Sarah Igraine Welty

Earthworks, a term coined by the famous land-artist Robert Smithson, is an artistic movement that emerged in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. More commonly known as Land Art, it is an art form in which landscape and the work of art are
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Turf Maze, town of Saffron Walden, England
inextricably linked. The pieces are created within nature, using natural, organic, and introduced media (concrete, metal, asphalt, and mineral pigments). Sculptures are not placed in the landscape; rather, the landscape is the means of their creation. Often earth moving equipment is involved. The works frequently exist in the open, located well away from civilization, left to change and erode under natural conditions; and because of this, many of the first works, created in the deserts of Nevada, New Mexico, Utah or Arizona now only exist as video recordings or photographic documents. By the time land art began to emerge in the 1970's - preceded by 1960's Pop-Art, which had celebrated consumerism and industrialization - social debate was raging about the effects of pollution and the need to respect the earth. Today, a similar debate ensues concerning the preservation of these works of art, for their ephemeral qualities leave them to erode naturally.

Spiral Jetty is one of the last of these enormous, site specific pieces. It was created by Robert Smithson only a few years before his untimely death in an airplane crash in 1973. This giant, organic spiral - seen just as it was when it was created in 1970 - sits peacefully in the waters of the Great Salt Lake and only appears sporadically due to the fluctuating
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Spiral Jetty - Robert Smithson
qualities of the tide. At the time of its construction, the water level of the lake was unusually low because of a drought – however, within a few years, the water level returned to normal and submerged the jetty for the next three decades. It has since emerged, partially and completely disappeared on several occasions, yet since spring of 2010, it has completely resurfaced and is once again visible and walkable. The work was created using bulldozers and dump trucks to dredge 6650 tons of mud, salt crystals, basalt rocks, earth, and water on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake - eventually forming this counter-clockwise coil. Built near Rozel Point in Utah, it forms a 1,500-foot-long, 15-foot-wide spiral jutting from the shore of the lake. Like most examples of Land Art, Smithson’s Earth works make reference to the genre of Landscape Painting, but rather than representing nature, Spiral Jetty is the land itself. The monumental and mythic quality owes debt to ancient colossal works of architecture, such as the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge, and Native American burial mounds.

The most famous and mysterious of the fabled Native American burial mounds in the United States is known as the Great Serpent Mound. The effigy (a mound is a raised pile of earth built in the shape of a stylized animal, symbol, religious figure, or human figure) of southwest Ohio
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The Great Serpent Mound
averages about 1330 feet in length and 3 feet in height, and remains the largest and best preserved mounds in the united states. Representing an unwinding serpent, the mound is sheathed in mystery and controversy.external image drawing1.gif The serpent is thought by most to be readying itself to consume an egg, however, many theories suggesting various interpretations. For instance, some think it may represent an eclipse. These effigy mounds were not uncommon to the area, and were constructed in many Native American cultures. Scholars believe they were primarily for religious purposes, although some also fulfilled a burial mound function. The builders of the effigy mounds are usually referred to as the Mound Builders. The most recent excavation of the Serpent Mound revealed wood charcoal that could be radiocarbon dated. Based on the use of this more advanced technology and additional evidence, scholars now generally believe that members of the Fort Ancient culture built it about 1070 CE.
Fort Ancient is a name for a Native American culture that flourished from 1000-1650 C.E. among a people who predominantly inhabited land along the Ohio River in areas of southern modern-day Ohio, northern Kentucky and western West Virginia. The head of the serpent is aligned to the summer solstice sunset and the coils also may point to the winter solstice sunrise and the equinox sunrise. But the mystery surrounding the effigy doesn't halt there. The very ground where the mound rests is also of interest to archeology. Seemingly full of cave-like or hollow structures, it is thought that perhaps there may be more to this serpent resting underground. Conical mounds found nearby contained burials and implements that are arguably characteristic of the prehistoric Adena people (800 BC-AD 100). Due to very acidic soil and predominant rainfall, many cave like structures reside underground. It is presumed that the Adena people may have resided in the caves. If true, there could be a treasure trove of artifacts waiting to be discovered.

