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 (www.mustekala.info / 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, diaart.org. 17 Jan 1999. Press release: “Dia Center for the Arts Announces Gift of Robert Smithson’s Spiral.” https://www.diaart.org/about/press/dia-center-for-the-arts-announces-gift-of-robert-smithsons-spiral-jetty/type/text
(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.” Art21.org (Richard McCoy). 21 Jul 2009. Extending the Conservation Framework: A Site-Specific Conservation Discussion with Francesca Esmay http://magazine.art21.org/2009/07/21/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.” https://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/13/arts/the-salt-of-the-earth- sculpture-debating-intervention-as-nature-does-its-work.htm
(11) Artwatchinternational.org (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.” Artsjournal.com (John Perreault). 14 Jan 2004. “Smithson’s Spiral Jetty: Does It Need a Makeover?” http://www.artsjournal.com/artopia/2004/01/smithsons_spiral_jetty_does_it.html
(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 jjemming@utah.gov. 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 artinfo.com 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! http://frenchybutchic.blogspot.com/2008/01/spiral-jetty- 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) https://www.diaart.org/about/press/dia-art-foundation-fights- 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.”. Prospect.org (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.” Artfcity.com. 1 Feb 2008. Spiral Jetty Update and Conversation Points http://artfcity. com/2008/02/01/spiral-jetty-update-and-conversation-points/
(21) Hikmetsidneyloe.com (Hikmet Sidney Loe). 2014. The Spiral Jetty: Strata of Water. http://www.hikmetsidneyloe.com/the- 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.” Art21.org (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


Good stuff to listen to when fixing the socks of strangers around the world (only 5 pairs to go). We had an open studio event on the weekend at ISCP. I was in a flue for the entire event and sat in the corner darning socks. A hipster complemented my stitchwork. He told me I’d make 300$ for a pair!

Anna Tsing & Donna Haraway: Tunneling in the Chthulucene (2015) University of Idaho, Moscow. A long and loose (in good way) presentation of their thinking. Tsing reminds audiences that non-human life does not live in harmony. Symbioses develop trough violence and struggle. Haraway reminds audiences how multicellular entities form: By single cell organisms attempting to eat each others, partially devouring each others bodies, getting stuck and living together anew.

Imagining infrastructures (2017) The British Academy. A (too) detailed talk about infrastructure. Partially good for developing an understanding of infra as a social, life-supporting network. It starts with an interesting analysis of air-conditioners as colonial apparatuses! The idea that people work best in climate controlled cool environments should be re-evaluated. The negative effect that air-conditioners have on communities was addressed in a recent reading group too. Air-conditioners break communities by endorsing indoor, private comfort for closed families. Manuel Tironi’s account on how communities rebuild after catastrophes is very rewarding too. He suggest that infrastructure should be approached as a social network and a compost (as defined by Haraway).

The Facebook Economy (2018) Zero Books podcast. Douglas Lain chatting with Rob Larson. They work their best to frame Facebook (and others) as monopolies and do a good job clearing out how exactly the monopolies make their profits.

Adventures in New America (2018) an afrofuturistic buddy comedy. A fun and easygoing podcast.

WRITING ABOUT ART TODAY MEANS BEING WRITTEN ONTO (2018) Kaino Wennerstrand. Wennerstrand is developing a socio-material analysis of contemporary art-exhibition practices. They pleas for a broader acceptance of social practices (workshops etc.) as a critical medium for artistic expression. Social practices and community-building-as-art is a vital field of practice for groups and individuals, who cannot exist alone. Art practices which center on objects & orchestrated performances, advocate exclusive infrastructures. I would like to extend their critique to problematize material & energy demands object centered & orchestrated performance aesthetics rely on. Using Wennerstrands critique we can argue that Chris Burden was more of an antibiotic artist then a performance artist. He was more hospitalized and medicated, then shot in the arm. #ॐ

Wennerstrand offers a diagram Social Anxiety Matrix #2 which can be used for analyzing personal motivations for attending art events. They argues that “Contemporary art has never been about class revolution [the temporal and generational rotation of positions of wealth past classes people are born to], but the cementing of its horizontal power structure while adding a new coat of paint on it.” which I don’t agree with. I believe that artist networks and support structures (grants, residencies etc.) are currently the best (if not only) systems for advancing the temporal and generational rotation of wealth and power. Quotes from the text below.

