Trans-Horse: Horse & Performance for TeaK 2020

We were fortunate to organize the fourth Horse & Performance course for the Theater Academy in the fall of 2020. Together with Pietari, we experienced challenges teaching art during a pandemic face but in the end things sorted out well. At the time COVID spread in Finland was at a decline and the University of Arts Helsinki deemed the course possible. The horse-hobby and equestrian industry here seems well equipped for dealing with the pandemic. Riding group sizes seldom exceed 10 members (and horses) and activities are organized in sparsely spaced sites, which deems it a safe activity. In fact horseback riding is a booming hobby, it offers a much needed outdoor experience and companionship. We were kindly welcomed to Malminkartano by Kaarelan ratsutalli Oy. Kaarela was a well suited site for organizing the course, it is easy to access with public transport and the area has an interesting history.

Horse & Performance had seven participants: Antonia Atarah, Anna Lehtonen, Daniela Pascual, Martta Jylhä, Gaspare Fransson, Mikael Karkkonen and Jouni Tapio. On previous courses most of the participants have been from the acting department but this time around attendees formed a balanced mixture of dramaturgist, actors, live-artists, pedagogist and sound/light designers. In 2017 we started to collect course notes to collective study journals which participants can access online. The journals present open ended questions which the course stirs up, links to texts people refer to and discussions on the exercise we partake in. This time around the document is semi-public and can be accessed  as a .pdf document. We didn’t offer the same volume of practical horse handling exercises as before. Instead we focused on working with the animals at their pasture and got to engage in an array of stable chores. Participants build a hay-shelter, erected fences and collect a lot of droppings from the pasture. I think the course was ultimately about maintenance art and laced with a crafty approach to non-human knowledge.

Taru Svahn who had established the stables twenty years ago gave a thorough introduction to the site. We learned that there has been horse related activity in the area at least since the 18th century and that the site had been a farm until the 60ties. She presented us documents from -62 which detailed farming experiments Helsinki University conducted on site and provided a history of the Malminkartano mansion from 1579 onward. Svahn told us that her motivation for establishing the riding school was set in motion by a dream which presented her a galloping horse. The dream led her to equestrian studies in Ypäjä and eventually to start a business in Malminkartano. Quite recently they have managed to expand the stable by building a manège which enables them to organize courses comfortably during the winter. When we started with horseback riding with Pietari in 2014 the manège was yet to be build and the outdoor classes in Malminkartano were really cold.

As expected working with city officials for permits to build a horse stable to a suburb was an enormous effort. Rights were eventually granted based on the site’s historical value and history with horses. In short: The horses of the past, paved way for the horses of the future. There are archaeological sites (röykkiöhauta) close by and the nearby forest is protected from development (Malminkartano was an island until 3000BCE). Svahn explained that ultimately the permission process was paved by personal relations she formed with individual city officials and a lucky coincidence where the right mix of city committee representatives happened to be in the same room at the same time. It is revealing that charisma and luck are central for city development. Svahn’s motivation for establishing the site was to grant access to horses to the youth of the district. The suburb was troubled in the 90ties. Still is.

Each day started with a morning meeting at a forest opening. Pietari heated water with a portable stove, we all sat on a branch and chatted while having coffee. The morning sessions worked well for establishing a casual relationship to the texts and theory which we structured the teaching on. There were lectures in the forest too. I fondly remember Pietari’s introduction to speciesism, with yellow rays of sunlight reflecting from the moss. When preparing for the course we were inspired by the Gustafsson&Haapoja: Museum of Becoming HAM exhibition and picked up texts by Cary Wolfe and Terike Haapoja from it. The main culprit for the theory of human-horse-relations was yet again Haraway and we turned to Soppelsa for developing insights to the role horses have had for the development of modern Europe.

At the end of the two week long course participants were invited to develop group exercise or artistic outputs, which reflected their evolving relationship to horses. This lead us to organized a miniature horse-art festival of sorts. It offered dance pieces (witnessing a horse-human dance led me to understand the relationship as a highly choreographed communication), audio-based-works (which presented arbitrary horse movements as dance), meditation and body awareness sessions (we could imagine ourselves as plants and experience ourselves as a self organizing assembly). Summaries and group reflections on the exercises are documented in the collective study journal. One of the most memorable experiences I had was a session titled “Horse’s Birthday” (Jylhä & Karkkonen). The session started with us setting a picnic table in the middle of the pasture. As we started to eat cake and to perform a birthday ceremony, our gathering and the sweet smells lured the horses in and soon our assembly was rearranged by a herd of animals. They revealed their ultimate power-move: Breaking crowds with their hulls and caused disarray in organization. Our picnic was efficiently disbanded and we were caught between rivaling horses.

