Thursday, 3 May 2007

Week Eleven: New directions in Walking Art at the beginning of the twenty first century

  • Situated off of the West coast of Scotland the Isle of Skye is host to the impressive and atmospheric Cuillins, an area steeped both in history and folklore, reflective of its imposing presence in the lives of the past and present inhabitants of the island, and marked by continuous geological and environmental change. In August and September of 2005 the NVA, a charity who base themselves in Scotland and specialise in ‘bringing together physical and artistic landscape in…profound site-specific work[1], chose to focus upon the ‘Old Man of Storr’, a prominent rock formation on the summit of the Trotternish ridge overlooking Loch Fada, as the subject for an artistic intervention into the landscape. Through a stunning amalgamation of lighting and video installations, evocative performance and sounds and poetry resonant of Gaelic culture the NVA re-presented the familiar natural environment of the mountain in The Storr; Unfolding Landscape. Artists have long explored the intricate balance between art and nature and in particular the project reveals an attitude reminiscent of those of American Land Art and British Walking Art in the 1960’s. In assessing where The Storr; Unfolding Landscape fits into this history of art in and about the land it is first necessary to understand the main ideas behind the project and its position within the relationship between man and environment.

During the course of the work at total of 6500 people over 42 nights were led on a structured walk through woodland into an enclosed corrie situated under high cliffs and then up a sharper gradient to the rocky pinnacle of the Storr from which they were met with views of the surrounding islands of North Rona and Raasay, before descending down an open slope to once again renter the shelter of the trees. Throughout the walk various installations, intended to manipulate the individuals experience of the environment, created an eerie and mystic atmosphere above all resonant of an unacknowledged past, immortalised within the very earth and rock of the Cuillins. The journey taken by the viewer over the mountain echoes the manner in which Smithson’s Mirror Trail, Ithaca, New York of 1969 encouraged the individual to travel out into the landscape to experience the work directly. In visiting The Storr; Unfolding Landscape the individual is similarly encouraged to travel to the Skye and to physically interact with the environment in a structured manner, following the path as others may have followed Smithson’s mirrors. This contrast however also unearths a potential difference between the two works, whereas Smithson’s mirrors create a continuous narrative through the landscape the installations of The Storr could alternatively be perceived as a series of separate artworks transforming the mountain into a gallery space, the individual merely travelling between them to experience each in turn. The strict control over viewers is reminiscent of that exercised by De Maria over visitors to Lightening Field, 1972-1974, despite the vast difference in group numbers.

Within the woodland shadowy figures glided through mist and trees accompanied by the haunting bray of Bronze Age horns, questioning the balance between the spirit world and that of reality, between the past and the present. Such illusions, conjured by the lighting of David Byrant, reflect the designer’s own reaction to the area, in particular that which spoke to him in contemplation of the historic and cultural resonance of the site, and so in following the path chosen for them the viewer is in effect walking another’s walk and experiencing the land as the artist intended for them to do. In this manner The Storr; Unfolding Landscape makes advances in the different ways by which artists have always tried to impose on their audience certain experiences and responses; just as a stylised and intricate pen and sepia landscape by the Romantic artist Samuel Palmer, 1803-1881, portrays the artists recognition of a profound spirituality inherent within nature and encourages the viewer to do so also. In re-presenting the land the artists of the NVA have extended this tradition. Double Sunset 1998 by Copenhagen born artist Olafur Eliasson, b.1967, echoes The Storr in this fresh perspective on natural phenomenon. In installing a fake sun into the horizon of a city so that there appears to be two sunsets, Elliason challenges the viewer to recognise their own lack of recognition of their surrounding environment. NVA itself is an acronym of the Roman ‘nacionale vitae activa’, ‘the right to influence public affairs’, and thus the name embodies the aims of the group to alter how people perceive their environments.

In addition to encouraging the individual to re-assess the landscape through which they walk and manipulating the manner in which they do so through a series of sound and light installations, The Storr; Unfolding Landscape brings to the surface the very pulse and life of the land itself. In uncovering the ‘underlying reality[2] of the landscape the work involves itself with forces of entropy so fascinating to land artists such as Robert Smithson, 1938-1973, who emphasised that whilst artists brought attention to sites it was nature that created art. The Black Cuillins themselves are the solidified remains of volcanic magma chambers and marks and striations in the rocks act as reminders of the lava flows that shaped the island. The Storr is presented as testimony to the continuous forces at work in a landscape that to the eye appears almost static, a ‘subtle echoing of the magnificence of what is already there[3]. When visiting Rozel Point on the Great Salt Lake in Utah, Smithson, in contemplation of Spiral Jetty 1970, depicted how the land itself indicated the form that the work should take through the gyrating power he felt within the scene. The performer Alex Rigg, danced a series of repetitive movements within the Core Faoin at the climax of the climb up the Storr, enforcing recognition of absent powers; ‘where the glacier was; where ice and rock ground and rotated; where gravity pulled the frozen water until it smashed the earth; where oozing liquid slipped around solid sky, falling into the sea below…That’s where I am[4]. The imitation of such immense forces in the movements of a distant solitary figure, dwarfed by his own shadow upon the surrounding cliffs in turn forces the individual to recognise their own insignificance and to confront their own miniscule existence in light of that of the land. In the words of Sorley Maclean, ‘…this cliff is not dead / It has an immense life of its own…/ And will loom…just as it looms today / After every human being now alive / Has returned, not to rock but to dust[5]. Historical and cultural heritage are also significant throughout the work and the viewer is challenged continuously to comprehend humanities very existence as ‘invisibly interwoven[6]’ on the surface of the land.

