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homage to El Lissitzky, an earthwork in Flevoland
In 1984 Jean Leering* contacted me about making a proposal for a land art project for a site in the Flevopolder. Jean was chief adviser for the implementation of visual art in architecture for the Chief Government Architect in Netherlands at the time. He was acquainted with other pieces which I had made. The government architects office was building a new headquarters for the national Road and Transport Department of The Netherlands near Lelystad, which is a new city in Flevoland in the Ijsselmeer, a dammed in lake, which used to be open sea: the Zuiderzee. To make room for this new building, 17,000 cubic meters of clay from the old sea bottom had to be moved and something to be done with it. And as one percent of the building costs for government buildings was set aside for art, Jean asked me for this project.
I studied the location, which was land reclaimed from the sea. The Flevopolder is the largest artificial island in the world. Protected by dikes, it lies an average of five meters below sea level. The elevation of the location, did of course, play a role in the planning of my work. Having made various pieces in the Netherlands, I always take the natural aspects of locations into account. Such as, in the case of that country, the groundwater level, the presence of dikes and other specific characteristics of the specific environment.
There was a semicircular area on the inside the straight stretch of the test circuit – across from the main building - reserved for vehicle sound/noise tests. The area in back of that was mine to do with as I pleased; so I made a number of sketches which Jean and I discussed. My first thoughts were to make a number of concentric furrows, echoing those of the surrounding farmland, but with no manifest reference to them. They would be perfect parallel prisms of the same height, bent around the semicircular area. But with 17,000 cubic meters it would be possible to rise above the height of the old sea level of the Zuiderzee. I did not really want to make a thematic or symbolic reference to the historic situation - nor too significant, because I find there must be room for interpretation. Just knowing that I could make an “island” was enough to motivate me.
In my sculptural work I work with the transition from two dimensional shape to three dimensional form. Already in my first sculptures, I wanted the form of the surface to result from the movement of my tools, not from my emotion. My tools were those that made linear movements – no sculptor's spatulas and the like. There is enough room for emotion after the form is there. So I eventually opted for a crescent shaped mound - a semicircular dike rising from the flat Dutch landscape (polderscape) as a movement in space, like a spatial brushstroke - with the floating red block in a kind of launching position – accentuating the summit.
As for the title: I never start out with a title; it comes after I see the result. El Lissitzky's Proun was his reaction to Suprematism, which had been two dimensional; from “painting to architecture” he said. Drawing in space. The trucks driving up the rising dike, depositing their loads and the excavator working its way back down – drawing the clay. When documenting my piece – flying over it in an ultralight, I felt a connection with El Lissitzky and titled it “homage to El Lissitzky”.
*Jean Leering was advisor the the chief architect of the Netherlands. During the sixties he was director of the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven, where in 1972 he organized The Street: A Form of Living Together. His wife, Wies van Moorsel had inherited the entire Theo van Doesburg collection from his widow Nelly van Doesburg and donated it to the Dutch State.