Previously, in teaching art I’ve emphasized the act of “stopping” and we often practice it as a part of physical exercises: I encourage students to be rude, to halt the charismatic flow for making notes, formulate opinions and set new plans in motion. During the pasture-birthday session I noticed that I have not developed artistic exit strategies which would afford sensible and secure retrievals from difficult situations. Most horse-human exercises I’ve participated in have been focused on becoming with the animal and after the exercises have peaked we look for an opening where we can depart peacefully. This works great for establishing a sense of security but requires that the horse-human session is carefully planned: I’ve witnessed numerously how facilitators work towards soft departures. Working in the pasture –which is the horse’s domain– requires that people would also be equipped with skills in distancing themselves from the horse at haste. I think I should develop artistic skills to escape a bad situation (like a rodeo clown). I was petrified during the performance. We got stuck between five horses, a table and the cake we brought with us. I didn’t know how to safely distance our group from the dominant maneuvers of the horse herd.

On the last day of the course we got a tour of the Ruskeasuo Police horse facilities. Senior Constable Jukka Aarnisalo took us in and offered a glimpse to the offices of the 130 year old police unit. We were invited to their very compact kitchen and debriefing room, which is located in a corner of the Ruskeasuo horse stables. Inside we were presented with old Russian era swords (brought from their old headquarters in Kasarminkatu), WWII memorabilia and trophies from past competitions. Their current stables were built for the Helsinki Olympics and manifest the functionalist architecture movement in its prime. Modernist traits can be identified in the facilities waste disposal arrangements and the usage of natural light, which early modernist architects associated with hygiene (as defined by Kirsi Saarikangas).

Our visit to the stables ended the course to a very conflicted setting. Participants had just spent two weeks (re)sensitizing themselves to the nuances of horse-human communication, after which we were confronted by a professional with over 30 years of experience in working with animals in urban settings and effectively teaching multiple generations of horses skills for desensitizing themselves. To add to the confusion the skills in question were taught in a respectful working relationship, in institutionally monitored and publicly scrutinized setting. All done just so that the police-horse and the police-human could enforce the law effectively. It safe to argue that mounted officers (and their horses) are the most visible public servants and most criticized law enforcers. I personally enjoyed the conflict because the sensitive and emotional sessions we shared with  horses in Malminkartano, were balanced by the reality and lived experience of people working with animals and animals working with people.

Horse-pedagogical efforts will continue in the spring as well organize a course called Horse & Build Environment for Aalto University. On this course we will explore horse stable designs and the relations they afford us.

On Land and Environmental Art Conservation

This text was initially published in Crossroads – New Views on Art and Environment (2019) edited by Ilari Laamanen with texts from Johannes Heldén, Hanna Johansson, Maria Hupfield and Jason Lujan. The publication featured works by Agnes Denes, Alma Heikkilä, Andrea Zittel, The Center for Land Use Interpretation, Eva and Franco Mattes, Honkasalo-Niemi-Virtanen, Jussi Kivi, Mustarinda, Nancy Holt, Outi Pieski, Rindon Johnson. It was published by the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York and The Academy of Fine Arts at the University of the Arts Helsinki

Back in 2013, I was contracted to work on the restoration of two environmental artworks: Tree Mountain – A Living Time Capsule (1996) by Agnes Denes and Up and Under (1998) by Nancy Holt. The artworks are located in depleted gravel quarries in the Tampere region of Finland and they were commissioned from the artists as land-reclamation works through a process that an informal working group called Strata had initiated in the 80s.(1) Our small restoration team included the gardener Minna Sihvonen and intern Joni Ahonen. In practice we were landscapers: we uprooted weeds, replanted trees, collected trash and repaired structures. I served the team under the title “acting environmental art conservator”. The restoration project manager Pekka Ruuska and I made up the title. It was initially an inside joke, intended to make laborious gardening tasks feel heroic. But the title started to influence the way I approached my work. In an effort to make sense of what we were doing I studied how efforts to conserve Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) had been organized. During the summer, we also consulted the artists and contemporary and public art conservators at the Finnish National Gallery and Helsinki Art Museum to seek guidance for our work.

Here I will recap how artworks by Denes and Holt found their way into the gravel pits at Pinsiö village and summarise the challenges that their artworks face. Holt defines Up and Under as a site-specific artwork, emphasizing the idea that the site should serve as a venue for various social activities. Denes is mostly referred to as a conceptual artist and a pioneer of the ecological art movement. Tree Mountain is a textbook example of an artwork that is intended to repair damage inflicted on the environment by human activity. I will conclude this text by reviewing some of the discussions stirred up by efforts to conserve Spiral Jetty, in an attempt to develop an approach to land and environmental art conservation as a critical praxis. I will take a critical approach to land and environmental art conservation and focus on the demands these artworks place on the surrounding infrastructure.

