A collection of essays about Land art, one of the most important artistic movements of our times.
An attempt to melt an iceberg with a blowtorch, an indoor lake of tequila, an ascent of Mt Everest, driftwood burnt with sunlight focused through a magnifying glass and a doorbell that emits the sound of a dying star; these are some of the extraordinary artistic strategies covered in this collection.
Gathering together texts published since 2002, as well as specially written new essays, In Land traces recent engagements with landscape, nature, environment and the cosmos.
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Gallerist and curator Ben Tufnell has worked closely with most of the artists he writes about, and his approach to Land art, a mode of radical practice emerging in the later 1960s, in which artists worked directly in the landscape, and which he wrote about in the excellent 2006 monograph Land Art (published by Tate) is also informed by a deep feeling for nature and the outdoors. That earlier survey has freed him up to envisage a different kind of book: one that is more personal, elliptical and open-ended. It brings together texts that have appeared in variety of contexts, including exhibition catalogues and conference papers, over the past 15 years or so, supplemented by new material. Tufnell’s main interest is in the often overlooked contribution made by Land artists in Britain; there are essays here on artists not usually associated with the phenomenon, such as Roger Ackling and Garry Fabian Miller, along with others on more prominent figures like Richard Long or Hamish Fulton. But Tufnell also casts his net widely: a whole section is devoted to the US-based Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, for example, whose work has included installations utilizing gunpowder, explosions, rocks and plants, artificial animals, and pools of mescal or olive oil. Some essays follow his chosen artists on their journeys to remote locations, as is the case with Thomas Joshua Cooper and his ongoing Atlantic basin project, with its photographs from zones of ‘uncharted dangers’, where rescue cannot be expected. Tufnell quotes Richard Long on the virtue of ‘simple, practical, emotional, quiet, vigorous art’, and finds these qualities in artists too. While, broadly speaking, he resists the idea that Land art might have anything to do with the Romantic Landscape tradition, he also succeeds in conveying very vividly the imaginative responses of artists to the environments in which they have chosen to work. ~ Nicholas Alfrey, Art Quarterly, Spring 2020
Landscape is first made by geological history, and second by human history. In the late 1960s a number of artists across the globe started to create sculptural situations in the landscape, far from urban hubs of art making, directly addressing these processes. For millennia human beings had marked the surface of the planet in extraordinary ways, but this was something different. These actions grew out of contemporaneous expanding highway networks, developed from climate-change consciousness that was spurred by post-industrialization, and riffed off humankind’s launch off the limits of the known world to the moon – an event that pushed bird’s eye views of our planet into mass consciousness. These artists’ excursions and incursions were fed back to the museum through photography, film, objects, texts, and conversation: as the critic Dore Ashton noted at the time, this was artwork made to be seen. ‘Land art’ was the moniker that came to describe such activities. One of the first public uses of the term was made by Gerry Schum and Ursula Wevers in a landmark exhibition they created to be experienced on German mainstream television. In 1969, the ‘Television Gallery’ broadcast European and North American artists addressing the landscape. Their approach was not to present landscape, nor to show an ideal rural beauty. It was to get literally down and dirty with the matter of the land. Holes were dug, rocks were moved, earth was displaced. Schum and Wevers chose to title their wordless thirty-eight-minute program ‘Land Art’, having rejected their initial title ‘Landscape Art.’ This would become the descriptive term for some of the most radical art that would follow, as well as a means to address the long history of earthworks. Evoking and landscape and displacing a place, Land art intensifies what we think we might know about the places we inhabit. Ben Tufnell is both an expert on and enthusiast of Land art. This collection of short monographic essays written between 2002 and 2017 gathers his musings on actions of artists who could be considered Land artists. Like so many art historical, terms Land Art is a description that artists equally adopt and rail against. Tufnell is interested in circling around Land art, not in defining it. He opens up what Land art might be, rather than tying it to a dogma. His method is to follow the artists whose names (willingly and otherwise) are regarded as part of the coordinates of Land art. He looks to those fundamental to the development of this art historical genre, such as Nancy Holt, Richard Long, and Ana Mendieta, as well as artists who would refute inclusion, such as Roger Ackling and Katie Paterson. For Tufnell, Land art is an attitude and method, not a monumental gesture. Tracking networks of ideas across time and geography, an autobiographical line weaves through Tufnell’s texts. We learn Tufnell was a curator at Tate, that he was an only child who reveled in discovering the landscape, and that he has in inquiring mind, open to testing assumptions. In this collection he pays particular attention to the way artists, museums, and exhibition-makers have understood artists’ Land art in Britain. Hamish Fulton was