From the start, the idea of time and natural decay appealed to me. I wanted to create something that would show this passage of time—the gradual reintegration of something manmade into nature. This was spurred by one of our first discussions on Robert Smithson, who centered a lot of his pieces around the idea of decay, such as Partially Buried Woodshed (1970). I was also greatly interested in Nancy Holt’s explorations of celestial happenings, and hoped to somehow integrate these two ideas into a coherent project.
|Robert Smithson. Partially Buried Woodshed. 1970. Kent State University, Kent, Ohio.|
The minimalistic approach to earth art is also something that I really enjoy; I think that it is important to let the art speak for itself. For this reason, I found Richard Long’s simplistic pieces very fascinating. A Line Made by Walking (1967) particularly stuck out to me, and I found myself concocting ideas in which I could use a similar motif within my project.
|Richard Long. A Line Made by Walking. 1967. England.|
This led me to my first idea, which was to create a compass, the circle of which would be formed by dragging my feet across the earth’s surface. Projecting from this circle would be cairns aimed at the north, south, east and west directions, respectively. Within the circle would be the word ‘time’ formed with dirt. I was not satisfied with this idea—the explicit use of the word ‘time’ seemed forced. The overall meaning of the idea was lost to me; I didn’t feel any connection between the elements I was presenting.
So, I decided to remove the word from the center of the circle, replacing it with feet imprints at the respective directions. The idea of imprints was inspired by Ana Mendieta, whose Silueta Series (1973-1980) blew me away. With this idea, I found a connection between the elements; I wanted to make a statement about direction, both literal and metaphorical, and the decisions and crossroads that we face every day. However, I still found myself wanting. I tried removing the circle from the picture—it seemed incomplete.
|Ana Mendieta. Imagen de Yagul. Silueta Series. 1973. Mexico.|
After reading through parts of the textbook, I realized that I wanted to be more connected with my project—I wanted physical involvement. The sections within the text that focused on Charles Simonds really spoke to me. Of his work he said this: “I’m interested in the earth and myself, or my body and the earth, what happens when they become entangled with each other and all the things they include emblematically and metaphorically; like my body being everybody’s body and the earth being where everybody lives.” Unsurprisingly, Simonds created many pieces centered around his body and its interactions with the earth (Landscape↔Body↔Dwelling, 1970). I was also inspired by Michael McCafferty, who created a piece called Body Compass in 1976, which was much more abstract than my idea. I found the use of one’s own body in art to be extremely beautiful, and a lot more powerful. Again, Ana Mendieta’s work greatly influenced my decision to include my own body.
|Charles Simonds. Landscape↔Body↔Dwelling. 1976. Dumbarton Oaks.|
|Michael McCafferty. Body Compass. 1976. Seattle, Washington.|
Through this project, as aforementioned, I wanted to represent the idea of direction. Humans are always faced with decisions, including life-altering decisions. We have to ask ourselves, “Where do I go from here?” By including my body, I felt that this idea would be better demonstrated. I also decided that I wanted to cover my body in ashes, which would convey the idea that no matter what decisions one makes, or where one goes in life, we will all end in the same way—ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
I contemplated many ideas for my location. I thought about Belle Isle, but decided it was too public (and probably illegal). I thought about the backyards of friends, but found no connection to my message. Finally, I thought of my home. This location seemed perfect for my piece because ultimately, the decisions that we make and the places to which we go are directly affected by our upbringing. I wanted to show that your roots impact the rest of your life.
With my project formed in my mind, I began the laborious, and sometimes frustrating, task of bringing it to life. Unfortunately, it snowed the weekend that I went home, but I decided that the contrast of the ashes against the snow would be very interesting to depict the purity and uncorrupted nature of beings at birth against the transcendence of life, through which this purity is corrupted, or altered, by the experiences of life. This was to be a commentary on the transformation from birth to death. I began by making a snow angel, which I had to do from several angles, to make the shape of a circle.
From there, I cleared out this circle and enlarged it to make room for my own line made by walking, which would symbolize the outer part of the compass.
After clearing out the circle, I began dragging my feet along the perimeter in order to create a groove upon the earth.
Then, to apply the ashes, I first thought that if I got myself wet, they would stick, which did not end up working out as I had planned.
However, I decided that sprinkling the ashes over my body would be more appropriate because it would provide more coverage, and therefore make my body look like a pile of ashes. So, I laid in the circle, extending my arms to the east and west directions, my head to the north and my feet to the south.
Through this project, I definitely developed a better understanding of earth and land art, and deep respect for those who have successfully used their bodies in meaningful works of art. I love the project that came out of this.