WILLIAM L. FOX: Well, I'd like to thank my gracious colleagues here at the Johnson and everybody at Cornell for inviting me to come talk with you today. The show that's here is really a thrill to see. I have great jealousy for some of the objects on display.
Yes, she's saying basically-- yeah, we would like the lights up just a little bit so people can see. So it needs to be dark enough here so we can keep the resolution on the slide and then a little bit of light for the audience, so we can-- there we go. Yeah, that's good. Yeah.
So this is where I work. It's the Nevada Museum of Art. It's an 81-year-old museum. It's a 65,000 square foot building, designed by Will Bruder from Phoenix.
The Center for Art and Environment, which is the research branch department of the museum, is these windows right here. It's a nice library, on the second floor. And when you come up the stairs of the museum, the first thing you will see is the research center on your right, and the Art and Environment Gallery, that's on your left.
And that really establishes the fact that art and environment is in the DNA of the museum and has been since its founding. And it's our overarching arc of inquiry for the entire institution, although we are a regional museum that deals with things like this. So this is a Bierstadt painting of a peak that doesn't exist, Mount Lander. There is actually an Albert Bierstadt peak in the Rockies, but there's not a Mount Lander.
So we deal with things like this. We deal with thatl kind of organization, from heaven to Earth, from the eternal snows, down to people. We also deal with things like this. And this is not quite dark enough. This is almost a little too light. I don't quite know how to resolve that because you probably can't turn down the front and leave the rest of the room up, can you?
This is Jim Sanborn, who's doing a projection on Shiprock in New Mexico. That's a 1,500 foot volcanic plug that's sacred to the Navajo. It's on Navajo land. You're not supposed to climb it. You're not supposed to touch it.
What Jim has done has taken a projector from the CIA and done this enormously long exposure at night, to put the Western cartography imperative, if you will, on the sacred rock. Ah, Yeah, there we go. So you can see the star tracks. You can see it's a long exposure.
So what he's done is he's overlaid a sacred site with another culture, but without touching the rock itself, which I think is a terrific gesture. And that kind of juxtaposition interests us greatly at the museum in the Altered Landscape Photography collection and also at the Center for Art and Environment.
This also interests us. This is an image from a trip that Matt Coolidge, at the Center for Land Use Interpretation, and I took a couple of summers ago. We drove the length of the Trans-Alaska pipeline and looked at how that man-made object reordered our perception of the landscape and also made some physical reordering of the landscape.
And that's very red. The projection is very red. That almost looks like that could be on Navajo land.
This is something that's very important to us. This is the catalog that was published in 1970 for the 1969 exhibition of earth art that was here at the Johnson, which was one of the first exhibitions. It's kind of nice to have the cry of the common loon coming in through the door there, yeah, while doing this.
So this is something that we have in the Center. This is something else we have. This is an exhibition that was done here, of the Harrisons' Lagoon Cycle. And the exhibition, late '80s. I can't remember when.
WILLIAM L. FOX: '85. And the Harrisons are some artists I will talk about a little bit later. And they're someone to whom we have a 50-year commitment for a project we're doing in the Sierra Nevada with them. So it's nice how important the Johnson has been to the life, in fact, of the Center for Art and Environment in Reno.
I'm going to talk this morning about the kind of rubric that I used to organize the archives that we collect around the world, and the projects that we study, and the scholars we bring in to study these projects. We have archives now from more than-- archive materials from more than 600 artists, working on all seven continents, including both polar regions. And we organize them to some extent in this idea, this rubric, of the "Art of the Anthropocene."
In 1995, Paul Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist, won the Nobel Prize, along with two Americans, for discovering the mechanism of ozone depletion in the atmosphere. In 2000, he's at a geomorphology conference in Mexico. And they're talking about the Holocene, the recent era, the last 10,000 or 12,000 years since the ice ages, and when human beings pretty much spread all over the planet, although Aborigines have been in Australia for 50,000 years. But most of the planet had not really been colonized, if you will, by us folks.