Gravel Pits as Post-Industrial Development Zones

Eskers are long, shallow hills or ridges consisting of small rocks and sand. They are old stream beds formed during the ice age, when water flowing under glaciers moved rocks and sand around. Quarrying eskers produces construction materials and pebbles, which can be used as a base layer for roads. Gravel from Pinsiö village has apparently been used in the construction of Tampere Airport and the Tampere-Helsinki highway. Audiences flying and driving to see Tree Mountain and Up and Under get their first contact with the site through landing strips and the roads leading to them. Mining in Finland is subject to legislation aimed at ensuring that, when a quarry is depleted, the quarriers have to restore the site so that it is safe and does not leave any visible eyesores. Because quarriers only have to restore the site after their activities have ended, to cut costs they often suspend operations indefinitely before they deplete the quarry. Being remote, unsupervised wastelands, quarry pits are prone to illegal activities, such as waste dumping.

Tree Mountain and Up and Under have both been produced as reclamation works. Using art to meet reclamation requirements can be less expensive and less regulated than restoring a quarry according to reforestation specifications. The initiative to restore the quarries by means of art can be traced back to 1986 when the chairman of the Pinsiö Village association, Pertti Lehtinen, asked fellow villager Osmo Rauhala, then a student at the Academy of Fine Arts, Helsinki, to develop something for the pits.(2) The project started off as an informal working group. Over the years, the group has brought together a mixed collection of regionally and nationally established cultural workers. In 2013, the steering committee included Rauhala and Kaisa Kirkko-Jaakkola, who have both been involved in the process from the start.

Rauhala had been inspired by land art after seeing a Robert Smithson retrospective at the Sara Hildén Art Museum in Tampere, Finland, in 1983. He began driving the initiative forwards and met with Nancy Holt in New York in 1987, and she visited the gravel pits three years later. The plans took flight in 1992, when the core of the Strata working group – then including Rauhala, the Rector of the Academy of Fine Arts, Lauri Anttila, Stockholm-based critic/art historian Tom Sandqvist, and Catherine Hakulin – helped organize an environmental art exhibition named “STRATA” for Tampere Art Museum.(3) This effort was also joined by the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, whose Director Tuula Arkio showed an interest in maintaining a relationship with the artworks being planned for the pits after their completion.(4) The exhibition included works by Alan Sonfist, Lothar Baumgarten, Guillaume Bijl, Felix Droese, Peter Laurens Mol, Jan Håfström and Agnes Denes & Nancy Holt. While working on the exhibition, Holt continued producing drafts for Up and Under, which was designated to be the first work commissioned for the pits.

Agnes Denes produced for the exhibition a sculptural piece named Hot/Cold Earthship with Heartbeat and presented drafts for the geometrically arranged planting of 10,000 trees. This conceptual reforestation plan had been brewing for 10 years, and then got a head start when it was picked up by Lohja Rudus Mining Company, which was responsible for one of the Pinsiö gravel pits.(5) The artwork was inaugurated in 1996, at an event during which President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari planted a tree. The area around the artwork is protected by Presidential proclamation for 400 years, after which, according to the artist’s idea, the site will evolve into a “virgin forest”. Up and Under was completed soon after, and was inaugurated by Minister of the Environment Pekka Haavisto. The two areas were designated as recreational sites, and their upkeep divided between the gardening departments of the towns of Nokia and Ylöjärvi. Groundskeeping was later outsourced to the Pinsiö village association and the Pinsiö Men’s choir. After a highly publicized production phase, the artworks were kept in silence. The silence was intended to give the local flora time to settle in. Unfortunately the process was not adequately supervised. Due to the quality of the soil, the trees on the mountain struggled, and the plan to replace dying ones was neglected.

Nancy Holt was shocked to learn that mining around Up and Under was allowed to continue until 2003. Ironically the extended mining operation was seen as justified since the landscaping of the depleted part of the quarry was deemed so successful. The intended maintenance of the artwork was undermined by the continuing work on the site, as a result of which the hills around the central structure lost two thirds of their volume. During the mining process the watering system embedded under the grass was damaged and the hills began to erode. The ponds around the structure developed leaks and their water supply was cut off. Both sites were used as illicit construction-waste dumps, which introduced lupines, an invasive plant, to these areas. The auto-wilding processes, initiated by weeds, lupines and frontier trees, made it hard to distinguish the outlines of Up and Under and the geometrical pattern of Tree Mountain from the surrounding nature.

Between 2004 and 2011, the artworks were not maintained adequately and they did not develop into tourist attractions as was advertised. The organizers were not prepared for the amount of work that maintenance of the sites demanded. In both cases collaboration and dialogue between the artists and the contracted environmental engineers, gardeners and landscapers had been presented as an essential feature of the artworks. Unfortunately the communication between the artists and the builders did not last long. Gardeners working on the sites were critical of the plans from the beginning, since the designs made exceptional demands on the plants. The spatial conditions, which add to the appeal of the artworks, make superhuman demands on the people designated to maintain them. The Strata working group was revived in 2012 on the initiative of Pekka Ruuska, who had learned about the sites through his involvement in the nearby Arteles artists’ residency. After receiving a mandate from the three towns involved and the Strata working group, he called together volunteers from the local communities, which caught the attention of the national press and laid the foundation for a funded conservation project.

