Land art

A stone jetty, curved in a spiral. Land art by Robert Smithson.
Spiral Jerry by Robert Smithson

I have a sudden strong yearning to make land art. Something large, solid, potentially historic, which can accrete generations of visitors’ experiences. One of the historic features of land art, though, is that it’s there to be looked at – so many Big Wonderful Inscrutable Objects, decorative or symbolic or simply There. I want to make something useful, welcoming, supportive. Mountains aren’t there for looking at: you climb them, you farm them, you gather herbs and stones, they keep you out of the flood plain. And sometimes, you build them, like the slate spoil heaps that dominate the skyline in Blaenau Ffestiniog where I went to school. (Zero stars, do not recommend. Ask someone unbiased though.)

It’s not like I haven’t built things before – I grew up in a Welsh hill farming community, and on an Essex naturist camp. I’ve built fences, walls, ponds, and composting toilets. But now I have fatigue and chronic pain, which make it a lot harder for me. I can’t swing a mattock more than a couple of times, I can’t wheel a full barrow, and I even have to be careful with power tools. But by the same token, disability is part of what informs my needs, and the way I look at the landscape. We made it; there isn’t much at all of this island that isn’t shaped by human activity. And now there are a lot of places that simply aren’t accessible to a lot of humans, whether through poverty, disability, class, or simply psychology.

So: land art which might change that. I’ve thought for a while that I want to make benches and shelters. Something more comfortable, more accessible, more disability-friendly than current designs. Something that will make explicit what’s missing from our current sociology of the countryside.


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