, a harmony of complementary ideas […] a balance between the forms of nature [high entropy] and the formalism of abstract ideas of the human, such as lines and circles [low entropy]. entropy]”.

Peter Hutchinson (London, 1930)

Hutchinson is one of the key figures of what has been called ecological or environmental art of the 1960s and 1970s, along with other prominent artists of his generation such as Smithson, Christo or Morris, participating with them and other artists of Land Art in the Ecological Art exhibition held at the Gibson Gallery in New York in 1969. In 1953 he moved to the United States.

His work is based on the intervention in natural spaces where the artistic matter of organic origin is subjected to a continuous transformation and alteration in relation to time, which he documents by creating photo-collages with textual indications that have led to calling these works narrative art. .

Other examples of Land Art in the collection