Even though the artworks have been available to the audience for over 20 years, they cannot be considered complete. Tree Mountain is designated to develop into a virgin forest and Up and Under is set to be established as a cultural venue for events serving local and international communities. The artworks have been met with both overwhelming praise and hostile criticism. The praise largely comes from the international media and established critics. The curator Eugenie Tsai called Up and Under Holt’s “best work to date” during a visit to it in 1999.(6) During the summer that we worked on site, it became apparent that people who used the sites for recreation were not aware of their history, nor did they identify them as art. Users groups that we dealt with consisted of youths on motorized pleasure cruises, people walking their dogs, wild berry pickers (raspberries, cloudberries), and off-road motorcyclists. Tree Mountain is occasionally used by harness racers to warm up and cool down their horses. The presence of our conservation team was met with hostility. People stole equipment stored on site, broke structures that we built to guide visitors, and continued to vandalize the artworks. The pits were abandoned worksites and the scale of the task made our efforts seem pointless. A week could go by without seeing a soul, then suddenly a Toyota Corolla could drive by with passengers shouting insults from partially opened windows. The feeling must be similar to the sense of epic loneliness and temporal estrangement reported by visitors to the Sun Tunnels, which I have yet to visit.

The remote, secluded pits are a constant cause of tension. When we consider the traumas related to the sites, the hostility of the local communities is understandable. The eskers were destroyed by profiteers and the process left the pits barren. Suddenly national media outlets started hyping the art, which it was promised would reclaim the sites. The criticism voiced in local media outlets has centred on the expense the artworks cause. Economic arguments serve as an excuse to engage with and criticise contemporary art, which is associated with yuppies and dislocated urban life. Environmental art has been celebrated for its potential for making contemporary art more accessible. Judging by the case we witnessed: when art is presented in places where it is not typically seen, audiences do not necessarily have the skills needed to engage with it. The experience of seeing art in the place of an idyllic esker turned gravel pit might feel very insulting and discomforting, which is why visitors try to reclaim the sites through acts of vandalism. The process seems to strengthen myths about artists and contemporary art: only an eccentric person could envision art as a replacement for an esker. In time, it might even appear that the eskers had been quarried to make room for the art. By the looks of it, environmental artworks and performances in public spaces are not necessarily making art more accessible, but increasing the grip of institutional definitions of art.

The tensions witnessed at the pits are rooted in a different reading of the landscape. The sites that the artworks were intended to reclaim were never abandoned. They are backyards that have been in use since the ice age. Holt spoke of the pit as a “medical dissection of the landscape organism”. Her artwork was intended to help people rediscover the materiality of the site.(7) Like Smithson, she called for new ways to appreciate damaged landscapes. Judging by our experiences the artwork only makes it more difficult to enjoy the ruinscapes in all their glory, as our conservation efforts worked against the sites’ ruin-use-value. During the summer, we advised on plans to merge the interests of different user groups. We envisioned off-road biker trails being co-opted into the designs, so that riders would help destroy the lupines. Paintball hobbyists using the site for battles were invited to participate in the maintenance tasks. Such initiatives are difficult to drive forwards, as art audiences’ expectations are typically not aligned with the desires of the people who actually use the sites.

Two Cults of Entropy

Land-Art and Environmental-Art conservation is a new field of study, which came to general attention after Smithson’s Spiral Jetty re-emerged on the shore of the Great Salt Lake in the late nine- ties. At times, discussions about its conservation have turned into heated debates, providing an excellent entry point for exploring discourses touched on by the topic of land-art conservation. The 1,500-foot spiral structure consists of 80% rock material. I will not call it an earthwork, because I want to keep in mind the particular economic and legal premises that enabled the artist to claim the land and to use its resources for personal expression – my feeling is that the artwork’s relation with indigenous land right discussions should be further researched. Due to changes in the lake’s water levels, it disappeared underwater soon after it was completed. After the structure re-emerged, the artist’s estate (including the artist’s spouse Nancy Holt) enabled Dia Art Foundation to acquire the artwork.(8) Since 2018, Dia has also been responsible for Holt’s Sun Tunnels (1973–76).