This idea of cultural heritage as embedded within the mountains was perhaps evoked most effectively through the poems and sounds that appeared to resonate from within the land. Composed by Greer Jenssen and played through a hidden sound system, Gaelic poetry and song and the haunting sounds of bronze horns accompanied the viewer on their journey, animating the landscape with long forgotten memories. The specifically Gaelic sounds chosen for The Storr embrace the local heritage of the islands and in particular the poetry of the bard Sorley Maclean, conjures up a strong sense of place specific to the Cuillins and to the history of its people. Maclean’s soft Gaelic drawl pulses through the trees as Byrant’s ghostly figures wander past, reminiscent of the ‘darkness of despair[7] imposed by the Highland Clearances. In the corrie Rainer Maria Rilke’s Exposed on the Cliffs of the Heart was recited by a multitude of voices reflecting the intensity of the landscape and assisting Maclean in making the landscape reflective of the ‘wider human condition[8]; depicting ‘ the soul stripped bare on the hard stone surfaces. Great aspirations dashed and broken like the crags themselves[9]. The braying of the bronze horns, an instrument modelled upon the horns of the cattle so significant in the lives of the past inhabitants of the Western isles, personifies the very essence of human interaction with the Cuillins. The low drone tells its own story of a lost practise, a lost relationship between man and beast; they ‘convey a sense of fear and magic…that deeper sound world which is shared by all living things…(and) will carry to you the sounds of our ancestors, human and animal, from deep in their throats[10]. Such powerful sounds bare much similarity to the work of Richard Long, b.1945. Although Long’s work is purely visual his repetitive use of timeless symbols born of moments of particular connection with the land, such as Alaskan Drift Wood Circle of 1977, confront the viewer with recognition of the vastness of time and of the interaction of man with the landscape. The dull bray of the horns and the placing of natural materials into meaningful patterns by Long challenges the individual to understand the intricacy of existence; ‘to stare into this country from a high hill is to become aware that, at some level, bracken, rocks, man and sea are one[11]. The balance between mankind and the landscape is the very essence of The Storr; Unfolding Landscape.

With landscape as its focus the link between The Storr and other works about the land is evident. In the late 18th century Romanticism saw the genre of landscape art raised beyond its previous status as mere backdrop. The Romantics initiated a deep appreciation for the environment whether of a spiritual orientation or a fascination for the intricacies of nature, both of which are evident in the work of Constable, 1776-1837. In Romantic paintings landscape became the very object of study, admired and infused with sentiment and emotion, subjectively reflective of the human spirit and the individuals response to their surroundings. It is in this manner that The Storr, with its evocative presentation of the natural environment, elevates its subject and consequently contrasts sharply with the treatment of landscape by American Land artists such as Heizer, b.1944. Whilst the majority of Heizer’s monumental earth works are situated out in the impressive landscapes of the American West, such as Complex One, City, begun 1972, in the vast Nevada Desert, the artist denies the significance of the sites context. Heizer denies that any of his work is about a ‘Romanticisation’ of the Western landscape, claiming his choice of site is in fact solely linked to the availability of materials. While invariably dramatically sited… (works of land art are) certainly not involved with ‘landscape’ in any pictorial sense…primary, of course, is their relation to the space around them, but this has little to do with the specificities of ‘view’[12]. Similarities can however be recognised once again with De Maria’s Lightening Field, De Maria depicting with a greater sensitivity ‘art as place’. Through the permeable nature of the sculpture the viewer is allowed a simultaneous experience of landscape and artwork much as the NVA allows the lighting to be simultaneously impressive for its own sake and to enhance the natural qualities of the environment.

In contrast to much land art The Storr is deeply rooted in the specifics of the site, the mountain offering not only material but also an animating history. The pinnacles and buttresses of the ‘Old Man of Storr’ have long been perceived as ‘powerful, symbolic (and) truthful[13] by island inhabitants, beacons welcoming the traveller home, a constant presence throughout many a lifetime, witnessing all. The rocks are perceived as masculine due to their phallic form, and infused with a life of their own through folklore. The rock itself is depicted as wedded to the land, personified as Renee; ‘Who heard his cry. Who became his earth[14]. The Storr; Unfolding Landscape pays tribute to such heritage and strengthens the bond between artwork and site, emphasising the mystery of the ‘Old Man’ through suggestive lighting effects and powerful sounds; ‘Here is a scene for dark tragedies; here might lurk the fabulous creatures of Celtic mythology; here might rise the altars of some horrid and ghastly faith propitiating the gloomy powers with human sacrifice’. In enticing the imagination through re-presenting the land to the viewer The Storr is reminiscent of the paintings of Paul Nash, 1899-1946, in particular The Land of the Megoliths 1934, in which Nash offers an alternative birds eye perspective of ancient monuments, enhancing their mysterious qualities.

In its site-specificity and its subjective and evocative response to landscape The Storr is evidently embedded within a long tradition of artistic appreciation of the landscape. In making the environment both subject and medium the NVA pushed art about the land to new limits, incorporating a variety of mediums on a grand scale. In examining to what degree The Storr really was an extension of landscape art traditions it is necessary to identify further connections between the work and both that which came before it and that to which it is contemporary. Art involved with the landscape is extremely diverse in its range, incorporating both Romantic landscape paintings and the Non-Sites of Robert Smithson. Such diverse work is initially united by a ‘belief that the creation of each was dependent on a deeply felt reaction, understanding, interest, or concept stemming directly from the natural environment and/ or the processes functioning within it[15]. Consequently The Storr is evidently included in such a generalised category although at the same time it is unique and distanced from the work of others. Whereas The Storr shares with Richard Long an emphasis on transcendence and ‘deep time’ it differs in its massive scale and its embracing of audience, Long creating work only out of materials he could carry himself and situating them in unmarked locations known only to him. The NVA also echoes the attitude of Richard Long in the impermanence of the installation and a sensitive approach to the fragile environment within which they work, despite the scale rivalling that of Heizer’s Double Negative 1969-1970. Ecological concerns were paramount in the planning of The Storr as the NVA aimed to leave the land unaltered if not better than on their arrival. Explorations were made into ways to reduce the lasting impact on the landscape with helicopters air lifting in heavy equipment to avoid the use of tractors, the cutting of power emissions by 90% through the design of a new environmentally sensitive lightning system and rechargeable power sources, and extensive surveys ensuring that ‘footfall of the path’ was kept at a minimum. The NVA also ensured that both the people and the environment received lasting benefits from their work in the area, building a new path system upon the mountain. This lasting legacy echoes that left to the ‘Biscayne Bay Preservation Fund’ by Christo and Jean Claude following their temporary installation of Surrounded Islands between 1980 and 1983. This large-scale artwork involved the surrounding of eleven islands in the bay with 6 ½ million square feet of floating pink polypropylene for a total of two weeks. In preparation for the work the islands were cleared of material rubbish for both ecological and aesthetic reasons, an extensive survey on the native wildlife was carried out, and $100 000 was donated to assist with the future preservation of the area. Like The Storr, Surrounding Islands was a ‘grand gesture, but civil and even humble in its impermanence[16]. It is in this manner that The Store yet again mirrors the work of Long. In leaving no lasting imprint on the land the NVA merely framed the environment of the Cuillins, although in a grander, more complex and technologically dependent way, just as Long did in England of 1967, using a wooden frame to highlight a specific area on a facing hillside.

