9. Tests of Time

Through environmental and ecologically-based art works, artists have raised consciousness about the natural world and mitigated environmental problems on a practical level--often by revitalizing an ecosystem or altering how humans interact with particular sites. Expanding upon the work of early environmental, conceptual, and systems artists such as Nancy Holt, Alan Sonfist, and Hans Haacke, recent works by artists such as Laurie Lundquist, Mel Chin, and Buster Simpson represent a more socially-oriented approach to integrating nature and art. In much of their work, elements of nature are not isolated, but integrated into a total network of relationships.

While their work is hardly benign in its relationship to nature and site, two pioneers of earth art whose work is informed by reflections on Time are Robert Smithson and James Turrell.

Robert Smithson and Entropy

Any object or process that moves from a high degree of organization or order to disorganization or disorder--or from a high level of available energy to low levels of energy--can be said to have been affected by entropy.

Robert Smithson used the concept of entropy as a key concept in a number of his most famous works, including his Spiral Jetty on the northern edge of the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970.

Smithson, in an interview with Alison Sky, had the following to say about entropy:

"On the whole I would say entropy contradicts the usual notion of a mechanistic world view. In other words, it's a condition that's irreversible, it's a condition that's moving towards a gradual equilibrium and it's suggested in many ways. Perhaps a nice succinct definition of entropy would be Humpty Dumpty. Like Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again. There is a tendency to treat closed systems in such a way...You have a closed system which eventually deteriorates and starts to break apart and there's no way that you can really piece it back together again."

--from "Entropy Made Visible," The Writings of Robert Smithson, p. 189.

See also:

James Turrell

Roden Crater is a natural cinder volcano situated on the southwestern edge of the Painted Desert in northern Arizona. Since 1972, with grants from Dia Art Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, James Turrell has been working to transform the crater into a large-scale artwork, that relates, through the medium of light, to the universe of the surrounding sky, land, and culture. Turrell's project is now under construction under the direction of Dia Art Foundation and the Skystone Foundation with support from the Lannan Foundation and is scheduled for public access in the year 2005 or later.

James Turrell, Roden Crater, 1977-present

"My works don't illustrate scientific principle, but I want them to express a certain consciousness, a certain knowing," says Arizona artist, James Turrell. "My spaces must be sensitive to events outside themselves. They must bring external events into themselves. I think of my works as being important in terms of what they have to do with us and our relationship to the universe, but not necessarily in scientific terms. I'm concerned with what my spaces direct their seeing to, and hence what they direct our seeing to. At the same time, I'm interested in the expression of time. Because, even though you may have expressions of our particular historical moment in, say, the art of Andy Warhol, there are also expressions that go through time, beyond time, and have a sense of themselves that transcends any specific period. That's the part of art I'm interested in. This said, however, I do want to be involved with the here and now. I want my art to function in contemporary terms..."


Inquiry question: What do you feel are the essential differences between a large scale "earth art" project and natural geological features?

Related Project: Spirit Catchers (coming soon)