Interesting texts about art-formerly-known-as-land-art are popping up. Here is an interview of Alan Michelson (2018) by Christopher Green from last December! I wrote earlier about his video-work “Wolf Nation” (2018) which is discussed in the interview.

MICHELSON: […] I am interested in Robert Smithson’s idea of site and nonsite. But applied to an Indigenous framework, you could say that the Indigenous site is almost always a nonsite, an abstraction or documentary representation of a site that may no longer exist, like the pond in Earth’s Eye or our villages in what is now Upstate New York. So the dialectic between the absence and the presence of whatever is there now has a critical edge to it. […]

How Michelson speaks of the nonsite reminds me a lot about the performance “All Visible Directions Between Sky and Water” by artist Maria Hupfield and poet Natalie Diaz at The Vera List Center for Art and Politics. Diaz made a strong argument that as the Indigenous peoples of America were forced out of their land, their bodies became a site trough which their culture was manifested. Their bodies became equivalent to land! The performance felt like a group consultation session which aimed to problematize categories trough which we experience land. First they drew an endless spatial horizon by reciting questions that referred to the differences between water and air: “Is this water?” “Is this air” they asked and performed a pair-dance, in which they experimented with the distances and arrangements of their hands. The audience was also invited to join. Then Diaz gave a shot lecture that experimented with written language structures as visual, faux-logical patterns. After this Hupfield asked people for stories about water. Many of the speakers were Indigenous and their stories referred to mythologies and believes. Hupfield asked me for a story too.. At the spot I only had a silly personal story to share, which showed how superficial my relation to land is. I felt unconformable. The event did not offer any answers (for me). Which is very good… If we would knew all the answers what would be the point in gathering?

After the event I remember a good story about water (which I send to Hupfield over email):

My friends Topi and Nestori bought a sailboat on a whim. It was very cheep and they spend two summers fixing it up. Neither of them were experienced sailors, so at first they took courses and made small trips in the archipelago. Eventually they developed courage and went on a long trip from Helsinki to Stockholm. There are a lot of boats on the lane and it’s a well documented route – It goes from a small island to the next. They reached Stockholm safely, felt very confident about themselves, had a night out at the town and started their trip home the next morning.

Midway their return trip a pea-soup fog appeared. They only had the visibility of the length of the boat, which meant that they had to rely on sparse boat lane beacons blinking lights, a nautical chart and sounds for navigation. They took turns at the bow of their small boat and tried to listen for other boats and the movements of the water. When there is no wind one can quite very far, but you can hear echoes reflected from the islands shores too. You even might hear your own boat reflected from the distance. They were not moving fast but a collision with a bigger boat or a ship would have been bad. To keep focus they kept completely silent for the day and took turns at the bow, while the other steered the boat.

Topi told me that during that trip, they developed an appetite for the truth. If they would have altered their course on a false assumptions, they would have gotten lost, possibly wondered to the wrong lane and got into a collision with an other boat or an islet. He also told me the most paranoid part of the experience was that, it’s possible all of the other people sailing on their boats were trying to navigate based on sounds too. Which meant that everyone kept silent and collisions were even more possible! When he told me about it we started laughing: If everybody is silently looking for the truth, nobody is safe!

Maintaining Good Relations: Starting From Zero (2017) is a live radio show by Native Art Department International (Maria Hupfield & Jason Lujan). In this episode they discuss the recent trend of cultural organizations starting their public events by acknowledging, that the land the organization stands has been forcefully claimed from the indigenous people. Land acknowledgements are often followed with a moment of silence. Lujan asks what would happen if audiences would respond to the acknowledgements with cheers and applauds (I think I heard applauds after an acknowledgement at an event at the New School). I think cheers are very good response, they indicate that the issue is still vibrant and that every acknowledgement is a step forwards (not backwards).

Without Us There Is No You: A Conversation at Artists Space (2017). Brian Droitcour interview Hupfield, Lujan & Jessica L. Horton about a screening they put together as a response to the protests against the Dakota Access Pipelines near the Standing Rock Reservation.

How Whiteness Works: The Racial Imaginary Institute at the Kitchen (2018) Lou Cornum. A review of an exhibition.

