2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 13
Presentation Time: 4:30 PM


ROSENBERG, Gary D., Indiana Univ–Purdue Univ, 723 W Michigan St, Indianapolis, IN 46202-5132, grosenbe@iupui.edu

In the 1960's, sculpture moved off the pedestal and into the landscape. The earth itself—the soil, topography, lakes, rock outcrops, faults, etc—became the sculptor's medium of choice. Earthworks ranging from James Turrell's “Roden Crater” in Arizona, to Michael Heizer's “Effigy Tumuli” in Illinois and Christo's “Wrapped Coast” in Australia have since been created all over the world. Although earth materials constitute the medium and weathering, erosion, metamorphism, igneous, and other geologic processes inform the message, environmental art was never just about geology. It has always addressed issues of our place in the cosmos, the sculptor's creative power as akin to God's, and societal concerns such as despoiling of our natural resources. Some contemporary works are aggressive in identifying these concerns and offering remedies for them.

All environmental art is an aesthetic response to the surrounding terrain, whether spectacular or commonplace. One of the most important revolutions in art history, the birth of landscape art as an independent genre, took place in the pleasant but prosaic flatlands of northern Europe. Understanding these facts will help students realize that their engagement with the local terrain is meaningful, wherever they live. Respect for the neighborhood and understanding its place in the world have always been admirable educational objectives.

Indianapolis' White River Parkway, adjacent to the IUPUI campus, offers numerous examples of ways to engage students with environmental art. The park is built around a restored canal dating from a failed early 19th Cy attempt to link the Great Lakes with the Ohio River. It sits on former swampland, and along the White River now beset by combined sewer and rainwater outflow. Alan Sonfist's “Time Landscape” adjacent to the park's Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, recreates a riparian habitat with plants native to the state prior to European colonization. IUPUI's Center for Earth and Environmental Science has restored a portion of the nearby river bank with modern plantings. Students in my “Geology of Art” and “Art and the Earth Sciences” courses have responded to the geologic setting of the park with home-made videos and artwork exploring issues ranging from wetlands geology to pollution and preservation of our natural environment.