By Hannah Smith and Dom Brennan
Land art is a type of art that interacts with the entropic processes of the natural world, the coming and going of time, wind, rain, tides, and temperature. The decay of a thing, the impermanence of a man-made object, is emphasized, by design. A man by the name of Andy Goldsworthy is the father of land art. This category of artwork is one that doesn’t easily fit into a museum or gallery and can hardly be contained within the four confining corners of a photograph. It’s an artistic experience that requires—demands—the presence of mind, body, and soul.
During the hours leading up to our very own Goldsworthy art exhibit the Arcadian Village was eerily quiet while its inhabitants were deep in thought, silently busy collecting more maple leaves or pine bark.
The week before, Dr. Jenny MacGregor from St. Lawrence University, who has led several groups both at Arcadia and in the SLU First Year Program though the basics of making a Goldsworthy art installation, came to Arcadia to lead a workshop. Under her leadership we learned how to work with leaves, bark, and freestanding structures. Without her help we wouldn’t have been as confident as we were finding materials around Massawepie to use for our art, nor would we have been as competent. A huge thank you to Jenny!
On October 8, the day of the show, Jenny accompanied our professor, Natalia Singer, back to Arcadia to see the show. Professor Singer told us, “These art projects are, in essence, x-rays of your minds.” They turned out to be just that, signatures of our individuality, in our unique colors. That’s the beauty of art, and of the human soul, that no two are identical.
On that sunny Tuesday, our Arcadian art show began with Kenny’s meandering flow of pine needles cleared away from the deep brown dirt. The show was finished by Cassidy’s stream of sticks, a circular ground decoration of beaver toothed sticks. The bright ivory wood demanded our attention atop the dark hollow soil. The piece had movement, tension, and a universal meaning that spoke to us directly without us needing it to be put into words.
While Kenny used white pine needles and Cassidy beaver-chewed wood, other Arcadians used the fallen leaves for a burst of color, the soft elegant green moss, the dark wet bark of pine, the rocks by the water, and the sunlight from the sky. Sam’s bark pillar stood at attention below a curved trunk, a tree like an elbow pointing its hand to the sky. Sam said he tried to “let it be what it was going to be.” As he built it, “it took its own course . . It had to find its own end.”
Caeleigh’s pinecone nest was frosted in white, sticky pitch. Caeleigh said that “Nature is just trying to be itself; we can only do so much.” By creating a nest-type shape and working with a circular shape, she let the pinecones speak to reproduction and the circles of life. Cassidy’s stream of sticks was eye catching, striking to any passerby. She said, “I really enjoyed the idea of a circle .. . a hole . . the mysterious nature of it.” Goldsworthy utilizes universal symbols such as circles, egg shapes, and flowing lines because cross culturally and globally, all humans can relate to these ancient and basic shapes. No matter one’s language, culture, religion, or previous knowledge, land art can speak to its viewer. It evokes feelings of oneness with nature and with one another and the impermanence of man’s endeavors.
Land art is spontaneous, deliberate, and subtle. As we’ve seen Goldsworthy on screen and experienced his method ourselves, land art provides many lessons on patience and gentle focus. It’s one part meditative, one part frustrating. As one makes a piece of land art, time seems to slow and we begin to follow nature’s frequency and move with her. Hearing the snapping stick or feeling the cool mold on the underside of dead bark is a time to be quiet with nature, with oneself. Land art is essentially a conjunction of mind, body, and one’s surroundings, a peace treaty with time and the natural and inevitable forces of earth. A sort of “shaking hands with the land,” as Goldsworthy puts it.
Art in any form has a funny way of acting as the vessel that carries us around the seas of ourselves and the seas of our world to bring us home again to the very place we began our journey, this time with newfound insights, appreciations, and appetites we discovered along the way. A wise man once said, “Nature is one connected whole. At any given moment every part must be precisely what it is, because all other parts are what they are.” This can be said for land art, for ecosystems. As Caeleigh Warburton said, nature is trying to be herself and there is only so much we can do. Land art is a showcasing of nature’s natural beauty.