the artist who revealed to Tufnell how artists’ interrogation of landscape and place can enable alternative ways to understand how we might find our place on this planet. In an interview in this volume, Fulton makes a careful reminder that attitudes to landscape and environment are always in flux. As assumptions wax and wane, we often find it unimaginable that previous humans actions on landscape could never have been acceptable. Land art is concerned with perception and sensation: perception is akin to geography, to reading space through coordinates; sensation is akin to landscape, to revealing ideas through inhabitation. An artist Tufnell describes as haunting his writings is Robert Smithson, whose ideas indeed spiral through these texts. Smithson clearly articulated in a 1969 interview that to look to remote sites and to the surface of our planet was to make ’the landscape as coextensive with the gallery.’ He continued: ‘I don’t think we are dealing with a back to nature movement. For me the world is a museum. […] I’m totally concerned with making art and this is mainly an act of viewing, a mental activity that zeroes in on discrete sites.’ To write around rather than on is to create a discussion, not to set a prescription. It is also to create a climate of ideas – climate as the philosopher Bruno La Tour understands it: the broad sense of the relations between human beings and the material conditions of their lives. The environment is us and we are it: the composition of the air we breathe, and the land gravity pulls us to has been formed by human beings, it is not independent of us. Land art in its long and short histories re-mapped and stretched the limits of what art might be. Art does not create the future, rather it vibrates with what is already tingling in the nerve endings. In this collection, Tufnell invites the reader to accompany him on his journey, with perception and sensation the roadmap. ~ Lisa Le Feuvre, Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture
5 out of 5 stars: What is Land art? 'In Land' will give newcomers a wonderful introduction, while also providing plenty for the more knowledgeable to consider. Ben Tufnell is a world-renowned authority on the subject and this selection of his highly-readable essays throws light on some of the movement's most important artists and their key works. He writes from an insider's perspective, being a significant figure in London's art scene — as director of the thriving Parafin gallery — but he also brings an objectivity to his art criticism founded on his deep knowledge and love of the subject. Give yourself some brain food and award yourself some time to immerse yourself in this lovely book! ~ JM, Amazon
5 out of 5 stars: 'In Land' delves into some of the lesser known branches of what could be categorized as Land Art. This is a series of essays written from a personal point of view, often supported by direct interviews. More than anything Ben Tufnell seems to be looking, through his poetic, unpretentious style, for a spiritual experience through art. ~ LJ Caulfield, Amazon
5 out of 5 stars: Land and Earth art is as relevant today as it was in the 70s, possibly more so as we figure out our place in this fragile place. If you love this earth, and value concept over commercial, this book is for you. Tufnell captures it beautifully. ~ SHA, Amazon
Think Land Art and you might imagine huge macho earthworks by a handful of American artists, but Ben Tufnell’s excellent new book on this subject In Land shows how this misconceived this is. In a selection of eloquent and accessible essays written by Tufnell over nearly two decades, the book brings together the multifarious approaches to site and experience by artists from America, Europe and beyond. Most rewarding is the inclusion of many women artists who are central to this story, among them Ana Mendieta, Nancy Holt, Anya Gallaccio and Katie Paterson. Not just an introduction, but an insightful foray into this topic, In Land will no doubt be used by researchers and art enthusiasts for years to come. ~ Simon Grant, Editor, Tate
In Land continues the critically important writings Tufnell has authored concerning the Land art movement. His professional reach and personal experience moves us beyond a rigid definition of artists' engagement with the land, revealing the nuanced dialogues and intricacies artists often create, providing us with new lenses within which to experience our surrounding environment. ~ Hikmet Sidney Loe, author of The Spiral Jetty Encyclo: Exploring Robert Smithson's Earthwork through Time and Place
This collection of texts by Ben Tufnell is an erudite journey through the ways artists explore the land. Tufnell’s precise examination of artworks and their reception is a finely tuned analysis demonstrating how artworks address the problems of understanding our place in the world. With personal, poetic and political words, this book underlines the importance of art for our current times. ~ Lisa Le Feuvre, curator, writer and editor and Executive Director of Holt/Smithson Foundation
Land art inaugurated new forms of landscape art, but it also prompted innovative forms of art writing: notably the personal and autobiographical account of a journey or pilgrimage to a site, the revisiting of the picturesque ‘tour’ and musings on the wider place of humans in the universe. Tufnell eloquently discusses journeys to the locations of historic works of Land art as well as the explorations of more recent artists such as Cai Guo Qiang and Katie Paterson. In Tufnell’s writing fragments are connected indexically and allegorically to place, time and the solar system. ~ Joy Sleeman, Reader in Art History and Theory at UCL, author of The Sculpture of William Tucker (2007) and Roelof Louw (2018)