Week 3/Response/ Land Art as Bio Art

This week’s topic focused on bio art and ecology art and examined the role of ethics and control in relation to such fields of research and the roles of the scientist versus the artist. In lecture, we discussed how the role of an artist who is using scientific means to create their works creates controversy in terms of whether or not a scientifically-untrained artist should be permitted to for instance- create a genetically modified rabbit and deem the animal as “art.” In the textbook, Wilson further discusses the ethical and environmental issues in regards to ecology and bio art in terms of the environmental concerns regarding pollution and destruction of land in what is generally referred to as Land Art or earth art (Wilson 131). Although Wilson considers land artists such as Christo, Robert Smithson, and Dennis Oppenheim precedents that paved the way for ecological and bio art to be actualized in the early 1990s, I believe that such land artists still fit in appropriately to what we now label as ecology or bio art. In lecture, we discussed the ethical issues and considerations in bio art related to genetics and life design, looking at Eduardo Kac’s GFP Bunny, which led me to question how some of my favorite artists such as Christo and Jeanne Claude have sparked controversy in terms of ethical issues and concerns in terms of land and environmental damage.

According to Wilson, the goal and thematic concentration of land art is to raise public discourse about environmental dangers and also to reject the institutional limitations of the gallery or museum context in art (Wilson 131). Often land art is composed using the natural resources of land or uses the land as a canvas in which the artist manipulates with artificial materials. The idea of tampering with natural resources and landscapes raises an issue that is similar to that of the ethical questions raised on Kac’s GFP Bunny and also presents some contradictions in terms of its conceptual content. For instance, Christo has been continually criticized for his alleged destruction of land and damage to ecological life through his large, site specific manipulations of land and buildings. Many of his projects involve the wrapping or surrounding of buildings, trees, and even islands to create a large scale, atmospheric affect. Wilson discusses the public outcry caused by one of Christo’s most celebrated and contested installations called “Running Fence,” in which he created a 24.5 mile fence veiled with fabric and supported by metal rods dug into the ground in Sonoma, California. The installation took four years to build due to environmental activists contesting it and only stood for two weeks after it was finished. One of the main issues was that fence was trapping wild animals within the boundaries and hence, interrupting the natural ecological system of the environmental space upon which Christo intervened. In my opinion, I think that Christo and Jeanne Claude as artists are less concerned with promoting environmental awareness through their work and are instead, more interest in judging the institutionalization of art in society and redefining beauty using their wrapping to alert people to natural beauty that we often take for granted in everyday life. However, I do believe that their work can still be categorized under the umbrella of ecological art due to their interventionist approach to addressing the aesthetic value of nature and physical landscape in society.

Robert Smithson is another land artist who manipulates the physical landscape in his large scale works. His work is perhaps less contested in terms of environmental destruction because he seeks landscapes that have already been severely damaged (Wilson 132). In his most seminal piece, “Spiral Jetty,” Smithson composed a spiral form in the Great Salk Lake composed of using the actual materials found in the lake-rock, basalt, water, dirt, etc. He built this piece on top of a site that was used for oil drilling in order to comment and visually draw attention to the processes and the environmental effects that such man-made processes such as drilling have on earth. However, even this work received criticism regarding the hypocrisy of his intent. Some critics said that creating an art piece to raise awareness was pointless because there was little research performed to find an actual solution to the problem while others suggested that his artwork was actually transgressive in terms of raising awareness to environmental issue and damaging practices because it covered up the visible evidence of damage that was present before the intervention of Smithson (Wilson 132). I disagree with such claims and I do consider Robert Smithson’s work ecology art because he was already using damaged land as his canvas and his spiral jetty was so intrusive and so utterly visible that there is no way that awareness and discussion couldn’t be formed regarding the environmental effects of the site. I think that the using the land and natural resources whether it be to raise awareness of environmental concerns, ethics concerning genetics and technology, or simply using nature/the body/land in order to comment on the institutionalization of art and the context of the gallery space in the ways in which it shapes our views about art as a whole appropriately fits into the idea of what we discussed in the lecture.

-Mia Maguire


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