Soon after Dia took over Spiral Jetty, the organization voiced concerns that the increasing numbers of visitors and erosion were damaging the structure. Land-art fans flocking to the site had left their own traces in the terrain, moved rocks around and taken stones as souvenirs. Spiral Jetty has inspired visitors to build bonfires and to create interpretive artworks close to the structure.(9) I believe these interventions manifest an honest desire to engage with the site, but I understand the stress that these acts place on the organization that is tasked with preserving the art. In the late nineties, the lake’s surface level could change dramatically and the structure was periodically submerged, which had caused some visitors to voice their disappointment. These circumstances led to the idea that the spiral structure should be refurbished by adding new soil.(10, 11)

The idea met with harsh criticism, and art enthusiasts and experts began debating how Smithson would have felt about the conservation plans.(12) Debate heated up again in 2008, when it was discovered that exploratory oil drillings were planned close to the site. Holt opposed the oil drillings and organized a protest against them. In a letter she wrote to rally the troops, she argued that the drilling infrastructure would: “produce noise and will severely alter the wild, natural place.”(13) In her view the presence of newly made structures would have changed the artwork dramatically.A press release issued out by Dia focused on the ecologically disruptive impact of the planned drillings.(14) Opponents of the conservation initiative were critical of Dia’s wording. By today’s standards some of Smithson’s works, such as Asphalt Rundown (1969), are best understood as intentionally produced environmental catastrophes. The artist did not allow environmental concerns to constrain his personal expression. Spiral Jetty can also be interpreted as being a man-made protest against the forces of nature.(15) The planned oil drillings were dropped, thanks to the campaign.

Spiral Jetty’s conservation efforts invite public debate, since Smithson did not leave any guide- lines as to how the structure should be managed over time. The initiative has been both justified and challenged by citing interpreted statements that the artist made before his passing in 1973. From interviews with him, we can say that he did not see erosion as an “edifying” process and that he was under the impression that the structure would not be affected by it for a long time. The conservation efforts are supported by Moira Roth’s interpretation, that the artist took pleasure in the idea that his art would withstand time. (16) It is troubling when discussion of Spiral Jetty’s conservation get tangled up with mechanical and technical concerns. Smithson believed that a focus on the mechanical aspects of art was a sign of the “[…] latent spiritualism at work in just about all modernism.”(17) From a cynical point of view, even questioning whether Spiral Jetty can be conserved involves a remodelling of what we understand it to be. This concern is justified in Smithson’s case, since he understood language as having a direct impact on the landscape.(18)

Smithson argued that environmentally oriented artistic processes, such as reclamation work, should keep away from nostalgia. He maintained that reclamation projects should not attempt to return damaged sites to a paradise-like form. To counter nostalgic sentiments, he called for the development of new modes of appreciation, which would, for example, take into account the effects of industrial processes on the landscape.(19) These statements have laid the ground for the response that Smithson would have been excited to see decadent oil-drilling infrastructure being set up close to Spiral Jetty as it would underline the impact modern development has on the environment. (20) Restoration of the structure has been opposed because critics do not want the site to develop into a visitor friendly attraction under Dia’s stewardship. Critics want to hold onto the idea that land artworks are hard to get, and to get to. Their pro- test can be read as a parallel conservation effort, guided by a particular reading of Smithson’s work. Possibly due to the criticism, Dia has refrained from carrying out major changes to the site. Conservator Francesca Esmay, who was Dia’s first conservator, developed systematic methods for documenting how changes in water levels affected the structure, and visitors’ movements were guided by signs. It was good that no new rocks were added to the structure, since in 2014 the lake’s water level dropped to its lowest in 167 years and the spiral was laid bare, becoming land.(21)

The 6,650 ton rock structure made by a renowned artist is sensitive to what is said about it. This is because the artwork known as Spiral Jetty is not made solely of rocks and soil. The spiral structure is firmly related to the textual, visual and material representations that are used to present it to audiences who have not visited the site. Spiral Jetty is seen as an artwork through which Smithson sought to disassemble the notion that representations of a piece of art, such as photos, films and texts, are in a subordinate relationship to it. In Spiral Jetty’s case, the relationship between the piece of art and its representations is reversed: the obscure, unsigned stone structure is constituted as an artwork through texts, films and photos. Spiral Jetty is also used to explain what the artist meant by the concept of the “Nonsite”. At its simplest the “site” is the location where the spiral structure is located and a Nonsite is an exhibition of the various media that represent the structure. The actual structure is meant to be read in relation to the Nonsite elements (and vice versa).

By bringing elements from the stone structure inside the art space, he was hoping to lure audiences outside the boundaries of the art institutions, and to escape the centres of art and power, both materially and conceptually, or to “at least consider other spaces and other realms of art activity”.(22) When Smithson coined the concept of Nonsite, he was not arguing that one site is more authentic or real than the other. He argued that galleries and museums should not be thought of as neutral venues, as the values and political agendas of institutions affect the artworks presented in their spaces.(23) Holt, too, testifies that their actions were not an attack: “[…] land-art was not against them, at that time the system was not functioning well and works developed naturally outside their reach.”(24) The spiral structure and the art institutions where elements of it are exhibited are dependent on each other. Smithson talks similarly about the relationship between the map and the terrain. A map is read in relation to the terrain, and the terrain in relation to the map. In his own words: “[…] Nonsites are abstracted, three dimensional maps that point to a specific place.”(25) We might look for something real in the relationship between the two.

