What is Land Art?
...and how can it help close the gap between nature and man?

Written 2021-08-26 by Keily E. Torres

When I was little I used to make little figurines out of rocks I found on the ground. I didn’t know at the time, but I was expressing myself the same way people all around the globe have been for centuries. Land Art has existed way before the term “Land Art” itself. Cultures around the globe like the Nazca Indians, in Peru, created gigantic works of art that consisted of simple figures of animals and people. The Great Serpent Mound in Ohio USA, and Inukshuks in Canada, both associated with Inuit Cultures are also completely made from materials out of the earth or the earth itself. But how can these cultures and examples help artists contribute to the environmental movement?

The first step to get closer to nature is by living it! Go outside and start experimenting. You can make land art with nearly anything that is around you: leaves, rocks, and even mud. Spending time outdoors is not only good for stress but also beneficial for your creativity and spontaneity. Also, spending time researching new disciplines helps open up the mind and develop a creative process. Most artists get confidence in their skills by getting out of their comfort zone!

Land Art is often minimalistic and done with purpose. One of the best ways you can make land art with an environmental approach is by including a “union” concept behind it. For example, the work Time Landscape, by Alan Sonfist, consists of replanting an abandoned rubble-strewn lot in Manhattan with native plants to mimic what could have been there. The purpose was to connect urbanites to the city’s natural heritage. Another favorite example of mine from Alan Sonfist is The Lost Falcon of Westphalia. Which is a Celtic fortification protecting the pre-ice age landscape. As a result, it was able to showcase a landscape that would have existed ten thousand years ago.

In an increasingly urbanized world where technology has taken over and the connection between humans and nature becomes exponentially weaker, giving purpose to art is very important. Continuing with great examples from more contemporary artists that have figured a way to connect people to nature we have Agnes Denes’ work “wheat landfill”, which consists of a cleared rubble from a landfill where she planted a 2-acre wheat field and harvested it just blocks from Wall Street and the World Trade Center as an act of protests against global warming and economic inequality, demonstrating how land art can bring light to environmental issues in a mannerly way.

An artist that exemplified how nature and humans as well as global consumption connects is Mathilde Roussel. Her work “Living Sculptures” features human-shaped sculptures made from grass which are intended to represent how food affects humans and ties us to nature or said in the words of the artist herself “Observing nature and being aware of what and how we eat might make us more sensitive to food cycles in the world – of abundance, of famine – and allows us to be physically, intellectually and spiritually connected to a global reality.”

Another really good way to use land art is by making it about yourself and your connection to nature. Land art existed before the term itself. However, the interesting thing about land art is that it goes hand-in-hand with humans' connection to nature. For example, Stonehenge in Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, England, like most ancient human sites, was most likely built facing the rising sun on the day of the summer solstice. This artistic structure was meant to serve as a calendar or a burial site that is sacred and closer to the universe, signifying a connection between us and bigger, unknown forces.

A great environmental activist has to first be familiar with the connection our ancestors had in the past with nature itself. Being intentional about making land art in an environmental concept is also very crucial. Works don’t have to be acres long or cover a vast terrain to bring people together, as long as you purposefully contribute to the movement. Every little action counts! These projects are also a great way to build a community that can help you plant a garden or start an environmental paint club.

In the era of technology, small acts become significant steps into change. Start from home. Plant flowers to align with galaxy constellations as the Aztecs did, make sculptures out of rocks to represent your family members, or go back to your childhood mud cakes and make it into a protest about resource usage. The sky really is the limit! Everything great has once been small, so keep in mind every little action that we take together becomes a significant change over time.

As explained by artist Andy Goldsworthy in his site-specific installations made from natural materials that document the passage of time: Land art is designed to be ephemeral. Because land art is made completely from and on earth, nature will do its thing and wear it off, degrade it, knock it off, or directly consume it. Due to the natural entropy of the outdoor environment, land art can radically change in a blink. And that is fine because the concept stays in the heart of the people who experienced making it or exploring it.

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