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2004 - written for Topos the students' magazine of Landscape, Planning
land art of the University of Wageningen the Netherlands
"Art in the landscape is public in the best sense of the word. It reaches far more people than the usual works that hang in living rooms or museums. Landscapes and urban open spaces belong to us all, and landscape projects are works of art that can be experienced by everyone, every day. Moreover, projects that include trees are able to grow with the people and age with them.
Land art is as old as humanity, it's only recently that we call it art. Perhaps the same motives played a role in prehistoric times as they do in present day interventions in the landscape. Religion and art have a common goal necessitating an environment for ritual. Where religion needed to evoke the spiritual emotion, art bases its interpretation on intellectual, but also intuitive behavior. In the present time, art has been defined to such an extent that it has been rationalized, analyzed and categorized.
Land art distinguishes itself from its surroundings as an artifact differs from a natural rock. Its surroundings are preferably a natural setting. Human interaction draws attention to a new perception of an environment. Sadly, most human dealings with nature disregard and destroy it.
Characteristic for land art is, in my opinion, the use of local materials and rearranging them in such a way that a new, contemplated situation results. Introducing foreign materials or objects would change the notion of land art. Pouring asphalt down a hill does not fit in this concept.
Land art in a city would lose its complementary function.
Is there a difference in approach between a landscape architect and an artist who designs an environment en plein air?
An architect, as far as I know, designs places for people to use, mainly to occupy and secondly as a visual experience. Functionality is the main goal. For the artist, on the other hand, it is all about feeling and sensation, evocation, or even purely visual. The actual possibility of entering the space he creates is not necessarily a requirement; to the contrary, the artist can control the accessibility itself.
It is all about the function of a landscaped environment. Land art is the ultimate landscape design as far as it is not made to be used. Its function is purely visual and intellectual, only design. This gives the artist more freedom because the landscape designer has his directives: such as a playing area for children, public lighting or parking space.
The difference between public art and land art
Whenever we encounter art along our highways, we see more or less conventional site specific, public art: enlarged sculptures or even paintings, which have been elongated to match the length of the road. This is not an optimal use of this new opportunity for art to extend its frontiers.
In 1983, I was one of the sculptors asked by the National Road and Transport Department of Holland to do a study on art and the highway. Highway A15 was the object of study. Instead of working out an incident or long-drawn-out artworks alongside the road, I found that comparing it to a score in music would be the only appropriate thing to do. The moving observer would witness the events when they happened. I submitted various suggestions, using materials and natural elements from the surroundings, as to how this could be done on a scale which matches that of a highway in a landscape. Nevertheless, the committee chose for the conventional sculptural solution.
Towards making land art
I never set out to change my environment into art; it would have frightened me to know beforehand that this might ever happen. Sculpture itself was a large enough area for me. At that time, I was not too concerned about the difference between Land art, environmental art and landscape design. The way I see it now is that land art is a subdivision of environmental art, which can be done in a natural, as well as in an urban setting. Landscape design does not have to be art, although there are examples where the result justifies this classification.
As far as my work is concerned, I became aware, coming back from America, that in the Dutch landscape I would have to take a different approach when practicing Landscape design. As the landscape clearly bears the mark of man's ordering hand, more than in a "natural" situation, where an object of art would immediately be obvious.
I would have to relate my work to other designed forms and they would have to be extremely forceful in character if it were to gain the same evocation as in a natural setting. I came to the conclusion that this could be achieved through greater analysis of scale.
A project that shows this well is the bridge over the Dirksland Canal.
The bridge is constructed of elementary forms perpendicular to each other. An orthogonal formation of concrete planes forms the bridge in such a way that it detaches itself from the landscape and becomes an entity; a landmark rather than a conventional bridge. The color emphasized the separate planes. I also planted parallel rows of Italian poplars at a sharp angle to the road that crosses the bridge, creating an interesting time and space effect for passing motorists. Setting up rows of trees parallel to the highway, in comparison, would only have accentuated its invasion of the countryside. As it is now, it is the bridge, which is to stand out and provide the landscape with an enriching element.
My work is geometrically abstract, and it is clear that mathematics and a conceptual approach play an important role in it. I study delineation of form, from the inside outwards: transdimensionally.
Geometrical construction is for me a way of showing something is man-made, which I believe, is a primary characteristic of art. Some of my projects have a conceptual aspect - for instance Pieter Janszoon Saenredam Project, or Merging Grids, homage to Cor Noltée. Together with this post-impressionists, who died more than twenty years ago, I used to paint in the wetlands called the Biesbos.
An example of a project in which you can see this principle back is my Biesbos Project. In 1991, I initiated and participated in a symposium in this area. In an existing osier bed, I planted four-meter long willow rods in a stringent system of squares. The title of this work refers to the incongruity between my contribution and the original arrangement of the randomly planted original willows. I accentuated my grid by peeling the bark off the tops of the newly planted branches leaving about half the length. Below the peeled part new branches grew. Eventually the geometrically perfect grid will merge with the random one, and the result will be almost invisible.
Land art is not a movement and it does not necessarily have to be found in the landscape. Neither is land art a thing of the present; any past man-made change of the environment can have the same right to this title as those works that were intended to be land art."
Lucien den Arend
Biography Author (1)
The artistic development of Lucien den Arend, a Dutch sculptor and artist who takes the landscape into remarkable consideration in his environmental projects, began with painting from nature or even perhaps with the shelters he made himself of flexible willow rods as a child. On turning to sculpture in the sixties, he not only made objects out of bronze, steel and other classical materials but also began to incorporate elements that he found in his immediate surroundings in his work, leading on to a development towards his present day landscape projects.
The years that den Arend spent in the USA as a child and student helped him gain a distanced approach to The Netherlands, his native country, and enabled him to recognize the particular character and potential of its landscape and traditions.
Unlike town and open space planners, den Arend does not seek to create interesting or beneficial effects with the natural elements he uses; rather his main concern is with evoking the unexpected, and thus he gives hills, shrub plantings, reservoirs and canals the form of curves, semicircles, squares, lines and grids an exercise in practical geometry.
His Pieter Janszoon Saenredam Project in the town of Barendrecht is as transitional in character as the Dutch osier cultivation itself, where the pollard willows are replaced when they fall apart once they get old
Some of his projects seem to have been inspired by constructive principles and it is no coincidence that one of his most spectacular objects, semicircular earthwork is named Homage to El Lissitzky. Moreover, a bridge that den Arend erected over stands like a constructivist composition in the landscape, as was indeed his intention.
(1) Extract from Topos European Landscape Magazine, number 3H1993, 'Lucien den Arend: Landscape as Project' Ursula Poblotzki
Den Arend is now working on the realization of Europe's largest open air sculpture park, FOAM - Finnish Open Air Museum (www.foam.ws). On more than 120 hectares, not only sculptures will be exhibited; invited international artists shall make land art projects. The museum is located around Saksala ArtRadius center (www.saksala.org & www.artradius.com) in Finnish Haukivuori. Saksala Ridge, Europe's largest monolith; is covered with forests and open spaces. For numerous islands of neighboring Lake Kyyvesi den Arend plans to invite artists to make proposals.