MOIRA BATEMAN talking with Poet and Playwright, Lou Martinelli about making art.
How did you come to be interested in landscape architecture, and how did that interest lead you to make "land art"?
I had wanted to be an artist my whole life since I was probably 5 years old. I also loved being outdoors in the natural world. I didn't know a lot about Landscape Architecture before I started graduate school, but it seemed like a field that combined these two interests. I first became aware of land art because of an amazing professor I had at the University of Minnesota, Julie Bargmann, now of D.I.R.T. Studio and the University of Virginia School Architecture. She is an innovator in regenerative landscapes. Julie introduced me to land art. I was really excited about especially Robert Smithson's work.
My first piece of land art was a barbed wire and soil chair. It was a graduate school studio project regarding the re-use/reclamation of land contaminated by industry and a nearby superfund site. The land happened to be across the alley from my grandma's house, so I used soil from her vegetable garden for the chair.
How is land art different than sculpture which employs textile as a medium,
e.g. the work of Nick Cage, which is sometimes referred to as "performance art"?
What were you trying to achieve in your current installation at the
University of Minnesota?
Did any nature writers influence that work? If so, how?
Because my current work is related to ideas about land and is made with the land itself, it may be considered land art.
For my current installation I wanted to make a series of mixed media fiber based sculptures that interpret a cross section of natural landscapes. I hoped they would be something like a poem about that place.
The writer who has influenced my work most is Patricia Eakins. She is not a “nature writer” but writes about the natural world in a surreal, metaphoric and mythical way. Patricia's work “The Hungry Girls” and the play it was made into inspired my first textile art series “Momenta Animale” and my work thinking about humanity and our inherent wildness and connection to wild nature.
How is your work like “a poem”?
What are the base materials of your sculptures?
I see the sculptures as being somewhat like a poem as they can be rhythmic and metaphorical. The formal elements I’m putting together are silk, wool, beeswax and pigment and also the text of the species lists in a unique and structural way to be experienced visually and to evoke a feeling. I see sculptures and poems as highly edited objects, crafted down to an essence of something the maker wants to communicate.
My base materials are silk and wool. Both are organic and come from animals. I have used both sheep’s wool and bison wool. I have added vegetable and mineral matter to my work by bundle-printing or staining the silk with plant parts and the chemistry of natural waterways on sites where I’ve worked. The silk I’ve used is a tussah silk. It’s a peace silk that is fair traded and the moths are allowed to fly away. This leaves interesting natural variations in the material. This silk is paper like and very thin. It is stronger than it looks. It has a skin like quality somewhat like the skin of an onion. It is somewhat transparent yet dense and stiff enough to have presence. I like rough cut and frayed edges. For stitching I use silk thread. I work with hand stitching parts together in a casual/irregular manner. I use machine free stitching to create dense repetitive areas of texture and line. I add wool to the pieces by needle felting it into the silk. I feel like the wool gives the pieces an added aliveness and wildness. I love the texture of the wool and working with it. I like to distress areas of the silk with the needle felting tools in additional areas where there is no wool. There are a number of ways to do this and it creates various textures in the silk. I’ve also used a beeswax and pigment product which I paint onto the silk. This is applied to a base coat of black textile paint which I drip and press into the fabric. The beeswax and pigment allows me to create layers of subtle tone and color which I base on the foundation colors that are on the silk from the waterway and plant stains. I think these marks end up looking like flowing and pooling water. I have also used a typewriter to type plant and animal species names onto the silk. I enjoy the repetitive and meditative nature of this and many of the processes which I use in my work.
How is your land art connected to the nature essays of Paul Gruchow?
I first learned about Paul Gruchow’s work only in 2014 when I was beginning work on my project “Elements in Material: Lost Lake Peatland to Pin Oak Prairie”. A DNR person mentioned Paul's book “Worlds within a World" to me. I was really interested that both Paul and I had come up with the idea to create a body of work based on reflections on a number of Scientific and Natural Areas to represent a cross section of landscape types across the state of Minnesota. I was working with 10 of the 149 SNAs, and Paul had chosen two of the same for “Worlds within a World” -- Lost Lake Peatland and Gneiss Outcrops. I felt a connection with him and wanted to learn more about his life’s work and include some of that into my exhibition a the University. I am thoroughly enjoying the process of getting to know Paul throughThe Paul Gruchow Foundation and his work. It will be interesting to see how it may influence my work in the future.
I have one more question.
I see Paul Gruchow's writing as a gift, in the sense Lewis Hyde means that art is a gift -- that expression of beauty which the dead pass onto the living through the medium of the artist. Do you have a similar view of your work as a land artist?
Yes. I think the Lewis Hyde idea is very evocative. I like it.
Moira Bateman's Exhibition of Land Art “ELEMENTS IN MATERIAL: Lost Lake
Peatland to Pin Oak Prairie” will be presented at the University of Minnesota
Architecture and Landscape Architecture Library, 89 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis
from January 23 to February 23, 2015.
Louis Martinelli will read from the Nature Essays and Journals of Paul Gruchow, February 18, from 1:30 –3:00 pm at the Architecture and Landscape Architecture Library.