Land Art is not so much an art form as it is an experience. In this unique genre, artists incorporate their installations directly into nature, establishing environmental exhibitions in the wilderness, the desert or the mountains. Because it relies so heavily on location, Land Art’s essence is often difficult to capture in a gallery: how do you encapsulate a three-dimensional, large-scale outdoor piece in a flat, three-by-four foot canvas?
Despite these issues, the new “Global Land Art” exhibition in the Remis Sculpture Court at the Tufts University Art Gallery showcases the power and grandeur of Land Artist Andrew Rogers’ work quite well. Because of the sheer size of his projects, they are only completely visible from aerial perspectives. In his “Rhythms of Life” series, Rogers uses vivid, birds-eye photographs and real satellite imagery to convey the true magnitude of his creations, a defining feature that would be impossible to fully see from the site itself.
Since 1998, the Australian sculptor has designed 49 distinct structures across 14 countries and seven continents. In a majority of his sculptures, Rogers focuses on simplicity of shape, drawing inspiration from ancient symbols and reconstructing images that look as if they could be prehistoric petroglyphs or primitive hieroglyphics. Rogers tailors each individual piece to match its specific site, inextricably linking the significance of his gigantic geoglyphs to the history and culture of the land.
In his 2008 piece “Sacred,” Rogers positions a massive 328-by-328 foot outline of a Celtic horse on a grassy hill in Spissky Hrad, Slovakia. Atop the summit lies the stunning 12th-century Spissky Castle, an isolated limestone edifice that almost seems out of place amidst the undisturbed greenery and rolling terrain. Using bright white Travertine Marble, a material also found in the walls of the Spissky Castle, Rogers constructed one continuous line of rock to form his massive figure, which almost appears to glow against the dark green of the lush background landscape. Fittingly, Rogers’ Celtic Horse is a colossal replica of an image that was imprinted onto an archaic coin discovered on the Castle grounds.
During a 2010 venture to Kenya, Rogers created two huge sculptures entitled “Shield” and “Lion’s Paw.” The aim of his project was to celebrate the Maasai people who live around the Chyulu Hills region; indeed, he actually modeled “Shield” after a Maasai warrior shield. Made with volcanic rocks native to the region, “Shield” creates a rich, deep brown outline that stands out starkly against the sand and scrub of the underlying scenery.
Rogers’ photograph of this piece, taken from high in the air, shows an angled image of the 328-by-230 foot work with hundreds of villagers standing around its perimeter. From above, the people look like colored specks or minuscule ants that surround a massive oval-shaped structure. These tiny, almost microscopic figures give viewers an accurate representation of just how large Roger’s works can be.
Another element of Land Art that is similarly difficult to capture in a gallery is the process. Because these pieces are usually very large, these endeavors require more time and effort than a typical painting session. Yet, audiences are often only allowed to see the final result, and so remain oblivious to the intense labor and workforce needed to complete such magnificent works of art.
Andrew Rogers opts not only to document the construction of his pieces, but also to display them for all to see. In the gallery, photographs of human assembly lines transporting materials and workers carrying rocks are commonplace, and are a tribute to all the people who make his art possible. In “Presence” and “Circles,” Rogers shows the faces of the Bolivian residents who helped him build. Women with colorful skirts, traditional straw hats and long black braids are seen working alongside men in more modern jeans and sweaters. Both wear thick orange gloves as they lift volcanic rock into the Andean highlands.
In “The Messenger,” Rogers’ photographs depict the thousands of uniformed Chinese Army soldiers who transported blocks of sandstone through the Gobi Desert. By pairing these pictures of process with images of the final product, Rogers increases his own authenticity and leaves spectators with a greater sense of appreciation for his work.
Land Art is certainly a tricky art to transfer from its original location to a gallery format. Nevertheless, Andrew Rogers succeeds, using photographs to effectively capture the aspects of his work that are most difficult to see on site: scale and process.
Rogers’ exhibition will run until Dec. 16. Any further questions may be directed to Tufts University Art Gallery Director Amy Schlegel.