Public has become the primal form of new art, and exhibition the secondary one. The word public here is a (suboptimal) placeholder for assemblies, collectives, public gatherings, non-patriarchal familial constellations and so forth. […] What was once the fringe program (talks, workshops) is now the headliner. When I look around, I can see some people having not really realized this. Others are angry, even. “Why is art about the other stuff nowadays?” This is another way of saying “I”m white and feel like I can’t get enough exposure.”

Managing a nuanced perspective on things is particularly vexing when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the extreme, life-destroying urgency of climate change, for example. Often, you can catch an artist having gone through these motions and realizing that, say, flying to biennials is bad for the environment and a grueling way to live, too. So they turn their own realization into a dictum and hold everyone up to this standard of their own making.


I won the ISCP Halloween costume contest. Residents were tasked to dress up as famous artists or artwork. I immediately knew how to win the competition. My art education was basically 6+ years of faking to be famous artist or artwork.


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.


The most important text written by a person of Finnish origins in years (possibly ever).  Linux 4.19-rc4 released, an apology, and a maintainership note (2018) Linus Torvalds.

My flippant attacks in emails have been both unprofessional and uncalled for. Especially at times when I made it personal. In my quest for a better patch, this made sense to me. I know now this was not OK and I am truly sorry.

To tie this all back to the actual 4.19-rc4 release (no, really, this _is_ related!) I actually think that 4.19 is looking fairly good, things have gotten to the “calm” period of the release cycle, and I’ve talked to Greg to ask him if he’d mind finishing up 4.19 for me, so that I can take a break, and try to at least fix my own behavior.

I need to take a break to get help on how to behave differently and fix some issues in my tooling and workflow.

And yes, some of it might be “just” tooling. Maybe I can get an email filter in place so at when I send email with curse-words, they just won’t go out. Because hey, I’m a big believer in tools, and at least _some_ problems going forward might be improved with simple automation.

I know when I really look “myself in the mirror” it will be clear it’s not the only change that has to happen, but hey… You can send me suggestions in email.

We visited Magazzino and Dia: Beacon last week with the ISCP crew. Both sites were spectacular and the trip led to an observation.

At a glance the supermarkets in New York seem to have absolutely everything. The shelves are jampacked with cans, boxes and soft plastic bags – But when one investigates them closely it’s apparent that the shelves are empty. An entire isle can boast a spectacular variety of cans, dressed in different colors and ornamented with different brands but if inspected, they are all the same product. All of the cans have beans in them. Supermarkets house a phantom of variety.

Dia: Beacon exhibition felt the same. When I entered the space I was confronted with 20 meters of Dan Flavin’s fluorescent tubes. At first it felt spectacular. But I felt an eerie stab as I realized that they were all the same art piece. I tried to think of this as a form of critique, but after witnessing the same logic applied to nearly every other artist in the exhibition, it became clear that the function of the site was to celebrate abundances, masses and superstructures which facilitate the production of clones. Minimalist artworks in the Dia: Bacon setting came off as a clone army of proto-zombie formalistic stuff. This was not a disappointing experiences, on the contrary: It felt like strolling past colorful isles at Macy’s. It’s relaxing to see stuff.

Learned about David Hammons’ Pissed Off (1981). A bright sight, sabotage is the way forward. More on the performance Stop And Piss: David Hammons’ Pissed Off (2013).

I had an intensive week. I’m editing my PhD proposal, applying for additional funding for Trans-Horse and met with Lisa Le Feuvre from the Holt/Smithson foundation (concerning Land- and Environmental Art Conservation). Prepared a 4k video of our work on Up and Under (1998) from the still photos I shot in 2013.