This is a final project for “Cultures of Conservation: From Objects to Subjects” (Fall 2014). Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Bard Graduate Center, New York, NY.

See blog for further information // Cultures of Conservation


“Aesthetics has been dedicated to understanding unity in works of art and in aesthetic experience. Wholeness has been the central concern of aesthetics and of most of the disciplines of our intellectual and practical life.” (The Aesthetics of Ruins, Preface, xvii)

Also known as “Earthworks,” a term coined by Robert Smithson in the late 1960s, Land Art refers to large scale, site-specific works of art that use the earth as both canvas and medium. This project explores notions of absence, presence and materiality (or in some cases, dematerialization) in Land Art through the work of three artists: Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, and Michael Heizer. Considered to be among the most prominent figures in the field during the mid-1960s and 1970s, these artists sought to experiment outside the confines of the gallery space and museum, each exploring in his or her own way the expansive potential of the American desert landscape.


Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970. Rozel Point, Great Salt Lake, Utah.

Robert Smithson, Amarillo Ramp, 1973. Amarillo, Texas.

Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels, 1973-1976. Lucin, Utah. 

When the white-hot sun was sinking
To the blue edge of the mountain,
The watchers saw the whiteness turn
To red along the rim.
Saw the redness deepen, til the sun
Like a huge bowl filled with fire
Red and glowing, seemed to rest upon the world.
—Navajo Indian Poem, trans. Eugenia Faunce Wetherill

Only the sunlight holds things together. Noon is the crucial hour; the desert reveals itself nakedly and cruelly, with meaning but its own existence.
—Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

“SUN TUNNELS, 1973–76, is built on forty acres, which I bought in 1974 specifically as a site for the work. The land is in the Great Basin Desert in northwestern Utah, about four miles southeast of Lucan (pop. ten) and nine miles east of the Nevada border.

Sun Tunnels marks the yearly extreme positions of the sun on the horizon—the tunnels being aligned with the angles of the rising and setting of the sun on the days of the solstices, around June 21st and December 21st. On those days the sun is centered through the tunnels, and is nearly center for about ten days before and after the solstices.

The four concrete tunnels are laid out on the desert in an open X configuration eighty-six feet long on the diagonal. Each tunnel is eighteen feet long, and has an outside diameter of nine feet and two-and-a-half inches and an inside diameter of eight feet with a wall of thickness of seven-and-a-quarter inches. A rectangle drawn around the outside of the tunnels would measure sixty-eight-and-a-half feet by fifty-three feet.

Cut through the wall in the upper half of each tunnel are holes of four different sizes—seven, eight, nine, and ten inches in diameter. Each tunnel has a different configuration of holes corresponding to stars in four different constellations—Draco, Perseus, Columba, and Capricorn. The sizes of the holes vary relative to the magnitude of the stars to which they correspond. During the day, the sun shines through the holes, casting a changing pattern of pointed ellipses and circles of light on the bottom half of each tunnel. On nights when the moon is more than a quarter full, moonlight shines through the holes casting its own paler pattern. The shapes and positions of the cast light differ from hour to hour, day to day, and season to season, relative to the positions of the sun and moon in the sky.

Each tunnel weighs twenty-two tons and rests on a buried concrete foundation. Due to the density, shape, and thickness of the concrete, the temperature is fifteen to twenty degrees cooler inside the tunnels in the heat of day. There is also a considerable echo inside the tunnels.” (“Selections from the Archives,” April 1977, Artforum).


Michael Heizer, Double Negative, 1969. Clark, Nevada.

Robert Morris, Observatorium (Observatory), 1971-1977. Lelystad, Netherlands.

 “Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974” at MoCA (2012). Los Angeles, CA.

“Uncommon Ground, Land Art in Britain: 1966-1979” at Southampton City Art Gallery (2013). Southampton, UK.

Tony Cragg, New Stones – Newton’s Tones, 1978, plastic, 366 x 244cm. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist. “Cragg made this sculpture in an era of growing ecological concern, where the profusion of plastic detritus discarded in the environment was one sign of the more general impact of humans on the planet. The plastic objects and fragments of this sculpture were found and collected by the artist along the river Rhine in Germany, near his home. They were later sorted and arranged on the floor in the approximate sequence of colours in the spectrum of white light, as identified by Sir Isaac Newton, and appear dematerialised like light or a rainbow.”

Andy Goldsworthy, Snowball, 1979, colour photograph on card, 55 x 68cm. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist. “This work and the others included in this exhibition are some of _Andy Goldsworthy’s earliest. They were made in the landscape using only the materials available on site. Goldsworthy worked with his hands and used only natural materials such as rocks, leaves, branches, snow and ice. Works were ephemeral, photographed at the moment of completion, and then left to erode or decay. Although using photography, Goldsworthy sees himself as a sculptor, exploring the properties of different materials and engaging with sculptural concepts such as mass, balance, space and form, as well as the organic contexts from which his sculptures arise.”

Richard Long, Stone Circle, 1972, stone, 14 x 426.7 x 426.7cm. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist. “This is one of Long’s first indoor gallery works made of stones. The 61 stones came from the seashore near Portishead, not far from where he lives. Long has travelled extensively to make his work and often sources stones that are local to his exhibitions. Over time he has used a vast range of stones from around the world in his sculptures. However, the environs of his home in Bristol are deeply important _to his work and he has also repeatedly stated that he could make his work within a few miles of his home in Bristol. The diversity of colour and shapes in even this small selection of local stones gives one a sense of how rich an environment any place can be if its materials are looked at closely.”

Hamish Fulton, Seven Days Alberta, 1978, photograph with letraset text on card, 93.6 x 122.6cm. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist. “Hamish Fulton’s work explores the experience and meaning of making walks in the landscape. Fulton’s early works consist of photographic montages that establish complex and often allusive connections between different sites and times. However, in 1973, having walked 1,022 miles in 47 days from Duncansby Head to Land’s End, he resolved to ‘only make art resulting from the experience of individual walks. If I do not walk I cannot make a work of art.’ Fulton later reduced this to the aphoristic statement: ‘No Walk, No Work.’ From this point he used single images and succinct descriptive texts to give essential information about his walks and allow the audience to engage imaginatively with his experiences.”

Anthony McCall, Landscape for Fire, 1972, 16mm film transferred to DVD, sound, running time: 7 minutes. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist. Gift of the artist and Sprüth Magers Gallery, London. “This film is based on an event held on 27 August 1972 at North Weald Airfield in Essex. McCall mounted five short ‘Landscape for Fire’ events from 1972 to 1973, followed by three ‘Fire Cycles’ events of increasing duration in 1973 and 1974. He called the events ‘conditions’, suggesting a state of mind or an instruction rather than a performance or theatrical event, and although these events were formally structured they embraced the natural conditions such as gathering darkness and wind and mist. The events were deliberately slow, extended, and non-spectacular, with no single point of focus, _but are suggestive of ancient rituals such as the lighting of beacons to mark auspicious events.”

Roger Ackling, Five hour cloud drawing, 1980, sunlight on card, 62.4 x 75.2cm. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © the artist. “Ackling’s work is made by focusing sunlight through a hand-held magnifying glass to burn tiny dots onto card. This is both a form of drawing, as the work’s title suggests, and also a kind of primitive photography (Henry Fox Talbot, an early pioneer of photography, described his calotypes as ‘sun pictures’). Because each point is focused upon for the same length of time, when the sun is occluded by cloud the burned dot becomes lighter or even non-existent, when the sun is strong the dots form into dark lines. The work thus captures the changing light conditions in a particular location over a specific period of time.”