Poles Apart: Eliasson and the Harrisons
Poles apart, two works of art that relocate materials from the landscape exemplify the extraordinary range of approaches taken by artists whose themes revolve around human relationships to the non-human environment. A precedent was established by the Land Art artists in the 1970s. The grandiose scale of their manipulations of the landscape are typically associated with arrogant assertions of power. Contrasting interpretations are required by subsequent transpositions and relocations of materials found within the landscape.
One pole includes actions that seem equally arrogant. In this instance, the materials collected from the landscape are deposited within a gallery. This pole is represented by Olafur Eliasson whose current exhibition at the Lousiana Museum consists of relocated rocks, pebbles, and soil that were used to recreate an Icelandic landscape within an architectural space.
Trickling water runs through a riverbed that actually meanders through the galleries. It is surrounded by mounds of rocky earth. Indignant commentary already surrounds this work, many colleagues protesting that "Riverbed" required a massive expenditure of machine time, fuel, and labor to haul the many tons of rocks and earth needed to recreate the landscape, not merely represent it. Although I have not experienced this work personally, the impression conveyed by the images is that the work commemorates the human vision, energy, guile, and zeak required to accomplish this feat. The barren installation, devoid of any signs of life, appears like the background for this human achievement. With a reputation of being a titan in the art world, Elisasson has previusly created the sun in The Weather Project that filled the vast void of Turbine Hall at the Tate with a representation of the sun and sky.
The other pole is occupied by Helen and Newton Harrison. In 1996 they dug up and replanted an entire 400 year-old meadow in Bonn, Germany and transplanted it onto the 1 1/2 acre roof of the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle museum. "Future Garden, Part 1, The Endangered Meadows of Europe",diverted the focus away from artistic expression. The Harrison's had a much more urgent and pragmatic motive. They were carrying out a rescue mission, since the featured meadow was about to be destroyed due to urban development.
To Life! Eco Art in Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet documents the burgeoning eco art movement from A to Z, presenting a panorama of artistic responses to environmental concerns, from Ant Farm’s anti-consumer antics in the 1970s to Marina Zurkow’s 2007 animation that anticipates the havoc wreaked upon the planet by global warming. This text is the first international survey of twentieth and twenty-first-century artists who are transforming the global challenges facing humanity and the Earth’s diverse living systems. Their pioneering explorations are situated at today’s cultural, scientific, economic, spiritual, and ethical frontiers. The text guides students of art, design, environmental studies, and interdisciplinary studies to integrate environmental awareness, responsibility, and activism into their professional and personal lives.
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