Fall 2004

ARTS 623
Eco-Art, Environmental Sculpture, and Earthworks


09/13/2004 - 12/18/2004
Wednesday 06:00 PM - 09:00 PM

Davison Art Center 100

Early land art pioneers, environmental artists, and conceptualists such as Walter De Maria, Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson, and James Turrell, emerged in the context of Minimalism and began to manipulate natural sites directly by cutting into or reshaping the landscape. Moving beyond the concept of landscape as material, these artists, as well as many others such as Carl Andre, Nancy Holt, Robert Morris, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Alice Aycock, and Richard Serra subsequently developed a range of strategies that introduced technological materials into natural environments (or transported nature into the gallery) as a way of critiquing the very notion of the natural. In contrast to the monumentality or formal aesthetic approach of much of this work, a number of artists during the late '60s and '70s embraced a more complex ecological and sociopolitical model as the basis for environmental art work. Hans Haacke, Helen Mayer-Harrison and Newton Harrison, Alan Sonfist, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Betty Beaumont, and Joseph Beuys were among the early proponents of collaborating directly with living systems in order to promote the regeneration of polluted places.

Dutch environmental artist Jeroen van Westen has coined the term "legibility of landscape." This concept embraces nature and culture, not as binary or opposing forces, but as inseparable concepts which are constantly renegotiated through a process of "close reading" of the cultural landscape. For us, as for van Westen, this process can take the form of installations, performances, ritual activities, artist books, outdoor environmental works, ecointerventions, and strategies for reshaping the environment altogether. Thus, through a combination of direct observation and research, we will discover the "sense of place" that allows the art process to begin.

The expectations for this course hinge on students' ability to rediscover those environmental issues, wild places, or urban landscapes about which they are passionate and to explore ways in which art making can communicate that passion critically and persuasively. One anticipated outcome is the acquisition of enough research materials, in combination with time spent quietly studying a site, to enable students to explore the "legibility of landscape" as an ongoing source of day-to-day interest. At the same time, such research, say on deforestation, may trigger ideas for a contextual site work connected to a particular tree or for guiding us through an urban forest. Or perhaps concerns about river pollution would lead to the discovery of a special place along the Connecticut River where a performance piece could be staged. It might also lead to an indoor installation, bringing together recorded river sounds with collected artifacts and water samples, or the construction of an eco-artist book unfolding the process of exploration. The instructor will work with each student individually on sharpening appropriate concepts and honing the skills needed to realize the projects for whatever research project is chosen.

Readings Include: Barbara Matilsky, FRAGILE ECOLOGIES; Sue Spaid, ECOVENTION: CURRENT ART TO TRANSFORM ECOLOGIES; Lucy Lippard, THE LURE OF THE LOCAL; Derreck Jensen and George Draffan, STRANGELY LIKE WAR--THE GLOBAL ASSAULT ON FORESTS; and a collection of photocopied texts.

Students will be evaluated on the basis of a journal, class participation, three short projects/papers, and a final research paper in combination with one of the following options (collaboration with one other person in the class is possible): site-specific outdoor eco-art work, outdoor performance work, indoor site/non-site work, or a combination of the first three options.

No particular technical art skills are required for this course.

Prior to the first class meeting, students should read Derreck Jensen and George Draffan, STRANGELY LIKE WAR--THE GLOBAL ASSAULT ON FORESTS; and Barbara Matilsky, FRAGILE ECOLOGIES, pp. 3-55.

A syllabus for this course is available at:
http://www.wesleyan.edu/glsp/course-information/Fall_2004/Fall_2004_syllabi/Eco-Art GLSP.doc

Michael Pestel (BA Hartwick College; MFA Otis Art Institute) is an installation artist who has given more than 17 solo and 53 group exhibitions of sculpture, soundscape, and sitework over the past 18 years. His work and biography are viewable on his website.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:
John Beardsley, EARTHWORKS AND BEYOND, 3rd Edition (Abbeville Press), Paperback

Derek Jensen & George Draffan, STRANGELY LIKE WAR - THE GLOBAL ASSAULT ON FORESTS (Chelsea Green Publishing), Paperback

Lucy Lippard, THE LURE OF THE LOCAL (The New Press), Paperback

Sue Spaid, ECOVENTION: CURRENT ART TO TRANSFORM ECOLOGIES (Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center, 2002) Paperback


Fritjof Capra, THE WEB OF LIFE (Anchor), Paperback

Suzi Gablik, THE REENCHANTMENT OF ART (Thames and Hudson), Paperback


Jeffrey Kastner and Brian Wallis, LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL ART (Phaidon), Paperback

Lucy Lippard, OVERLAY (Pantheon Books), Paperback

Barbara Matilksy, FRAGILE ECOLOGIES (Queens Museum of Art), Paperback

Baile Oakes, SCULPTING WITH THE ENVIRONMENT (Van Nostrand Reinhold), Paperback

Eduard Pestel & Mike Mesarovic, MANKIND AT THE TURNING POINT (Dutton), Paperback


Register for Courses

Contact glsinquire@wesleyan.edu to submit comments or suggestions. 
Copyright Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, 06459