Friday, July 10, 2009

Widening Gyre

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold"

William Butler Yeats

Here is a stream-of-consciousness spiral-inspired art hop on a theme of the land and the landscape, intervention and impermanence.

Starting here, with "Respect: A Photo Odyssey Celebrating Canada's Boreal Forest" :

Photo Credit: Dan Riedlhuber

According to the press release, "RESPECT takes an innovative and thought-provoking look at Canada's Boreal Forest. Nine Canadian photographers braved weather and time constraints to collectively create a vibrant picture of Canada's North. The sweeping vistas captured digitally convey the fragility as well as the brutality of the Boreal Forest.The Boreal Forest accounts for 58% of Canada's land mass. 70% of it remains untouched. It is also home to two-thirds of the 140,000 species of plants, animals and micro-organisms identified in Canada."

The exhibition runs until October at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre.

Next stop: Utah...

Photo Credit: Francisco Kjolseth

Photo Credit: George Steinmetz

...and Robert Smithson's extraordinary earthwork, "Spiral Jetty, 1970", on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah. The work is owned by New York's Dia Art Foundation. "Owned" does not seem to be quite the proper word: I think the idea of stewardship is closer to the spirit of the thing. Spiral Jetty is in a constant state of flux as the natural conditions of the Great Salt Lake change. During periods of drought, it is exposed. It can be submerged for years at a time when the water level is high. Originally black basalt rock, it is now largely white against pink due to salt encrustation and lower water levels.

Entropy and temporality were central concepts in Smithson's work: he wrote at length about mutability and impermanence as it applied to his art. He was killed in a plane crash on July 20, 1976 while surveying sites for his work "Amarillo Ramp" in Texas.

Early in 2008, change threatened Spiral Jetty, and not the kind of change that
would in any way be sympathetic to Smithson's ideals. It was announced that there were plans for exploratory oil drilling approximately five miles from the jetty. There is a sad Canadian connection to the story, in that the company in question is Alberta-owned oil sands player Pearl Montana Exploration. Their application was quashed after effective protests from both the arts and ecological conservation communities. In January 2009, Dia learned that Pearl would resubmit its application.There has now been a reprieve and the company's plans have been put on hold due to a reorganization of the company and falling oil prices.

Just two days ago, Dia reported a new threat to Spiral Jetty: an application has been filed by Great Salt Lake Minerals to increase the number of solar evaporation ponds which they use to extract potassium sulfate for fertilizer. Some 80,000 acres are proposed in the North Arm of the Great Salt Lake where Spiral Jetty is located.

(Addendum (July 13): Thank you to Michael Buitron for alerting me to his amazing aerial photographs of Spiral Jetty, taken on a trip last fall. Go here to see them, and to read a very interesting commentary on Smithson's choice of Rozel Point as the location for Spiral Jetty. Buitron points out that Smithson chose the location not only for the extremes of the natural environment, but also because of the lengthy history of man's industrial exploitation of the area (oil from the tar pools: minerals from the water). If Smithson were here to speak for himself, would he applaud Dia's preservation/conservation efforts, or would he prefer allowing natural (an unnatural) forces to simply take their course?)

And on to Edward Shalala.

(Look closely: These works are very subtle and do not translate well to the small screen.)

string painting, 2006
documentary photograph
Martha's Vineyard, MA
digital print 11"x14"  

raw linen canvas thread painting, 2009
documentary photograph
basketball court, Sara Roosevelt Park, NYC
c-print 11"x14"  

Thanks to Joanne Mattera's blog for introducing me to Edward Shalala's work.
Here is his artist statement:

"In 1973-76, while in graduate school at The University of Wisconsin, I began making abstract paintings using pieces of torn canvas in which I would poke holes, rip, cut, glue and assemble. I used aluminum and black paint mostly then, and later because I was aware of the work of Fontana from Italy, I made paintings using no paint at all. Often I used wire, jute, or narrow strips of torn canvas. As my graduate work developed I continued to make work using these materials, and these were included in my MFA show in 1976.

After graduating I moved to Boston Massachusetts, where, in 1977, I made and outdoor painting using only string, I documented that piece with a photograph. That year I moved to NYC where I have continued to work. Today I use raw canvas thread, and raw canvas dust, to make outdoor paintings. I work in NYC parks and grasslands and document the canvas thread paintings with photography. The paintings and pictures are simple and complex. They involve the ground, the sky, the weather, grasses, plants and trees, fences, sidewalks, architecture and people. This is a landscape and arena like no other space for abstract painting. My work suggests a different type of surface for the painting. The painting is 360 degrees around the thread and dust and is involved in an intricate crossing back and forth across the ground creating interior shapes of open space on the ground. The work is different from the familiar warp and weft of the canvas, and is expressed in canvas thread and dust. I am making an effort to add to the dialog after Fontana and the minimalist. My paintings focus also on the idea of flattening the painting. They go to the outdoors and nature. They flatten beyond the gallery and architectural walls.

Being on the ground and vulnerable to the elements, these canvas thread and dust paintings are temporary in nature."

Shalala's work made me think of a beautiful Cal Lane installation I saw a number of years ago:

Cal Lane, Dirt Lace installation at Wynick Tuck Gallery (Toronto, 2004)

Lane was born in Halifax and raised on Vancouver Island. After a brief career as a hairdresser, she became a certified welder. She then went on to an M.F.A. from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. It was there that she developed her highly unusual artistic practice: producing impossibly delicate lacelike sculptures from decidedly macho steel objects, using a plasma cutter. From an earlier series involving earth-related objects such as shovels and wheelbarrows, she has moved to progressively larger and larger works, and outdoor installations.

Over time, her work has become more overtly political:

"I have always been interested in embracing the very thing that repels me in order to understand it: I prefer to make sense of things or in order to suspend (or pass) judgment."

Her most recent work involves drums and tanks used to store or transport oil. The titles of her two most recent series, Sweet Crude and Crude, not only refer to the original uses of the drums and tanks but also comment on the consequences of our dependence on oil.

Lane's next project is scheduled to begin in October, 2009, in Tivat, Montenegro. The object of her affections this time will be a 62 foot long submarine.

Finishing the spiral with work that takes us back to the subject of trees and the land:

Melissa Doherty paints aerial views of trees in settings which are neither wild nor natural.

Doherty presents an imagined suburbia, where man encroaches on nature, retaining and enclosing groupings of trees as captive specimens of beauty. Doherty is a recent graduate of the FIne Arts program at the University of Waterloo. She currently has work in a group show at Edward Day Gallery.


  1. Some of the most memorable pictures I've taken were made while flying over Smithson's Jetty:

  2. Thanks very much for your comment. Your photographs are powerful. I've added an addendum to my post, including a link to your site (for some reason the link you've provided here cannot be made active) and to your discussion on the controversy surrounding preservation efforts at Spiral Jetty.