Sunday, June 24, 2007

Lightning Field

Looking at the archives of the excellent Cabinet Magazine today I came upon some artists’ impressions of Walter De Maria’s Lightning Field (1977), under the title ‘Please Draw That Famous Photograph of The Lightning Field From Memory’. The 'photograph' they are trying to remember is one of the most iconic in recent art, and certainly one of the images that defines ‘land art’, although the resulting pictures suggest they are not all remembering one specific photograph.  Nobody is allowed to photograph the site - restrictions placed long before circulation of images on the internet could be imagined.  [Update 2014: It would be interesting if Lightning Field came increasingly to be appreciated through artist's impressions, imprecise enough to avoid copyright restrictions.  I just commissioned my young son to provide his own version, below].

The Lightning Field site itself, like Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, is now a place of pilgrimage, as described for example on Todd Gibson’s blog: 'As the sun drops in the sky when evening approaches, the field becomes different. A shadow grows from the base of each pole, giving it additional definition. The more veiled, angled light of evening begins to reflect off the poles, bringing into view the whole mile-long by kilometer-wide field. Watching this happen, it’s as if your vision suddenly sharpens. The field emerges from the landscape in its totality. If you happen to be there on a night that is not overcast and you get a brilliant orange sunset, the effect is stunning. The poles reflect that light, flashing orange, setting the field ablaze with color.'

I’ve always been intrigued by De Maria for his connection to the New York avant garde music scene - he was briefly in an early version of the Velvet Underground, as he recalls in an old interview at the Archives of American Art. Ubuweb has two sound recordings by De Maria: ‘Cricket Music’ (1964) and ‘Ocean Music’ (1968). [Update 2014: De Maria sadly died last year and The Independent's obituary emphasises the music link, 'Walter De Maria: Artist who forsook a career with The Velvet Underground to create electric, enigmatic installations'.  Other obituaries appeared in the New York Times, and Los Angeles Times.]

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