With regards to The Storr’s relation to other contemporary environmental works it is the emphasis on the balance between man and nature that binds it to others. In Modern Nature, Elrich Hill, Aberdeenshire, 2000, by Dalziel and Scullion, the artists place emphasis on the environmental changes occurring in the area by focusing on the disappearing Capercaille. As is achieved in The Storrmemories of their presence[17] are incited through imitation of the mating call of the male bird through hidden speakers. The contrast between the connotations of fertility in the call and the cold, lifeless forms upon the hill echo the problems of an increasingly urban environment. In contemporary society one can identify feelings of nostalgia for what is perceived as earlier mans closer connection to the land and a yearning for the re-establishment of this bond. The work of Anthony Gormley, in particular Another Place of 1997, again emphasises a wish to bring together man and nature, to ‘reconnect the two; forge a recognition that we are with nature, in nature, part of nature[18]; much as The Storr encourages the individual to reconnect with the environment through recognition of the intricate relationship between our heritage and the land. The involvement of such artworks with ecological concerns and of The Storr with elements of geology and cultural and natural history highlights the interdisciplinary nature of contemporary art of the land. The land is depicted for more than purely aesthetic reasons, infused with artistic, political and social resonance.

In encouraging the viewer to enter the landscape the NVA effectively severed the bonds between art and the gallery. Whilst rejecting the commoditisation of artwork and creating sculptures out in the land itself walking artists and land artists challenged the role of the gallery space but remained reliant on galleries to present both documentation of their work and elements of their experience. In completely eliminating the role of the gallery the NVA emphasised the immediacy of interaction between the individual and the work. Whilst encouraging groups to undertake a journey of set route and length much like a pilgrimage, The Storr can also be seen as the inevitable ultimate extension of the representation of landscape other mediums. Instead of bringing a depiction of a scene to the viewer, the viewer is transported to the scene to there experience the manipulated landscape in the manner intended by the artist. Moments of transcendence inevitably created by the sublime obscurity of darkness and the huge height of the summit when reached after the difficult ascent also allowed ‘each person to move through the same physical territory, yet experience it from radically different perspectives[19] thus remaining true to the traditionally solitary experience one has in the mountains and ensuring that ‘one’s own memories, emotions and spirituality have room to connect[20]. On reaching the summit the individual is again confronted with the intricate balance between man and nature. Looking back one witnesses the rest of the group trailing along the path behind as a ‘fragile thread of flickering energy[21]’, passing momentarily through an elusive landscape shadowed in darkness much as humanity exists in a world beyond our full comprehension. The view across the neighbouring islands seen from the ‘Old Man’ itself was in turn framed by thirty square miles of light installations representing fallen stars dispersed amongst distant hills. When combined with the haunting melody performed by a Gaelic singer on a distant summit, the viewer was confronted by unavoidable reflections on mortality and feelings of nostalgia for a forgotten past.

In the creation of The Storr; Unfolding Landscape the NVA focuses primarily on re-establishing the age-old connections between humanity and the natural environment with particular emphasis on the Gaelic culture of the Isle of Skye. Through a variety of means the work brings to life the heritage of the site and encourages the individual to recognise their position within a world of multiple of cultural, historic and geological forces. The Storr finds itself positioned within a variety of interactions between art and the landscape, drawing upon the sentiment of Romantic approaches, the sensitivity inherent within contemporary attitudes towards the environment and the Walking Art of artists such as Richard Long, and the grand interventions of American land art. Its mission is to take people on (a journey)…whether physical, emotional or intellectual…(and to create an environment) in which people feel inspired to let go of the familiar and open up to new ways of seeing[22]. In short the work re-presents the landscape of the Cuillins to force recognition of the reality of existence in relation to our immediate surroundings and the endless expanse of time.

Art in the Land, A Critical anthology of Environmental Art, Alan Sonfist, E.P Duttin Inc., New York, 1983

Earthworks and Beyond, Contemporary art in the Landscape, John Beardsley, Abbeville Press Publishers, New York, 2006

Land Art, Ben Tufnell, Tate Publishing, London, 2006

Landscape, Natural Beauty and the Arts, Edited by Salim Kemal and Ivan Gaskell, Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and the Arts, Mass., 1993

Mountains of the Mind, A History of Fascination, Robert Macfarlane, Granta Books, London, 2003

The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Compiled and Edited by Angus Farquhar, Luath Press Ltd, Edinburgh, 2005

Transforming Nature: Art and Landscape, John Haldane, The Art Book, 2003

AH 4146


3462 WORDS

[1] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p15

[2] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p11

[3] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p114

[4] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p135

[5] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p117

[6] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p11

[7] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p95

[8] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p11

[9] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p118

[10] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p86

[11] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p71

[12] Art in the Land, A Critical anthology of Environmental Art, Alan Sonfist, 1983, p75

[13] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p103

[14] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p103

[15] Art in the Land, A Critical anthology of Environmental Art, Alan Sonfist, 1983, p261

[16] Earthworks and Beyond, Contemporary art in the Landscape, John Beardsley, 2006, p120

[17] Land Art, Ben Tufnell, 2006, p121

[18] Land Art, Ben Tufnell, 2006, p133

[19] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p11

[20] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p16

[21] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p115

[22] The Storr, Unfolding Landscap; new Perspectives on Scotlands Land and Culture, Angus Farquhar, 2005, p144

Week Ten: Hamish Fulton

An exploration of Hamish Fulton's Scottish works.

