Land Arts of the American West: 2014 Passage

"Their line hems the mad infinity of sky and earth. But while the line astutely maps the landscape, it is the artists’ testimony and emotiveness that conjure it."

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Land Arts of the American West presented the yield of its 2014 passage on April 3, 2015. Self-described, the program “investigates the intersection of geomorphology and human construction. We venture six thousand miles across the desert southwest, camping for two months. The exhibition culminates the 2014 field season presenting documents, objects, and constructions.”

The exhibition stands in the LHUCA Warehouse on Mac Davis Lane. The space’s mealy brick build and rutted cement floor resist the self-erasure of a “white cube” gallery. Rather, the Warehouse writes itself into the display, redoubling the show’s reigning themes of expanse, threshold, mass, angularity and, in the grid of its binding mortar, line.

Of these themes, line strikes first, and widely. It comes in the strata of sediment in Matti Sloman’s paintings, in the coiling geometry of Anthony Zuefeldt’s photographs, in the filaments of shadow in Gabriela Reyes’ slide projections, in the fine dowels and cords of Michael Norris’ cartographic instruments, and in the unremitting horizon coursing through Eric Simpson’s films. For me, the space intones Joseph Conrad, from The Secret-Sharer:

“… I saw the straight line of the flat shore joined to the stable sea, edge to edge, with a perfect and unmarked closeness, in one leveled floor half brown, half blue under the enormous dome of the sky.”

In a feat of visiting the Southwestern landscape upon us, the Land Arts group takes line for its arterial language. The group uses line to fasten air to ground; it cleaves one form against another, measures crevasses, and nimbly assembles tools. Their line hems the mad infinity of sky and earth.

But while the line astutely maps the landscape, it is the artists’ testimony and emotiveness that conjure it.

The artists conjure a body miniaturized and misplaced in unfathomable space. In The Explorations of a Domestic Nomad in the Southwest, Eric Simpson traipses the boundless arid plains with his head caged in a tiny white picket fence. The video plays from boxes sheathed in plastic grass carpet and on a screen draped in vinyl sheeting. His person and mind are cloistered by home, its insularity and artificiality, but are likewise lost, alone, in the fluidity of desert.

The artists conjure the humbling enormity of the sublime, and startling predictability of nature. Matti Sloman records trends of form throughout the landscape, from cadaverous dwellings to steel boxcars to yellow rock faces. The gouache paintings of Drafts - Observations into Memories hang like grand textiles. Contiguous ribbons of pattern parallel the brindled walls of the Grand Canyon, and are paired with memoirist text of Land Arts’ visit there. This terse poetry remembers trepidation and wonder: There were scars of destruction everywhere… The trees were once on fire… He said “It’s the Grand-fucking-Canyon!” to make me feel less embarrassed.

The artists conjure the grief of dispossession and demolition. Michael Norris’ Landscape in a Room diagrams a rhizomatic system of landscape, traced in colored cord strung tautly across tall wooden stakes. But just as it registers the vision, it seems also to cite demarcation, with its cord like flagging tape and its stakes like fence posts, recasting nature as commodity and property. Resting on a few low perches are booklets detailing the fallout of nuclear experimentation in the Southwest.

I do a great disservice to the exhibition by recounting only three works of the five artists featured. I offer these as emblematic of Land Arts’ circumspect and multivalent engagement with the landscape. It shepherds viewers along the X-, Y-, and Z-axes of the Southwest, and its political, psychological, and spiritual dimensions. And like that mad infinity of earth and sky, it is too big, too beautiful to be corralled by only one line.

Image provided by Land Arts on Instagram #landarts_2014 and @land_arts

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