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Published  16/09/2002
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Song of the Earth: European Artists and the Landscape - book review

Song of the Earth: European Artists and the Landscape – book review

Mel Gooding and William Furlong. London: Thames and Hudson, 2002.
ISBN 0 500 510164.

Mel Gooding, in his introduction to this book, reminds us that the modern world has more in common with the order of being (the macrocosm of all living things, the microcosm of individualised humanity) as understood by the Greeks.

Gooding sees modernist attitudes as inevitably incorporating parts of earlier models that are manifestly anachronistic for today. Yet today, as Gooding rightly claims, ‘We contemplate how a world in which the very elements upon which life depends - air, water and earth - are polluted, and the canopy of our biosphere is pierced…We know now that among the endangered species is humanity itself’. Scholarly yet clearly argued, this publication, its introductory article by Gooding and the series of protracted interviews by William Furlong, is exceptional through the sheer technical quality of the photographs of the artist's works and installations (which many publishers would have presented inadequately, but not T&H) ironically assembled, despite the permeating sense of foreboding, as a rite of celebration. There is here a celebration of an inheritance which all the artists involved acknowledge, in the fragile, timeless wonderment of nature. Gooding proclaims the triumph of the Romantic impulse in Modernism here, as represented by the artists selected.

In the second section of his introduction, Strategies in the Field, Gooding boldly attempts to categorise such contemporary artists by the procedures they have employed or deployed in the process of 'dynamic intervention' with nature. Now indeed is the time to differentiate those American artists, now grouped as Land Art such as Walter di Maria and Robert Smithson, from those who would especially in Europe recognise the fertile topsoil of Arte Povera as their genesis. Gooding lists firstly the process of walking actually, of symbolic intervention, including also structures that are ‘intentionally made ephemeral’ (as Chris Drury, Andy Goldsworthy and Peter Hutchins and including works by Bruce McLean as well as of course Richard Long and Hamish Fulton). David Nash too, fills this remit. Gooding clearly identifies a second category here, with the process of gathering and assembling natural objects indoors, in a studio and ultimately a gallery; this is much more deliberately organised than the activity of putting together objets trouvés. Herman de Vries and Nikolaus Lang are examples given here. Bruce McLean's involvement, in ‘Splash Art Sculpture’, ‘Mud Sculpture’ and ‘Floataway Sculpture’ (1967-68), is notable. In some instances there is a collaborative aspect to working with nature, both on the micro and macro scales.

Gooding and Furlong have here made an important addition to the growing list of landscape related works; timely also in cataloguing key inspirational artists of value to all engaged in the conservation of the fragile ecology of contemporary landscape resources.

Dr Janet McKenzie, Deputy Editor, Studio International

 

 

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