Click here to see Fulton's official website.

Discuss Hamish Fulton’s Scottish subjects

Jack Davis

The work of Hamish Fulton during his career has consisted of many walks over many countries and continents. He has covered over 12,000 miles during his walking life following all kinds of scenery and produced many works that he has gained from the experience[1]. The artist has an unprecedented appreciation for nature and has dedicated his life to walking. Hamish Futon first came to prominence in the 1970’s with a series of shows and influential group exhibitions such as Information at the Museum of Modern Art[2]. The artist feels passionately about the condition of the planet and makes a conscious attempt to create a response to the current environmental situation. In an indirect manner Fulton encourages his viewer to consider their own position and relationship within nature. The artist lays great emphasis on the affects walking has on the individual and the responses that occur, as the artist himself states;

“It is about an attempt at being ‘broken down’ mentally and physically – with the desire to ‘flow’ inside a rhythm of walking – to experience a temporary state of euphoria, a blending of my mind with the outside world of nature”[3].

The works that he has produced over his career has changed in style however the principles that he attempts to manifest have remained. It is important to try and analyse the work of Hamish Fulton in relation to other ‘Walking artists’ and understand the origins and influences on his work. Fulton’s Scottish subjects give a clear example of the artists work as the Cairngorms, his favoured Scottish area, have optimised his work and the beliefs that he puts across.

The artistic education of Hamish Fulton was conventional as he was to attend the highest quality schools. Firstly he studied at the Hammersmith School of art between 1964-5, then at St Martin’s School of Art between 1966-8 and finally at the Royal College of Art from 1968-9. These years were to be where his artistic inspiration was to be formed and shape the direction of his work. It was during these years that Fulton began to understand new methods of art, particularly sculpture, and the relationship it had with landscape. The artist began to believe that the best quality within art could be ‘how you view life’ rather than a produced object. These beliefs were taken further as he travelled, where he was able to experience different forms of landscape and the culture that lay within them. In 1968 and then again in 1969 Fulton travelled to America, and it was during these journeys that he began to realise his vision for his art work. The artist had had a long held interest in the lives of the plains Indians and the ways in which Native American life embodied a spiritual and symbolic relationship with nature, and stressed the importance of first-hand experience[4]. From here the artist realised the importance of the walk as the primary source as he himself states – “No Walk No Work[5]. For much of the artist’s life he has become increasingly frustrated by the attitude of the West as it has taken nature for granted and this can be easily seen within the artists work[6]. Fulton takes inspiration from the nature he sees during his walks and manifests them into an exhibition piece, as Lucy R. Lippard sates “the idea is paramount and the material form is secondary, lightweight, ephemeral, cheap, unpretentious and/or ‘dematerialized’”[7]. The walks are always different however Fulton is always comparing his walks, as it is the walk that is the crucial factor not the final piece. As his career has go on Fulton has become increasingly concerned with the effects of the walk on both the mental and physical experiences. He has focused on attempting to truly challenge himself and note the experience and emotions that he receives, as his work “No talking for Seven days”. This concern for the mental and physical state is shown in the wide-ranging walks that he has up taken through many different terrains and distances. He follows these walks documenting his thoughts and objects he sees and then manifests then into his finished work. The artist attempts to leave no trace of his journey on the landscape, a belief that totally contrasts with the work of Land artists such as Robert Smithson and Richard Long. However during his walks Fulton pays much attention to the textures that surround him touching objects as he sees them, for instance “Touching Boulders by Hand” in Portugal 1994[8]. The walk becomes a spiritual experience that the artist is subjected to and interprets his own individual response. The artists’ work gives only a snap shot of this experience for the viewer, as the walk is the primary source of the work, rather than the finished exhibition piece, contrasting to the work of Smithson and De Maria, who’s work “Spiral Jetty” and “The Lightening Field”. Instead of altering the terrain that he crosses, Fulton merely takes a few photographs and writes down a few key words and phrases in his diary. Fulton rejects the suggestion that he is a photographer and uses photos sparingly to incorporate into his work. By only choosing a very select number of images Fulton is able to demonstrate very specific moments of his walk that he conveys to his viewers.

Hamish Fulton has found much inspiration in the land of Scotland and this has been a focal point for many of his walks and exhibitions. This fondness may have much to do with the relative wilderness qualities that the northern areas of Scotland possess, that have similarities to the great open plains of Canada and the United States of America. The main area of interest for Fulton is the area known as the Cairngorms, situated in the central highlands of Scotland that lie between the Dee and the Spey. The area is of great beauty with wide-ranging wildlife and geographical features such as wild land, moorlands, forests, rivers, lochs and glens[9]. The Cairngorms possess some of the most mountainous scenes in the British Isles as it has the second highest summit in the British Isles, Ben Macdhui at 4296 ft[10]. Despite not having the highest peak the Cairngorms, named after one peak of the same name, it is the only British mountain range to have four hills lying close together and each reaching over 4,000ft[11]. The Cairngorms have been a popular area for walkers, climbers, and hunters and since the 1930’s skiers. The area has now become the newest national park in Britain, declared in 2003[12], to protect its beauty and maintain the high quality conditions of the land. The area is if of fascination to many as the Cairngorms possesses the largest artic wilderness in the British Isles with wide ranging forms of flora and fauna covering an area 3800 sq kilometres[13]. However due to the beauty of the area it has encountered problems over the years. As popularity grows this means that greater and greater numbers of people are visiting the area therefore potentially damaging the area, as an estimated 500,000 people visited the park last year. Tourism has been a growing factor in the Cairngorms as it has been suggested that 80% of the parks income comes from tourism[14]. There has been many issues involving skiing, as there has been much objection to the increased number of chair lifts that have been installed damaging the wildlife and its surroundings. The high peaks and often-cold weather has encouraged many skiers to come to the Cairngorms and this has led to environmental issues within the park and its surroundings.

