Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mt. Cotopaxi Transplant

Forty years ago the Dwan Gallery Earthworks show had two more days to run in New York and you could see the works of Smithson, Heizer, De Maria, Morris, Andre, Oppenheim...

On Saturday, Dennis Oppenheim himself was at Tate Modern for a talk with Lisa Le Feuvre. I thought he came over well, despite a ridiculous interruption at one point, and seemed happy to reminisce about his days doing 'fine art' as well as more recent 'public art' projects. He recalled the radical dematerialisation land art represented as being "like music without sound" and described 1968 as "the summer of the hole in the ground" - although by then quite a few holes had already been dug (Claes Oldenberg's Placid Civic Monument in Central Park, 1967) or proposed (see my earlier posting on Carl Andre's Crater formed by a one-ton bomb).

Oppenheim exhibited Mt. Cotopaxi Transplant at Earthworks, a land art proposal to reconstruct in Smith Center, Kansas the Cotopaxi volcano in Ecuador. It featured a plan and a model 'executed in Cocoa Mat to simulate a Kansas wheat field.' As Suzaan Boettger notes in her book Earthworks, Oppenheim was referring to Frederic Edwin Church's 'icon of American nineteenth-century landscape painting' (see below). Oppenheim's proposal brought 'foreign exoticism to bucolic farm country, the mystique of a volcano to bucolic farm country, and the height of a summit to the Great Plains.'

Oppenheim's transplantation of a landscape reminds me of the Situationist method for experiencing a city anew by superimposing the map of another city onto it. Oppenheim actually carried out a landscape transplant near New Haven, Connecticut, projecting a mountain onto wetlands in Contour Lines Scribed in Swamp Grass. He emphasised the conceptual element of this new kind of art: "altitude lines on contour maps serve to translate measurement of existing topography to a two-dimensional surface... I create contours which oppose the reality of the existing land, and impose their measurements onto the actual site, thus creating a kind of conceptual mountainous structure on a swamp grid." So much for the genius loci...

Frederic Edwin Church, Cotopaxi, 1862
Source: Wikimedia Commons

3 comments:

Sorlil said...

Fascinating blog! I'm going to enjoy trawling through your archives!

Plinius said...

Thanks for the +ve feedback, Sorlil.

Goldstripe said...

thanks for the info