On a huge screen in the main gallery plays “There Is No Then and Now; Only Is and Is Not” (2018) by Native Art Department International, a video that enigmatically evokes the slips between colonial time and being. Dennis Redmoon Darkeem, an artist and member of the Yamassee Yat’siminoli tribe, dances in his powwow regalia and, in large blocks of text that interrupt the footage, comments on his frustrations with being obscured as a black Indigenous man under the current racial and visual regime. The video’s central position in the exhibition was fitting: here in the entanglements of black and Indigenous identities lies the narrative of modernity in the Americas, the creation of categories by a supposedly transparent and self-determining group of European subjects.


Visited Lau Nau: Wild/Captive at Blank Forms last weekend. Modular synth beats from multiple directions, blended with field recordings from the woods and organ-toned melodies. Many of the nature-sound-trips I’ve heard in the city (Bánh Mì Verlag/Control gigs) have been based on field recording too. They have underlined the differences of technological and natural soundscapes, moving from nature-like-sound towards machine-like-sounds (the narrative contrasts them and makes technological sounds feel disrupting). In Naukkarises’ piece the organ-toned melodies (from an accordion?) blended into nature sounds seamlessly. It was a tad romantic, but welcome. It felt hopeful.

Visited Storm King Art Center last Monday with the ISCP-crew. There were also people from other residents such as Eye Beam at the trip but unfortunately we didn’t have time to mingle (it was so cold outside). The endless display of gigantic rusty metal sculptures was depressing but there were some pretty vistas, fresh air and decent artworks on display too.

Mary Mattingly’s Along the Lines of Displacement: A Tropical Food Forest (2018) is a series of tropical trees planted to the cold New York terrain. The palm trees were intentionally displaced, as an absurd and uplifting response to global warming. They are destined to die during the winter, which makes the piece into a memento mori plant-life arrangement. Being non-native to New York I didn’t understand that the trees were unsuited to the climate (palm trees in New York pass my radar).

There was  a really nice video Wolf Nation (2018) by Alan Michelson on display inside the exhibition center. Michelson had found a remarkable stretch of footage from a disregarded wildlife film, which showed a pack of wolves observing their territory on top of a small hill for 10 minutes. They choreographed different kinds of collective arrangements, reacting to other inhabitants of the site and moved in an out the frame periodically. The wildlife film was found footage and Michelson had connected it with a soundtrack. The work referred to the New York Lenape people (Wolf Tribe).

Visited Remy Jungerman’s Based In exhibition at robert henry contemporary on Friday. I had no prior knowledge of his work and decoding its visual language took a while. Luckily Jungerman gave visitors short introduction to the works. As I understood the pieces were tools for identifying blind-spots that modern art and modernistic thinking has in relation to spirituality and otherness. The sculptures in the gallery felt like miniature models of modern cities or container ships. Each had a few iron-nails hammered into it. At first I thought that this was reference to the absence of materiality (in modern design) but the nails were possibly referring to religious practices in which nails are hammered into figurative sculptures as a sacrifice.

Participated in a Lorre-Mill uTone build workshop at Control yesterday. The uTone “uses CMOS logic, a resistor ladder, and a few other simple pieces to create audio forms. The scale inherent in this instrument is the undertone series, giving divisions of the main clock frequency”. Here is more about the design. We build our uTone units in four hours, hooked them together for a jam and chatted briefly about the topography of the circuit. I learned how to read resistor values from color codes a little better. Unfortunately the workshop was too short, we didn’t learn more about Will Schorre’s views on design and sounds (here is an interesting post on his website on prototyping). I would have also liked to learn more what the uTone is capable of. It has two inputs. I’m in the process of adding an 3,5mm TS Jack -> Banana Jack port/adapter to the device to integrate it with other gear.

We drafted a proposal with Ilari to have a publication on land- and environmental art conservation (Working title: Notes on Land and Environmental Art Conservation – Critical Approaches to Denes, Holt and Smithson) co-published by the Finnish Cultural Institute in New Yorks and the Fine Art Academy of Helsinki.

Synths and eurorack modules we proposed through the Oodi-modular initiative are currently being acquired by the library staff! We are on our way to a people’s-public-modular of Helsinki.


Learning about the problematic relationship that land-art has with the cultures of the indigenous peoples of America.

The Face of the Earth (2015) by Stefany Anne Goldberg. The text states that Robert Smithson was directly inspired by the Serpent Mound and that he used it as a model for Spiral Jetty. Goldberg points to Entropy And The New Monuments (1966) to argue that Smithson wanted to produce “anti-monuments” that merged with their environment over time – Goldberg states he wanted to criticize the idea of an everlasting modernism (best exemplified in American architecture). I don’t buy this. Authors like Naomi Stead have shown that architects such as Albert Speer were particularly interested in imagining their designs as ruins. (Here are notes from an article by Stead).