This destruction of such a beautiful area seems to have been noticed by Fulton as his works from the area clearly indicate his intent to make his views reconsider their stance on nature. Despite not claiming to be an environmentalist himself[15], Fulton has clearly shown deep concern for the treatment of the Landscape and the ever-growing effects of urban life. The Cairngorms enable walkers to visit a wide-ranging landscape from flatter plains to challenging rock climbs that appeal to all forms of outdoor enthusiasts.

The Cairngorms have been an area that Fulton has enjoyed and appreciated through his career and dedicated much time to walking within it. From these walks that he has done, Fulton has created several works of art to share his experiences. It is important to understand that the walk is the art; therefore Fulton is the only one, who can feel the emotions and memories of the selected walk. He has produced different works of his experiences in Scotland from photographic representation, to photographs with accompanying text and just text works. His image “Life of a River Rock” is an example of a selected photograph that attempts to convey the artist’s feelings during the walk;

My art is about specific places and particular events that are not present in the gallery. The given information is minimal. My hope is that the viewer will create a feeling, an impression in his or her own mind based on whatever my art can provide.”

This black and white image shows the beauty and serenity of the Cairngorms, depicting only his feelings at that specific point. This image shows a continuation of the English Landscape tradition, primarily the Romantic tradition, within his work however it seems clear there are other influences involved. This work clearly has aspects of the romantic tradition, embracing the landscape and its surroundings, but also shows Fulton’s new desire to emphasise walking as an art itself with a powerful statement concerning the world’s environmental issues. Fulton further explores his idea of the walk being the art itself and produced a piece named “Geese Flying South” from the Cairngorms in September 1990. This work is a produced totally in text to explain his views and feelings during his seven day wandering walk in the Cairngorms. The image describes, through carefully selected words, what occurred during his walk with great emphasis on the impact of wildlife. The text explains the process of his walk, the ever growing importance of counting during his walks, with the viewer reading down the list of words; as if flying south. Fulton’s choice of words, all adjectives, are vital in attempting to describe his walk and the specific items that he felt important to convey. This work, despite getting more abstract as his work has progressed, shows his early influences that have affected his work. The use of words in his image can be seen as an appreciation of the Japanese Haiku poets[16], as an opportunity to convey the body’s emotions through different outlets. As previously mentioned the concept of counting and measuring time have played an increasingly important role within the artist walking art. This can be understood from his time in America where the native Indian used such methods as navigation systems over their landscape.

Throughout his career as an artist Hamish Fulton has been labelled many different things, such as a sculptor, photographer, as landscape art and as poet. Despite this the artist has stated clearly that he is a ‘Walking Artist’ saying, - “My art form is the short journey – made by walking in the Landscape[17]. It is clear when looking at Fulton’s work, especially his work from the Cairngorms, that his work contrasts to many that surround him, although the primary influences may be similar. The fact that Fulton chooses to leave nature untouched clearly removes himself from the label ‘Land Artist’ such as Smithson. His work appears to follow the thoughts of an environmentalist, with great concern for the environment, an issue that is often heavily related to the issues of skiing in the Cairngorms. Fulton’s work does however appear to be heavily indebted to the romantic traditions, despite the artist never supporting this claim. His works, and personal thoughts, are focused on the importance and beauty of nature and a quintessentially English feel, a theme that Gilpin dedicated his life to. This support and care for his surroundings appears to be mirrored in the work of Constable and Turner during the romantic period. It becomes crucial at this point to focus on the walk and the role it has on the artist himself and then the final art work, as Andrew Wilson states; “It is only by focusing on Fulton’s primary work – the walks – as marked by his artworks, that its conceptual power, richness and fragility can be recognised[18]. It seems that Fulton is creating an almost absolute rejection of produced objects and changing the mind set of the viewer to appreciating nature first and art second

The many walks Hamish Fulton has completed suggest his passion and dedication to the subject of ‘Walking Art’. The artist has dedicated his life to his walking and from this created many exhibitions stating his emotions. The work, though ranging in forms, all comply with the artist’s beliefs and artistic expression as he says;

“Nature is the source of my art and the art is a form of passive protest against the dominance of urban life. I’m curious about the wilderness not the metropolis.[19]"

Fulton has produced his own very distinctive works that place him within the bracket of a ‘Walking Artist’. Despite his clear difference from his contemporaries Fulton has created a method of artistic expression through the medium of walking. It is important to appreciated Fulton’s firm belief of leaving no trace within nature, where only touching objects is permitted. It is this trait that I believe Fulton has a much closer bond with the environmentalist that he would admit. Fulton clearly has a close connection to the English romantic tradition, with his emphasis on embracing the landscape and depicting the emotions it can create within the individual. It does appear that Fulton often contradicts himself while explaining his work and thoughts. It appears that Fulton desires to be a revolutionary and unique artist despite having many links with other art movements and theories. The fact that Fulton flies across the globe to perform these walks and exhibitions does appear to be slightly ironic considering the known impact of the aviation industry on the environment. Despite these minor flaws in the artist’s perception of himself he is always contemplating new methods of expressing the power and emotion of a walk, as the artist himself has suggested film may be the next step to share his experiences.