The Nazca Lines are a series of geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert, which is a high plateau that stretches for more than 50 miles between the towns of Nazca and Palpa on the Pampas de Jumana in Peru. These geoglyphs are believed to have been created by tribes of the
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Nazca Lines - Figure of a Hummingbird
Nazca culture between 200 B.C. and 700 A.D. There are hundreds of these figures sporadically throughout the region, ranging in complexity from simple lines to more complex figures such as spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks and lizards.
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Nazca Lines - Figure of a Spider
The physical lines are simple shallow depressions in the ground, where reddish pebbles that cover the surrounding landscape are removed, revealing the whitish earth underneath. The dry, windless, stable climate of the plateau preserved the lines to this day. The leading explanation on how these lines have been created by the Nazcas would be by the use of simple tools and surveying equipment. The reason why these people had developed these lines is still a mystery to this day. One of the leading theories states the Nazcas developed these lines because of their religion, designing these lines so that the gods in the sky can see them. Another theory is that the lines are the remains of “walking temples”, where a group of worshipers walked along a preset pattern dedicated to a particular holy entity, much like the practice of labyrinth walking.


The Lightning Field, 1977, by the American sculptor Walter De Maria, is recognized internationally as one of the late-twentieth century's most external image lightningfieldpopsci-lg.jpgsignificant works of art. The piece, situated in a remote area of the high desert of southwestern New Mexico, The Lightning Field is comprised of 400 polished stainless steel poles installed in a grid array measuring one mile by one kilometer. The poles, two inches in diameter and averaging 20 feet by 7 1/2 inches in height, are spaced 220 feet apart and have solid pointed tips that define a horizontal plane. A sculpture to be walked in as well as viewed, The Lightning Field is intended to be experienced over an extended period of time. A full experience of The Lightning Field does not depend upon the occurrence of lightning, and visitors are encouraged to spend as much time as possible in the field, especially during sunset and sunrise.
Built in secrecy, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Lightning Field has stood in place since 1977. It is a mystifying—some would say a pointless—work. It is hidden, and except for a trickle of visitors will remain so. It serves no practical purpose. It cannot be viewed in its entirety, and can hardly be spotted from the air. The Lightning Field is cerebral and cold, or fiery and emotional, or both, or neither, depending on each viewer's perception. It has stirred major artistic debate throughout the world. But whatever else might be said about the Lightning Field, one thing about it is beyond dispute: There is nothing else like it on Earth.

Its creator, De Maria, is a 65-year-old, California-born "conceptual artist," whose other notable works include a metal shaft sunk one kilometer into the Earth in Germany, a four-mile-long, six-foot-wide walkway cutting across an isolated stretch of Nevada desert, and a knee-high pile of dirt that filled the floor of a New York City gallery. For more than 40 years de Maria has committed Earthworks, himself to such, and in that time has won unstinting acclaim from many leading figures in the art world-and hostile skepticism, if not dismissal, from others.Understandably, few of the latter number have been among those who have viewed the Lightning Field. But from the critics who have seen it, this creation emerges from any debate as an artistic triumph of historic proportions.


In most respects 'Land Art' has become part of mainstream public art and in many cases the term "Land Art" is misused to label any kind of art in nature even though conceptually not related to the avant - garde works by the pioneers of Land Art.


Work Cited:
Aveni, Anthony F. Between the Lines: The Mystery of the Giant Ground Drawings of Ancient Nasca, Peru . Austin Texas: University of Texas Press. 1 July 2006
Brown, Cynthia Stokes (2007). Big History. New York: The New Press. pp. 167
John Beardsley: Earthworks and Beyond. Contemporary Art in the Landscape. New York 1998
Nickell, Joe Unsolved history: investigating mysteries of the past The University Press of Kentucky. 31 May 2005
Smithson, Robert (1996), Flam, Jack D., ed., Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, Berkeley: University of California Press
Suzaan Boettger, Earthworks: Art and the Landscape of the Sixties. University of California Press 2002.
Woodward, Susan L. and Jerry N. McDonald, Indian Mounds of the Middle Ohio Valley, Blacksburg, Virginia: The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, 1986