Architects, Smithson once said in an interview, tend to be idealists. They look at their structures and think about how they will cover over the earth. They try not to picture their buildings fallen into ruin, sucked back into the landscape they once sat upon. American builders are especially idealistic because the land they were given to build on since the beginning has been thought of as empty space. […] “America,” said Smithson, “doesn’t have that kind of historical background of debris,” and so Americans don’t often think of monuments the way Europeans do, as potential ruins, subject to entropy, subject to change, involved in the story of Time. Time, for Americans, goes mostly in a straight line, from Point A to Point B, with all things getting bigger and better, even when they collapse. For Smithson, time was like a spiral dissolving in salt, neither static nor cyclical but just moving, just going, disappearing and coming back again.

The last quote from Smitson is from the Entropy Made Visible (1973) interview with Alison Sky. It shows a blatant disregard of the cultures of the indigenous peoples of America. Nancy Holt’s Up and Under (1998) looks like it has been inspired by the Great Serpent Mound and the Mound City in Chillicothe.

Rising Into Ruin (2017) Kate Morris. The article investigates the “Post-modern landscape” by comparing Smithson notes on ruins, to artworks by American artist Alan Michelson. Morris argues that Smithson saw ruins as static “end states” and points out that many indigenous cultures of Americas have an opposing cyclic view of time. The text offers a good overview on what Smitson was after with The Monuments of Passaic (1967) text/actions.

[…] I argue that the works of Smithson and Michelson differ in important ways that are reflective of their cultural perspectives: namely, Smithson regarded ruin as an end state, while Michelson posits it as a condition that portends other states to follow. The argument hinges on the distinction of ruin as a stage in a cycle rather than as a point in a purely linear progression.

A postmodern condition that [Craig] Owens failed to locate in Smithson’s work is an attack on the idea of progress itself, though it seems clear in retrospect that Smithson’s careful documentation of the decline of industrial infrastructures was exactly that. Moreover, it is this aspect of Smithson’s practice that resonates strongly in Michelson’s work, where the notion of progress is conflated with settler colonialism, and thus its dissolution can be regarded as not only a postmodern but distinctly postcolonial condition.

Entropy tells us that nothing can stay in suspension forever; dissolution is inevitable. In “The Monuments of Passaic” Smithson’s entropic vision may come across as temporally muddled, but phrases like “rising into ruin,” “limited eternity,” and “a lower stage of futurity” obfuscate what is actually a rather linear progression.

Sympathetic as he is to Smithson’s dystopic vision, Michelson has also been drawn, paradoxically, to the latent hopefulness of “entropy made visible.” In both Mespat and Shattemuc he focuses on the crumbling infrastructure of industrialization, and by association, of colonialism itself.

The Spiritual Legacy of the Ancient Ones (1992) Robert Houle. A text from the catalogue for Land, Spirit, Power exhibition organized at The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (almost 30 years ago!). Here is a very detailed review of the exhibition by Scott Watson. I was encouraged to study this exhibition by Richard William Hill and Jolene Rickard (Tuscarora), whom I was kindly introduced to at the Vera List Center Forum 2018: If Art Is Politics event. The text attempts to build a framework for reading the art of the indigenous peoples of Americas, in a way which would not rely on a colonial gaze for making forcing sense a particular-western-defined-sense.

Houle’s text is critical towards post-structuralism and postmodernity because it disregards non-western modes of existence. In short: Not all origin stories are bad, not all narratives should be deconstructed and the critique that post-structuralism engages in does not challenge the infrastructure that enables it. It is a smokescreen! Modernity is in dept to indigenous cultures – Artist such as Pollock and Picasso formulated their encounters with indigenous artworks into techniques.

The text also has a detailed history of how the indigenous peoples of Americas have been portrayed in Euro-Western art. It provides a critique of Monument for the Native People of Ontario (1984–85) artwork by Lothar Baumgarten. More on that particular artwork and Houle’s commentary on it in Naming and Reclaiming (2018) Shirley Madill.

The article is filled with interesting details. For example: “There is no word for ‘landscape’ in any of the languages of the ancient ones still spoken” and ” [I]ndividuality operates in the language of paradox, irony, and ambivalence”. The text ends in a beautiful invite: “[T]he spiritual legacy of art from any one culture offers reassurance that the human species has some commonalities which are important to knowing who we are, where we are, and where we are going”. Quotes from Houle’s text below.

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