Alexander, H. – The Scottish Mountaineering Club Guide – The Cairngormspublished by The Scottish Mountaineering Club Synod Hall, Edinburgh, 1950
Baker, A. – Geography and History: Bridging the Divide, Cambridge University Press, 2003
Bevan, R. – Hamish Fulton. Mexico City in the Burlington Magazine, Vol. 132, No.1047. (Jun 1990), pp. 440-441
Nature Conservancy Council. – Ethics for Environmentalists, 2007
Gordon, S, - The Cairngorm Hills of Scotland, published by Cassell and Company LTD, London, 1925
Haldane, J. – Barry Flanagan and Hamish Fulton, London and New York in the Burlington Magazine, Vol. 140, No. 1149. (Dec 1998), pp. 839-840
Tufnell, B. – Land Art – Tate Publishing, London, 2006
Tufnell, B. – Walking Journey – Tate Publishing,
London, 2002

Internet Resources

[1] Walks made in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, Italy,

Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Lapland, Iceland, Germany, The Netherlands,

Spain, Portugal, USA, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Nepal, Bolivia, India, Australia, Japan, Argentina, Tibet.

[2] Tufnell, B. – Walking Journey, p. 16

[3] Tufnell, B. – Walking Journey, p. 27

[4] Tufnell, B. – Land Art, p. 74 - 75

[5] Tufnell, B. – Land Art, p. 75

[6] Tufnell, B. – Walking Journey, p. 23

[7] Tufnell, B. – Walking Journey, p. 23

[8] Tufnell, B. – Land Art, p. 77


[10] Alexander, H. – The Scottish Mountaineering Club Guide, The Cairngorms, p. 2

[11] Gordon, S. – The Cairngorm Hills of Scotland, p.2




[15] Nature Conservancy Council. – Ethics for Environmentalists, pp. 9-10


[17] Tufnell, B. – Walking Journey, p. 21

[18] Tufnell, B. – Walking Journey, p. 22

[19] - quote taken from View, Oakland, CA 1981

Week Nine: Environment and ecological aesthetics

Walking Art and Environmental Ethics:

Walking the Line Between Interpretation and Intention

Sarah Bertness

In the mid-twentieth century modern artists were pushing the historical boundaries of art, trying to produce new and innovative interpretations of traditional subjects. Landscape art was re-interpreted in abstract and surreal ways by the likes of Paul Nash and Paul Delvaux. Though these artists were certainly original in their depictions of landscape, they still used the traditional method of painting. It was not until the late 1960s when a new and truly innovative group of artists would interpret landscape in a radical way that questioned the definition of art itself. Dubbed Earthworks, or Land Art, these works of art were the landscape itself, manipulated in different ways by the artist. Right from the start, art critics attempted to assess the meaning of these works and attribute them to the contemporary American social and political climate. The 1960s were an era when attitudes towards the environment shifted from reactive to proactive. It was this environmental movement and the trend of eco-awareness during the years when Land Art and Walking Art emerged that led many critics to draw their own conclusions as to the artist’s intentions. But did these works really have a political message? Or was there a division between critics’ interpretations and the artists’ intentions?

Ecological issues were pushed to the forefront of public attention following the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, excerpts from which were published in the New Yorker in June of that same year.[1] In the book, Carson, a biologist by profession, spoke of the ecological dangers of DDT chemicals and the alarming degree of negative human impact on the environment. The controversy raised by the publication increased environmental awareness across the country and sparked-off the passing of legislation and founding of many environmental protection bodies. Groups such as the Sierra Club used art to convey their message of environmental protection, exemplified in their 1963 series of coffee table books featuring photographs of picturesque wilderness areas[2]. In September of the following year, the US Senate adopted the Wilderness Act, primarily focused on preserving the undisturbed plains in the West, an area which would soon serve as a setting for the works of Michael Heizer, Robert Morris, Walter De Maria and Robert Smithson, among others. Then, on the first of January, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act, aiming “to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony”[3]. Two days prior Robert Morris’ Spaces exhibition opened in the Museum of Modern Art, composed of stainless steel vats filled with soil and planted Norwegian spruces[4]. To many the exhibit reflected the political climate of the time. Four months later, on April 22nd of that year, Earth Day was founded, further shifting public attention to environmental protection and care.

The timing of these works alone was enough for critics, in the words of Ben Tufnell, to interpret Land Art as “an art form of environmental consciousness and protest”[5]. These eco-friendly interpretations were further supported when the Land artists began taking part in so-called land reclamation projects across the United States. The land reclamation movement aimed to ecologically reclaim areas that had been stripped bare by mining operations, turning them into places of public recreation, as well as giving them a newfound aesthetic value. Smithson, Heizer and Morris all wrote proposals to both the mining companies and government councils attempting to secure new commissions for works on ecologically destroyed sites. In a letter to the President of the American Mining Congress, seeking approval for a reclamation project in Ohio, Smithson wrote:

“Our new ecological awareness indicates that industrial production can no longer remain blind to the visual landscape. Earth art could become a visual resource that mediates between ecology and industry. Current land reclamation projects lack sufficient imagination to catch the public eye…Many ecologists tend to see the landscape through nineteenth-century eyes, while many industrialists see nothing but profits.”[6]

Smithson spoke of a “new consciousness” that could develop through land reclamation projects such as his Tailing Pond, Creede, Colorado of 1973 and Robert Morris’ 1979 Seattle land reclamation work, commissioned as a response to the 1977 federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act[7]. Smithson’s aforementioned work consisted of residue from the coal ore manipulated into tailings taking a semi-circular form. Morris’ work was the site of a former industrial gravel pit, the carved out shape of which remains but is planted over with rye grass and cut off tree stumps[8]. The reclamation projects tended to reflect the sites’ traumatic pasts, emphasizing the need for global eradication of such environmental destruction. They did not attempt to return the land to what it once had been, reflecting the inability of many effects of ecological destruction to be reversed, but rather created an artificial but pleasingly aesthetic landscape.

