Friday, November 28, 2008

No Man-Made Obstacles for the Winter Winds

Still on the subject of Land Art, discussed in the last posting, I thought it was interesting that Ben Tufnell divided environmental art into (i) 'healing' land reclamation projects, (ii) symbolic warnings / poetic meditations and (iii) art that simply bears witness to environmental concerns. In the first category he has several exmples, including Agnes Denes' Tree Mountain which I have discussed here before. However, for the other two categories he focuses on just one example each: Joseph Beuys' Eichnen 7,000 and, rather surprisingly, for 'bearing witness' the recent text works of Hamish Fulton.

Clearly Hamish Fulton feels strongly about the natural environment and has contrasted his own 'leave no trace' approach with that of Richard Long, as well as the more American land artists with their bulldozers. Tufnell gives the example of Fulton's To Build is to Destroy. No Man-Made Obstacles for the Winter Winds. 14 Seven Day Walks, Cairngorms, Scotland, 1985-1999, which criticises the building of ski lifts. But I have to say that for me, the idea that Fulton's walks leave no trace is increasingly hard to hold onto when, like any art works that are sold and exhibited, the artifacts generated by his walks create their own carbon footprint. And of course Fulton is not just walking around Britain - text works based on walks in Tibet, say, make no mention of the flight required to get there.

The way Fulton and Richard Long downplay the process of travel to remote parts is discussed in a critical essay 'Ain't Going Nowhere' by Anna Gruetzner Robins (see Gendering Landscape Art edited by her and Steven Adams). She cites Long, describing A Circle in Alaska / Bering Strait Driftwood on the Arctic Circle: 'I just happened to find myself on the Arctic Circle, and it seemed just the perfect opportunity and place for me to make a circle.' In the work of Long and Fulton, 'the viewer is asked to accept that these journeys are a primal quest divorced from time and space.' Robins compares this to the way colonial explorers tended to write up their exploits. I think this is a useful comparison - although it's hardly surprising that Richard Long or Richard Burton would skip the boring bits, we need to bear in mind what comes before and after their wilderness treks. Robins' essay is well worth reading even (especially?) where it goes rather over the top. She obviously feels bitter about Richard Long, whom she once invited to come and talk to her students - apparently all he did was turn up, play country music tapes and say nothing at all.

1 comment:

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