These interpretations affect the conservation initiative. Because the spiral structure is difficult to visit – it requires a lot of time, plane and car journeys to reach it – audiences hoping to learn from it have rooted their understanding of the work in the presentation of its Nonsite elements, which have been shown in exhibitions according to the rigid conventions applied by art institutions. These conventions have recently been counterbalanced by a stream of new photos, videos and texts shared by a mixed bag of people who have visited the structure and revealed it to be in various states of decay. Enthusiasts brought together by social media are developing an understanding of the artwork through various sources that institutions do not necessarily acknowledge. Conservators working on Spiral Jetty are aware of the stream of media visitors distribute to their peers. The value these contributions have for conservation efforts is unresolved, as the processes of documentation are not formalized. (26) I believe that the most important archive or exhibition presenting Spiral Jetty is being produced by visitors, and that more work should be done to understand how the artwork is informed by this process.

When we read Spiral Jetty as an artwork that acts in opposition to the centralization of knowledge and specialization, and use it as a vessel through which to escape centres of institutional artistic thinking, it becomes apparent that answers about how to manage its future should be sought through a dialogue with people who emerge from other realms of artistic activity, who Smithson also sought to reach out to. Engaging in a dialogue with everyone involved with the site offers a radical approach for art conservation. Future conservation efforts could take the form of inclusive group-council sessions or other non-academic forms, such as séances. At their best séances would counterbalance the dominant mechanically and technically driven discussions, which are motivated by the “cults of preciousness” that serve modernistic interpretations of the work and manifest a “religion-in-drag” (Smithson’s terms). People feeling left out of the debate can take comfort in the realisation, that thanks to a growing understanding of the impact of western lifestyles on the globe, we can all influence what happens to Spiral Jetty by making environmentally conscious decisions.

The Future of Ruins

Land and environmental art conservation is a fairly new area of concern with its own specific challenges, and it poses hard questions to those who are responsible for artworks across the globe.(27) I have addressed some of the questions related to the conservation and maintenance of the artworks by Agnes Denes and Nancy Holt. The arrival of pioneering trees, vibrant weeds and invasive plants is a constant threat to the permanence of these site-specific artworks. If the sites are not constantly maintained, the artworks will become indistinguishable from the surrounding forest. By the looks of it, conservation of land art can be better understood as a process of palliative care. This is paradoxical in the case of Tree Mountain, which is set to fulfil its restorative task only after it emerges as a virgin forest. Counteracting these processes is necessary, because when no care is shown for the sites, they will be used as illicit waste dumps. In the absence of caretakers, the communities inhabiting the areas discover unexpected ways to use them. Instead of treating their engagement with the sites as a threat, this provides an opportunity for developing the sites in dialogue with their users and for starting to plan the future of the artworks together. This process will require art conservation to emerge as a social practice that redefines and reinterprets artworks, rather than being centred on the mechanical and technical aspects of the artwork.

About author: Eero Yli-Vakkuri is a performance artist from Helsinki. A first version of this text was published in Finnish in the Mustekala webzine ( / Petteri J. Enroth) in April 2018. A revised version was drafted during the fall of 2018 at the International Studio & Curatorial Program in New York, with the support of the Alfred Kordelin Foundation. Special thanks to Honza Hoeck and Pekka Ruuska.