Critics were forced to reassess their interpretations of these land reclamation projects and the opinion that the Land Artists had gone green when Robert Morris wrote in 1980 that the projects had “a potential sponsorship in millions of dollars and a possible location over hundreds of thousands of acres throughout the country”[9]. Five years later, when Michael Heizer was commissioned by the Illinois Abandoned Mined Lands Reclamation Council to complete a project in Ottawa, Illinois, he denied that the work was in any way environmentalist in nature. Heizer is quoted as saying: “I don’t support reclamation art sculpture projects. This is strictly art. I love mining sites.”[10] Heizer sculpted the former strip-mine site into large earth mounds, called tumulis, which took the shape of animal effigies, as the Native Americans had done many years past[11]. The work, Effigy Tumuli, seemed to have an idyllic pastoral quality and the Native American inspiration could easily be interpreted as a message of a ‘back to the land’ reverence towards the earth. But Heizer’s comments undermine these interpretations. Heizer voices his environmental apathy, leading the viewer to question all of the Land Artists’ true intentions behind the reclamation projects. Following suit from Morris’ statement, perhaps the artists were simply taking advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves. Given the Land Artists’ fascination with bleak and scarred sites, the cost of large spaces of land with which to work, and the artists’ ambivalence feelings, one must wonder whether the land reclamation projects were indeed political statements, or strictly artistic commissions. Land reclamation works are the most obvious examples of “art of environmental protest and awareness,” but the artists remain indifferent to these protests and awareness messages[12]. Herein lies the contradiction between interpretation and intention.

Once recognizing this contradiction with reference to the land reclamation works, the meaning of the Land Artists’ other works becomes even more difficult to distinguish. Some pieces, Heizer’s Double Negative for example, have been controversial from the start due to their ecological impact. Heizer’s 1969 artwork in Mormon Mesa, Nevada consists of two parallel scores into the earth, creating a deep void that extends for 457 meters[13]. Though the sublimity of the massive trench in the desert in undeniable, it is difficult to romanticize Heizer’s works when one considers the process of the art. In the creation of Double Negative, 224,000 tons of sandstone were cleared with dynamite and bulldozers from the near 90 acres of purchased land. Images of Heizer with the work show him in Stetsons and a cowboy hat, bulldozers nearby. The image of the cowboy clearing out the land is far from the image of a tree hugger. However, the sensation generated by the environmental movement led critic Phil Leider to romanticize Double Negative, stating that “the piece was huge, but its scale was not. It took its place in nature in the most modest and unassuming manner, the quiet participation of a manmade shape in a particular configuration of valley, ravine, mesa and sky” [14]. Heizer has been consistent in his denial of an environmental message behind his work. Though Double Negative, Complex One and other Heizer works are set in the West, the vast wilderness of the United States that was an area of specific importance to the 1960s environmental protection movement, Heizer refutes any claim of use of the land for its romantic connotations. To Heizer, the earth provides a blank canvas for his work and the plains in the West are places where land is cheap and the materials that he uses, sand, sludge and stone, are prevalent. His work is about size, scope and impact, not the preservation of nature.

Robert Smithson’s intentions are not as simple to comprehend as Heizer’s. In a 1973 interview with Moira Roth, Smithson states that ecological morality and ethics are indeed a part of his work, however many critics tend to associate him with an apathetic view similar to Heizer. This is likely due to the fact that his works seem to be equally as disruptive to the environment as Heizer’s. They share similar aspects of scale and ownership. Works like 1969’s Asphalt Rundown and 1970’s Spiral Jetty modify the landscape in ways that some have seen as ecologically damaging. Further, permission to create a work which Smithson proposed in 1969 involving broken glass on a Vancouver island was denied due to fears for the area’s wildlife[15]. However in interviews Smithson seems genuine in his intentions behind land reclamation works, speaking of a new social consciousness which could be achieved by giving aesthetic value to these forgotten lands[16]. Smithson also understood the ability of his artworks to bring public focus to what he referred to as “wilderness nostalgia” [17]. Although Smithson was focused first and foremost on the artistic statement of his works, he also acknowledged and embraced their environmental statements. Though his career was cut devastatingly short, the proposal for Floating Island to Travel Around Manhattan Island suggested that Smithson’s works were evolving into more overtly political eco-friendly statements. The Floating Island, which was completed posthumously in 2001, echoed Robert Morris’ Spaces exhibition in its’ artificial placement of lush greenery in an area where there none. The work therefore reminded the viewers of what was missing from Manhattan Island, preaching a message of wilderness nostalgia and protection. So although Smithson’s works are often grouped with Heizer’s, his intentions were far more eco-friendly and environmentalist in nature.

While Smithson and Heizer were producing works in remote areas of the United States, across the Atlantic British artists Richard Long and Hamish Fulton were completing innovative landscape works that reflected a different cultural attitude towards landscape. Rather than creating sculpture in the landscape and having the landscape thus become the work, Long and Fulton would take walks and then represent these walks in a visual way to viewers in the gallery. The walks themselves were the work of art. This reflected both the British Romantic treatment of landscape art, exemplified by J.M.W. Turner, and the nineteenth century British tradition of walking the countryside as a means of what Michael Auping refers to as a “communion with the fundamental entities of nature”[18]. Both Long and Fulton’s artworks share a romantic and reverent quality. They reflect upon man’s personal relationship with nature through the medium of walking. While the American Land Artists’ works shared qualities of permanence, ownership and man manipulating nature, Long and Fulton’s works were, in contrast, temporary, without ownership and about man admiring nature.

