Friday, July 08, 2005


Tyler has posted from the Lightning Field, almost a year to the day I visited last summer. He notes, among many other observations, that

Looking at Lightning Field was like looking at a painting. When my eyes found one pole, it led me to the next one. The poles moved my eye around the landscape the way the discovery of objects, cats, and people in a Bonnard move my eye around the canvas.


I found the Lightning Field neither meditative nor introspective. When I looked at it, I thought about the field and the way my eyes moved around it, not about myself.

I felt a tension between the movement he describes, a restlessness that bothered me intermittently—I was constantly distracted by the regular patterns, the alignments of the gridded rods, unavoidable correspondencess for those with mathematical minds, and I didn’t care for the mania it sometimes evoked.

Lightning Field
(Courtesy of MAN)

Yet, as we know, in the best earthworks the land does keep one grounded, so to speak; I tried to convey a bit of the power that the land carries in the west in my [admittedly abstract] essay on place and Los Angeles, a power to still one’s mind and to facilitate harmony with one’s surroundings, with oneself. Tyler remarks that

Land art is not about the hubris of the artist who places an object in the landscape in an attempt to draw the eye away from nature. It is about being modest, about being willing to have your art dwarfed by the earth.

I’d go a step further: land art is, in part, about the modesty of the viewer himself (or herself), a measure of the willingness of the audience to be dwarfed by the earth. Insofar as the Lightning Field interferes with the ability to experience this modesty, it fails where Heizer, Turrell, and Serra do not.

Finally, it is noteworthy to comment upon the social aspect of the work: the Lightning Field is experienced in a small group, numbering six or so, and for twenty-four hours. It is often the case that viewers experience the work, in part, with someone who they aren’t well-acquainted with, and this engenders a kind of social modesty. Furthermore, the act of discovering the Field [a process described in some detail in the MAN post] is mirrored in the dance of intimacy shared among the cabin-dwellers: a few days after leaving Quemado, I discovered that one of the folks who stayed with us in the cabin was a MacArthur fellow.



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