(1) The restoration project was funded by the Cities of Nokia, Ylöjärvi, the Municipality of Hämeenkyrö and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
(2 Ilta-Sanomat (Jussi Niiranen). 25 Jun 1998. Amerikkalainen Nancy Holt teki jättitaideteoksen Pinsiön sorakuoppaan [The American Nancy Holt made a gigantic-artwork to a gravel pit in Pinsiö]
(3) Jaukkuri, Maaretta. 1992. Strata: Lothar Baumgarten, Guillaume Bijl, Agnes Denes, Felix Droese, Nancy Holt, Jan Håfström, Pieter Laurens Mol, Alan Sonfist: 28.3–2.8.1992. Tampereen Taidemuseon julkaisu, 44; Nykytaiteen museon julkaisuja, 1992/10
(4) Helsingin Sanomat (Leena-Maija Rossi). 26 July 1990. Interview with Nancy Holt: “Taide parantaa maiseman arpia” [Art Heals the Scars in the Landscape]
(5) The initiative found support from the Ministry of Environment, which announced plans for its realization in the same year during World Environment Day at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The United Nations (UNEP) supported the plan with a $50,000 endowment. The planned 10,000 trees that make up the mountain were each set to have a human caretaker. Stewards of the trees are not allowed to sell their tree, the trees are meant to be passed on to the person’s heirs or handed forward through other unspecified means. During World Environment Day, trees were given to guests of the event. For example, tree no. 8870 is designated as under the custody of George H.W. Bush, tree no. 6059 to Lech Wałęsa and tree no. 8822 to Saddam Hussein. This produced the mountain as a snapshot of the geopolitical constellations of the era. People could apply for trees from Tampere Art Museum and the Strata working group. Sculpture Magazine published an article about the mountain in 1995, after which some audience members in North America were appointed caretakers (a family visited the site during the conservation period). During the conservation period, some of the cartographical locations of individual trees were translated from the archaic “Finnish National Coordinate System” (in use 1970–2005) into the popular GPS system and the owners of individual trees identified. The translation process produced relatively accurate results, but the number of trees could not be verified from the available datasets.
(6) Aamulehti (Tiina Nyrhinen). 1 May 1999. “Haltioituminen Pinsiön keitaalla” [Stendhal syndrome at the Oasis]
(7) Aamulehti (Lotta Sonninen). 1 June 1998. “Soramontussa kiemurtelee uusi elämä” [The gravel pit is crawling with new life]
(8) Dia Art Foundation, 17 Jan 1999. Press release: “Dia Center for the Arts Announces Gift of Robert Smithson’s Spiral.”
(9) “We trust the visitors will not disturb the materials. There have been unfortunate examples of visitors being insensitive. We recently had a college art professor who invited their students to make an interpretive artwork at the site. They cast a concrete pad and erected a viewing station with a didactic sign pointing towards the Jetty.” (Richard McCoy). 21 Jul 2009. Extending the Conservation Framework: A Site-Specific Conservation Discussion with Francesca Esmay
(10) New York Times (Melissa Sanford). 13 Jan 2004. “The Salt Of the Earth Sculpture; Debating Intervention As Nature Does Its Work.” sculpture-debating-intervention-as-nature-does-its-work.htm
(11) (Wayne Andersen). 14 Mar 2004. “Re- storing Spiral Jetty: What If?” https://www.artwatchinternational. org/restoring-spiral-jetty-what-if/
(12) “I know the DIA Foundation has good intentions, but isn’t Smith- son’s notion of entropy, in both its aesthetic and philosophical dimensions, more important than trying to imitate the way the Spiral Jetty looked in 1970? […] We could, of course, have a Spiral Jetty Theme Park. We art tourists could buy helicopter shots of ourselves sprinting on the Jetty, just as Smithson ran in his movie. […] Smithson, no stranger to irony, might have enjoyed the socialization of his great work as yet another example of entropy.” (John Perreault). 14 Jan 2004. “Smithson’s Spiral Jetty: Does It Need a Makeover?”
(13) “Yesterday I received an urgent email from Lynn DeFreitas, Director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, telling me of plans for drilling oil in the Salt Lake near Spiral Jetty. See Attachments. The deadline for protest is Wednesday, at 5PM. Of course, DIA has been informed and are meeting about it today. I have been told by Lynn that the oil wells will not be above the water, but that means some kind of industrial complex of pipes and pumps beneath the water and on the shore. The operation would require roads for oil tank trucks, cranes, pumps etc. which produce noise and will severely alter the wild, natural place. If you want to send a letter of protest to save the beautiful, natural Utah environment around the Spiral Jetty from oil drilling, the emails or calls of pro- test go to Jonathan Jemming 801-537-9023 Please refer to Application # 8853. Every letter makes a big difference, they do take a lot of notice and know that publicity may follow. Since the Spiral Jetty has global significance, emails from foreign countries would be of special value. They try to slip these drilling contracts under the radar, that1s why we found out so late, not through notification, but from a watchdog lawyer at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the group that alerted me to the land leasing for oil and gas near Sun Tunnels last May. Thank you for your consideration of this serious environmental matter.” Note: Holt’s e-mail was shared through Tyler Green blog in Jan 2008 (which was still available in 2013). There is some debate as to whether Holt had written the e-mail herself or if it was sent in her name. Green’s post is lost, so I turned to the “Frenchy but Chic!” blog, 30 Jan 2008, Spiral Jetty in Danger: Act Now! in-danger-act-now.html
(14) Dia Art Foundation. 6 Feb 2008. Press release: “Dia Art Foundation Fights Proposed Oil Drilling Near Robert Smithson’s Iconic Artwork, Spiral Jetty” (1970) proposed-oil-drilling-near-robert-smithsons-iconic-artwork- spiral-jetty-1970/type/text
(15) “Smithson’s art was designed to embrace its hostile environment. He famously admired the potential effects entropy might have on his earthworks, a position that offers rather vague guidance as to preserving the works. […] The sculpture was always meant to be a foil to the Great Salt Lake: pitting art against nature, in a sense, and tracking the latter’s effects on the former.”. (Kriston Capps). 19 Mar 2008. No Art for Oil http://prospect. org/article/no-art-oil
(16) “What would Smithson have thought of the current state of the Spiral Jetty, I asked myself now and then? Certainly he recognized in 1973 that it was a work inevitably involved “with the process of nature […]” though he simultaneously commented that he was “never too interested in works without substantial permanence” – extract from Roth’s foreword to the published interview. / “I was never too interested in works without substantial permanence. I wanted works that would have a longer duration.” – Robert Smithson. Tsai, Eugenie. 2004. Robert Smithson. University of California Press; 1st edition. p.81 / p.92
(17) “There’s a great difference between a dialectic view and a mechanistic view. […] Conceptual art too, to a certain extent, is some- what mechanistic, especially in terms of LeWitt, who actually says his ideas are machines. So this mechanistic view permeates everything, and it seems that it’s just reducing itself down to a kind of atrophied state. […] I’m bored with it, frankly. I think it’s a desperate attempt. And then they try to transcend their own movements and all this sort of thing. So there’s this kind of latent spiritualism at work in just about all modernism.” Ibid. 85.
(18) “My view of language is physical as well. I don’t see language on an ideational level. […] My view of language is physical rather than mental, or the physical precedes the mental. […] Actually poets, in a sense formulated the entire landscape view back in the eighteenth century. It wasn’t architects and gardeners who invented the landscape…”. Ibid. 89.
(19) “I think it is possible to cultivate waste […] It’s a matter of developing a different value structure, and also to have some kind of relationship between the industrial process and the ecological controls. But a good deal of ecology strikes me of nostalgia, as I said, for a view of the landscape that at one time existed. It’s like yearning for the unspoiled paradise garden, the Eden”. Ibid. 93-94.
(20) “Smithson was not an environmentalist by any stretch of the imagination, nor did he believe there was any such thing as “Nature” – as something separate and distinct from human endeavour […] Ironically, 50 years ago, Smithson was not only inspired but strengthened in his resolve by the wreckage and debris that once greeted the visitor to the site of Spiral Jetty, the wreckage and debris of a failed oil drilling operation of the mid-20th century. In his eyes, these things, this industrial junk (now removed – sanitized in the last few years by the DIA Fdn in the interest of stopping time for profit) was of the highest aesthetic value, a motivating factor in his placement of the work.” 1 Feb 2008. Spiral Jetty Update and Conversation Points http://artfcity. com/2008/02/01/spiral-jetty-update-and-conversation-points/
(21) (Hikmet Sidney Loe). 2014. The Spiral Jetty: Strata of Water. spiral-jetty.html
(22) “MR: […] Do you want them to leave the gallery, at least in their head, and think about where the things come from? RS: Yes, I think that is a good way of putting it, at least consider other spaces and other realms of at activity […] you’re expected to look at works in galleries as they dropped from heaven. It’s a kind of secular religiosity, it seems to me.” Tsai, 2004, p.88.
(23) Kwon Miwon. 2002. One Place After Another – Site-specific Art and Locational Identity, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. p.13
(24) Helsingin Sanomat (Leena-Maija Rossi). 26 July 1990.
(25) “But if you take a crystal, if you break it down into its structure, into its lattice structure – let’s say, a quartz crystal shows a hexagonal grid – then you make an ideal drawing of that, essentially you’re mapping a quartz crystal. Then you start to see the whole earth is mapped. I mean, the whole earth is one big map. So that basically the Nonsites are abstracted, three-dimensional maps that point to a specific site”. Tsai, 2004, p.84
(26) “Francesca Esmay: […] I could imagine that still and moving images taken at the site might become so ubiquitous that it could provide the ability to monitor the day-to-day goings-on and condition of the Spiral Jetty. It is our understanding that visitors come to the site every single day. If all of them posted images, we would accumulate quite a record, albeit one that is less formalized.” (Richard McCoy). 21 Jul 2009.
(27) “A mostly forgotten work by American land artist Agnes Denes has a precarious existence in Melbourne’s western suburbs” Gilbert, Jock & Hicks, Sarah. May 2015. “A Forest for Australia: Challenging Loyalties.” Landscape Architecture Australia magazine. p. 35–38


