Land Arts of the American West is a “semester abroad in our own backyard” attracting architects, artists, and writers from across Texas Tech University (and beyond) to investigate the intersection of human construction and the evolving nature of the planet. Land art, or earthworks, index the complex array of human activity shaping our world—petroglyphs, roads, dwellings, monuments and traces of those actions—to show us who we are. Our itinerary brings us six-thousand miles overland to experience major land art monuments—Double Negative, Spiral Jetty, Sun Tunnels, The Lightning Field—while also visiting sites to expand our understanding of what land art might be. We camp for two months witnessing pre-contact archeology at Chaco Canyon and infrastructure at Hoover Dam, as well as military-industrial operations in the Great Salt Lake Desert and scientific exploration at the Very Large Array. We experience remote sites like the north rim of the Grand Canyon and Gila Wilderness in addition to occupied zones such as Wendover, Utah and Marfa, Texas. As we travel we make our own work in the landscapes we inhabit to calibrate the expanding range of our examinations.
The program structure includes enrollment at Texas Tech in the Land Arts studio and seminar with 9 graduate or advanced undergraduate credit hours, two months of field work from late August through October, followed by our return to a studio on campus for the remainder of the fall term. Work produced is exhibited publicly the following Spring.
To negotiate the multivalent meaning of the places we visit, and shed light on strategies to aid their comprehension, the Land Arts program invites the wisdom of field guests—writers, artists and interpreters—to join specific portions of our journey. Over the years guests have included art historian Ann Reynolds, Center for Land Use Interpretation director Matt Coolidge, writer Lucy Lippard, architect Urs Peter Flueckiger, artist and filmmaker Deborah Stratman, poet and translator Curtis Bauer, and art collective Postcommodity, among many others.
Land Arts situates our work within a continuous tradition of land-based operations that is thousands of years old. Analysis of sites visited provides a basis for dialog and invention. Issues of spatial and material vocabulary, constructional logics, and inhabitation serve as the foundation for an investigation through making. Students construct, detail, and document a series of site-base interventions in a context that places emphasis on processes of making, experiential forms of knowing, and transdisciplinary modes of practice. The immersive nature of how we experience the landscape triggers an amalgamated body of inquiry where students have the opportunity of time and space to develop authority in their work through direct action and reflection. Land Arts hinges on the primacy of first person experience and the realization that human-land relationships are rarely singular.
Land Arts was founded in 2000 at the University of New Mexico by Bill Gilbert with the assistance of John Wenger. From 2001 to 2007 the program developed as a collaboration co-directed by Bill Gilbert and Chris Taylor, then at the University of Texas at Austin. In the fall of 2008 Taylor moved to Lubbock and the program operates autonomously from the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico and College of Architecture at the Texas Tech University. For information about the program at UNM see http://landarts.unm.edu/. In January of 2009 the Nevada Museum of Art announced the creation of the new Center for Art + Environment and the acquisition of the archive of Land Arts of the American West.
Operational and curricular material about Land Arts at Texas Tech can be found on the College of Architecture website. This site is updated regularly and if stars align in the future be augmented to provide greater access to the program archive. Please contact Chris Taylor for any queries or additional information.