Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Trail as a work of art.

It's recently occurred to me that my growing attachment to this project is driven by my aesthetics as much as by my fascination with history.

For years I've been drawn to the works of two artists: Andy Goldsworthy and Christo/Jeanne-Claude. While both artists work in a variety of media with wide ranging forms and formats, here are two of their linear works.

Here's Goldworthy's Stone Fence project.

flickr image, from a Set posted by Shancat

This is Storm King Wall at Storm King Art Center, in Mountainville, New York. At 5 feet high, it runs 2300 feet through forest and meadows, into a lake and out the other side.

In a similar view, here's a photo of a work by Christo and his wife/partner Jeanne-Claude, called Running Fence. All quotes and images are from the Running Fence website.

photo: Wolfgang Volz, from the website

The scale here is quite different: 18 feet high, 24.5 miles long.

For both artists, time is an integral aspect of their work. Goldsworthy is especially fond of works of an ephemeral nature: melting ice, fragile constructions of twigs, and captured best by his photographs of the patterns of materials tossed into the wind. Rivers and Tides, the award-winning film that tells his story and watches him at work, is subtitled Working with Time.

He knows that over time his wall will begin falling down, stones shifting with gravity and snow and wind. In his mind this will only add to its character as a work of art, just as the stones that were used in its construction came from the surrounding fields.

Christo's Running Fence was a project defined by its time limits:
All parts of Running Fence's structure were designed for complete removal and no visible evidence of Running Fence remains on the hills of Sonoma and Marin Counties.
As it had been agreed with the ranchers and with the County, State and Federal Agencies, the removal of Running Fence started fourteen days after its completion and all materials were given to the ranchers.
The work of both artists is clearly and specifically designed to be respectful of the natural and human environment, with Christo/Jeanne-Claude fully engaged in the public process necessary for a work that crosses property lines, municipal boundaries, roads and rivers.
The art project consisted of: forty-two months of collaborative efforts, the ranchers' participation, eighteen public hearings, three sessions at the Superior Courts of California, the drafting of a four-hundred and fifty page Environmental Impact Report and the temporary use of hills, the sky and the Ocean.
The inspiration I draw from studying images and stories of their works is deeply rooted in my respect for the full complexity of their creation. While I'm in awe of the pretty face, I know there is something more beautiful that grows only with story-telling and aging.

Just so, as I travel the right-of-way of the Switzerland Trail of America I feel a deep emotional, historical and spiritual connection with the work of those who designed, created and nurtured its development those many years ago.

Of course, this is someone who finds the engineering of the Interstate Highway System to occasionally rise to the level of sheer beauty.

In my mind the Switzerland Trail of America is the archetypal linear sculpture as a reflection of time passing. Communicating that connectedness to my own and future generations has become something of an obsession with me.

1 comment:

paintingpat said...

Michael, what wonderful statements about art. These artists bring such different dimensions to "classical art" or illustration or one dimensional thought. This is the movement of art presently at our art schools and universities, in some ways I am very sad, in others it is adventuresome, just not for me. Have been trying to figure out how to paint the wind, such a part of our lives here in the mountains, working on a few ideas.