Co-hosted a talk-shop at the Lauttasaari library on Thursday with Leena Kela and Heini Aho (Neighborizome crew). The event investigated the processes of “Forgetting & Decaying” in relation to an upcoming public artwork “The Garden of Decay”(?) by Maria Teeri and Janne Nabb. The piece will installed at the Lauttasaari Mansion which Kone foundation will launch as a residency/office/community/art space (Expected to open summer 2018).

Neurologist and emeritus professor of geriatrics Raimo Sulkava saved the event by giving a relaxed and easygoing description on how memories are formed (through repetition). We discussed bronze statues in our cities as cultural memories, which Sulkava replied to by presenting “The Garden of Decay” as a positive response: The shape of the artwork is constantly changing and it’s rotting away but it can still be considered valuable and artistic – Such as we should approach the elderly.

Visited HAM yesterday for the Eero Nelimarkka exhibition opening. The house was full of people! There were some distant relatives present too but I felt too lazy to introduce myself. The exhibition was boring and the catalogue texts celebrated Nelimarkka as a genius. Some statements were fatally incorrect: “Nelimarkka was a chauvinist, which was normal in his time”. He was definitely a chauvinist but there has never been anything “normal” about it. The text was written by Riitta Nelimarkka.

Two critiques on the exhibition Helsingin Sanomat and Yle – Kulttuuri.