As a student at St. Martin’s, Richard Long demonstrated an interest in revitalizing the subject of landscape. Long stated that he “had a very strong feeling that art could embrace so many more things than it was at the time, that it could be about things like grass and clouds and water, natural phenomena, rather than just the slightly sterile academic, almost mannerism of welding bits of metal together, or using plaster, or the general kind of works at that time”[19]. In 1967 Long produced a simple but radical artwork titled A Line Made By Walking. To create the work, Long had walked back and forth in a straight line in the English countryside until his footprints created a visible path through the grass. The work epitomized the artist interacting with nature since the artwork was his experience itself. By walking the countryside as art, Long conveyed a message of a celebration of and reverence towards nature. In expressing his experience with the landscape to the viewer, by documenting his walk with a photograph which would hang in the gallery, Long conveyed his own personal relationship with the landscape. Ben Tufnell describes as this relationship which is present in all of Richard Long’s works as one of “respect, wonder and curiosity”[20]. In a most understated and unspoken way, Long advocated a respect of the environment. His body of works have remained to present day very rarely intrusive upon the landscape. Suzaan Boettger writes that Long’s most destructive piece is a 1968 artwork in which he removed daisy flower heads over two crossing paths, forming an X in the landscape[21]. In other works, such as 1972’s A Circle in the Andes or 1977’s Circle in Alaska, Long would order stones or branches from the sites into simple forms during his walk. When removing these materials for use in a gallery display, Long always makes sure to take only that which he needs and can carry[22]. His impact on the environments in which he works is therefore both respectful and ecologically sound. In his own words, Long’s work was and remains “ almost invisible, or made only by walking, or (using) the land in a free way, without the need for possession or permanence”[23].

Long’s fellow St. Martin’s classmate, Hamish Fulton, preaches a similar artistic code of conduct. Fulton very poignantly celebrates a first-hand solitary experience with nature and then expresses this experience to viewers in the gallery by displaying a combination of photographs and text. His message of environmental respect and non-interference is taken a step further than Long’s, abiding by the wilderness motto “Leave No Trace” when completing his works of art[24]. Fulton often makes political statement in his work, bearing witness to the landscape within which he is walking. In To Build is to Destroy. No Man-Made Obstacles for Winter Winds, 14 Seven Day Walks, Cairngorms, Scotland, a series of walks completed from 1985 to 1989, Fulton walks a snow-covered mountainous area of wilderness that was being considered as a site for a new ski-lift[25]. His work thus questions man’s impact on nature and conveys a message of environmental protection. Fulton’s works of walking art promote a love and respect of landscape. Fulton states, “The physical involvement of walking creates a receptiveness to the landscape. I walk on the land to be woven into nature”[26].

Land and Walking Art emerged in the midst of the 1960s environmentalist movement, leading many critics to draw their own conclusions about the intentions of the artists. These eco-friendly and environmentally protectionist interpretations were correct in some cases and almost entirely unintended in others. While many of the Land Artists involved themselves in land reclamation projects, it seems that Smithson was the only one who truly believed in them. Michael Heizer seems to just have an interest with natural materials and open spaces. The Land Artists’ attitudes towards the environment differed greatly from that of their British counterparts, the Walking Artists. This dichotomy seen in their works, between permanence and impermanence, and ownership and communality, reflects their environmental views. The walking artists revere nature. Their art is about a personal respect and enjoyment of the environment, and sharing this respect and enjoyment with others.


Auping, Michael. “Earth Art: A Study in Ecological Politics.” In Alan Sonfist (Ed.).

Art in the Land: A Critical Anthology of Environmental Art. E.P. Dutton, Inc.:

New York. 1983.

Baker, Elizabeth C. “Artworks on the Land.” In Alan Sonfist (Ed.). Art in the Land: A

Critical Anthology of Environmental Art. E.P. Dutton, Inc.: New York. 1983.

Boettger, Suzaan (Ed.). Earthworks: Art and the Landscape of the Sixties. University of

California Press: Berkeley, Los Angeles, London. 2002.

Friedman, Kenneth S. “Words on the Environment.” In Alan Sonfist (Ed.). Art in the

Land: A Critical Anthology of Environmental Art. E.P. Dutton, Inc.: New York.


Tiberghien, Gilles A. Land Art. Princeton Architectural Press: New York. 1995.

Tsai, Eugenie (Ed.) with Cornelia Butler. Robert Smithson. University of California

Press: Berkeley, Los Angeles and London. 2004.

Tufnell, Ben. Land Art. Tate Publishing: Millbank, London. 2006.

[1] Boettger, Suzaan (Ed.), Earthworks: Art and the Landscape of the Sixties, Pp. 39-40, University of California Press: Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, (2002)

[2] Boettger, Earthworks, P. 40.

[3] David Lowenthal in Boettger, Earthworks. P. 219.

[4] Boettger, Earthworks, P. 219.

[5] Tufnell, Ben. Land Art, p.13, Tate Publishing: Millbank, London, (2006)

[6] Smithson, Robert in Boettger, Earthworks, Pp. 231-2.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Tufnell, Land Art, Pp. 98-99.

[9] Morris, Robert, Quoted in Tufnell, Land Art., P. 97.

[10] Heizer, Michael, Quoted in Tufnell, Land Art, P. 140.

[11] Boettger, Earthworks, P. 240.

[12] Tufnell. Land Art, P. 13.

[13] Ibid., P. 51.

[14] Boettger. Earthworks, P. 219.

[15] Auping, Michael, “Earth Art: A Study in Ecological Politics”, In Alan Sonfist (Ed.),

Art in the Land: A Critical Anthology of Environmental Art. P. 96, E.P. Dutton, Inc.: New York, (1983)

[16] Boettger, Earthworks, Pp. 231-33.

[17] Smithson, Robert, from Moira Roth, “An Interview with Robert Smithson (1973)”, In Eugenie Tsai (Ed.) with Cornelia Butler, Robert Smithson, P. 88, University of California Press: Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, (2004)

[18] Auping, “Earth Art”, In Sonfist, Art in the Land, P. 99.

[19] Tufnell, Land Art, P. 23.

[20] Ibid., P. 31.

[21] Boettger, Earthworks, P.172.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Long, Richard, In Boettger, Earthworks, P.172.

[24] Tufnell, Land Art, Pp. 76-77.

[25] Ibid., P. 107.

[26] Ibid., P.76.