Site Works & Earth Works

1986 to 1995

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Site Works & Earth Works Statement

My site works and earth works also unite matter with Mind in the attempt to emphasize the nature of both. The work entitled Earth Circle consists of a perfectly circular vault, measuring four feet across by four feet deep, filled with leaves and embedded within an eight-ton pile of discarded loam. One may associate earth (or dirt) to the baser, more material aspects of existence. The earth sustains us by providing sustenance and the raw materials that we need for our survival. We grow food in the soil, extract minerals from it, harvest the plants that it produces, and depend on the air and the water that are part of the planet's eco-system. But, at the same time that the earth sustains us, it also reminds us of our failings and mortality. One of the associations connected to a pile of earth is its use in burials. Death is feared by most not because of its connection to pain and suffering but because of its unknown aspects. In mythic terms, we conceive of a place beneath the earth – Hades or Hell – where all of the darker aspects of human nature – the evil, cruelty, and madness – are drawn. The earth, in this sense, symbolizes both a birthing and an abode to all that is base to being human. But, viewed from space, the earth is a nearly perfect sphere: the most economical of all naturally occurring forms, and the most irreducible of all geometric shapes. Again, one may consider geometry and mathematics to be among the loftier achievements of Mind. These inventions stand out in the way that they strive for ideal resolution, harmony, and perfection. Reduced and simplified to its most essential components, the beautiful equation abstracts something very close to "truth" from the physical world. These marvels of human genius exemplify our ability to observe, elucidate, abstract, and then apply the insights that nature presents to us; it is the spiritualization of physical reality. Thus, the pile of loam surrounding a perfect circle presents a unitive thought of what it means to be human: the spiritualizing mind coexistent with animal being; the self-conscious entity coexistent with primordial Being. It is the acknowledgment of both our animal nature and our aspirations toward perfection and transcendence. It is not a submission of one to the other, but a harmonious coexistence in which one cannot survive without the other. The circle needs the dirt to be seen; the loam, in turn, is nothing but a pile of dirt without the circle.

From another perspective, a certain amount of tension existed between the work and the site itself. I executed the work on a construction site near the University of Calgary Art Building. The relentless construction that was going on while the piece was in existence evoked a sense of chaos, disorder, and confusion. Hour after hour every day during the life of the piece, heavy earth-moving equipment lumbered across the site, scooping up thousands of tons of broken concrete, asphalt, and soil and depositing them into dump-trucks. Amidst the confusion, the transformed pile of loam stood in quiet solitude. Its static green circle, tranquil and serene, seemed untouched by the surrounding devastation. The seeming incongruity of a perfect, green circle set against frenetic activity created a sense of tension in which each element contrasted and complimented the other. The physical intensity of the demolition emphasized the cerebral quality of the circle. The calmness of the circle, in turn, emphasized the violence of the activity. Each element seemed to stand out and become more real in relation to the other. The overall effect was one of nearly hypnotic tension and balance between raw physicality and ethereal Mind.

Intellectual abstraction need not, however, be confined to static and orderly shapes. Geometric shapes are appropriate when dealing with organic objects and sites that do not have regularized features but, when dealing with spaces that are highly regularized, a different approach is necessary if one is to maintain some sense of balance within the work. For this reason, some of my works use abstracting principles to introduce a sense of controlled chaos to an otherwise orderly environment. The site-work entitled, Marking Space, Time, and Mind, is a work that transformed the outside deck at the University of Calgary Art Building. On this site, measuring 70 meters long by 10 meters wide, I rearranged existing concrete slabs (the deck floor) according to a systematic formula so as to transform the two dimensional surface of the deck into a three-dimensional space. To execute the piece, I sequentially elevated the two opposing edges of successive pairs of blocks until I had created incremental spaces between all pairs. Once I had raised a number of blocks in a smooth transition from horizontal to approximately 60 degrees, I then lowered succeeding pairs of blocks from the highest (center) point of the configuration until they re-merged into the horizontal field. I repeated this procedure three times, varying the number of blocks each time, along an axis running from one end of the deck to the other. The result was three upward surging rifts or openings, each different from the next, cutting an organic shaped line through the grid-like field of blocks. Thus, through the systematic application of a mathematical principle, I was able to introduce an element of dynamism and energy into an otherwise static and lifeless environment.

One may argue that it is not necessary to use something as intellectualized as a mathematical formula to create a chaotic situation; pure randomness would result in something far more chaotic. There is some validity to this criticism, however, the problem with allowing the chaotic element to become completely haphazard (undirected) is that one risks losing the sense of purposiveness that seems built into the automating principle of mathematical design. Without getting too far off topic, automation is when one aspect of the work demands that the artist follow a certain course of action – one condition necessitating another, and another, and so on – toward the inevitable completion of the work. In this sense, a work that is made according to a systematic mode of making, is a work that dictates its own needs; that is, automation allows the work to "make itself according to its own inner logic and chain of necessities." (Morris, 1994: 22-29) Thus, my use of a mathematical principle imbued the new, chaotic element of the deck with a sense of purpose, intent, and necessity, whereas random alterations without an underlying logic would have given the chaotic element an accidental, unintended appearance. As a result, the dynamism of the rifts contrasted and complimented the static aspect of the grid, while an underlying sense of purposiveness – a sense of self-consistent necessity – unified and held everything in tension.

By allowing the work to make itself, I removed, to a large extent, the arbitrary judgment of taste that I would have had to use in deciding how the piece should look. In this sense, the work was based on something beyond the self: that is, on something other than the ego-based facility of aesthetic preference. One may argue that in choosing to automate the work, I was asserting an aesthetic preference. This is true, but the aesthetic choice that I made was one that allowed the piece to center itself in relation to something beyond myself as its maker: mathematics. In a Platonic sense, I was the agent that altered pre existent phenomena according to the necessary laws dictated by the work itself. In doing so, I reconstructed a new kind of order that one might call "ordered disorder".

Summary

I have provided only a few examples of my efforts to reconstruct meaning through my work. These example are, nevertheless, representative of my work in its broadest sense. My desire to balance matter with Mind, to allow each to be what it is, and to revel in the tension that results, are all desires that spring from a deeper need; a need to orientate myself to the world in ways that emphasize the tangibility of the things that are real, as well as the reality of the things that are intangible. My work as an artist is, in this sense, the effort to construct new (but not unknown) meaning with familiar things. I have described this approach as reconstructive in the sense that it deals with things as they are, while locating meaning within the resonating space that exists between divergent phenomena. The primary aims of this approach are balance, unity, and tension. In short, the goal of my reconstructive efforts is to bring together various phenomena and perspectives so as to create something that is vital, alive, and greater than the sum of its parts. This synergistic feature is, invariably, present within each work.

The above statement is an exerpt from Shaping Consciousness, A Written Accompaniment to the MFA Thesis Exhibition Dreaming With Open Eyes by Terry Reynoldson. 1995, pp. 71-80

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