So the Holocene is the recent era. It's seen as, in general, at that time, of relative climate stability, and so forth. Paul Crutzen is sitting with his colleagues. And he says, you know we're not living in the Holocene anymore. We're living in the Anthropocene.
And there's kind of quiet. And then they say, well, what on earth are you talking about? And he says, well, look. If you go around the world and you study ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica, you find that starting in the 1790s, right about the time that James Watts' steam engine is released as a commercially viable version of that invention, you find a layer of carbon being laid down around the world.
And that carbon is a worldwide, global geological strata. And that's how we define a change in geological epoch. So we've moved from the Holocene, I'm going to propose, to the Anthropocene, which is the age of humans.
The British Stratigraphic Commission will make a determination in 2016 as to whether or not they're going to accept that nomenclature as a formal device in the geologic community. But in the meantime, it's a terrific metaphor, a terrific proposal, a terrific model, for us to look at how we've engaged with the planet.
Some colleagues of Crutzen's, with Paul, then sat down and devised three stages of the Anthropocene, the first one, 1790, roughly to 1950. And if you saw an Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore, for example, you remember that great graph, the great hockey stick graph, where he gets on the lift at the end. And he gets up to follow the great changes that are happening.
It's the beginning leg of that graph. A very slow change in the atmosphere and the oceans, that basically says things are accumulating, but slowly.
In the 1950s, post-world War II, we get into hyperconsumerism. And we start changing the planet a lot. That's the second stage of the Anthropocene. That's called the Great Acceleration by scientists.
And then in the 1990s, the general public becomes aware of the fact that, oh, yeah, we're not only living on one system on the planet, we're affecting that system. And three, we can choose how we affect that system.
What I'm going to show you today is a very rough correlation between what artists have been doing during the Anthropocene and the stages of the Anthropocene. So we're going to look at first, second, and third kinds of art projects and ways of representing the world that correlate to those stages of the Anthropocene.
And I talk really fast. Christian, how you doing? Are you doing all right? My Norwegian colleague here can understand what I'm saying. So life is good.
I'd like to start with Alexander von Humboldt in 1799. He was going with his friend, Aime Bonpland, the French botanical illustrator, to South America. And they have a great adventure for three or four years. They are the first people to go up the Orinoco and connect it to the Amazon River Basin, for example. They make the first credible interior maps of South America.
Along the way, they climb Chimborazo in Ecuador, which is over 19,000 feet. And at that time thought to be the highest mountain in the world because the Himalaya had not been poked into by the British yet. And 19,000 feet, over 19,000 feet, it's a live volcano. They're walking up this thing in button-up shoes and silk waist coats, right.
And they're carrying every scientific instrument known to mankind, everything that ends with M-E-T-E-R, so hydrometer, and thermometer, and barometer, and so forth. Actually, Aime Bonpland was carrying all those things. And the great Alexander von Humboldt is-- you know.
So they go to Chimborazo. And they start walking up this. And, of course, they're walking from the tropics, up to the subtropics, and up to the temperate zone, and up to the subarctic, and up to Arctic, finally the eternal snows, right. It's organized just like that painted by Bierstadt.
And along the way, along the way, Humboldt realizes that he's looking at distinct ensembles of plants at different elevations. And he says, oh, that's interesting. I saw the same thing in the Alps when I was walking in the Alps, when I was climbing in the Alps.
And so he begins to conceive of this idea that there are equal zones of temperature around the planet, the thermoclines. And he says, hm, one system, one way of the world adapting itself to these different temperatures, which occur at different elevations. And he realizes the higher in altitude he gets, the higher in latitude. But correspondingly, it's like going higher in latitude towards the polar regions.
So he gets back. He gets back from-- isn't that gorgeous? I've always wanted to have that on my bedroom wall. He gets back from South America. And he spends more than a decade putting together a multivolume report on his trip. So he hires 50 lithographers, engravers, calligraphers, artists to put this together. And the outfall out of these beautiful, beautiful organizations of the world.
It's so expensive, he never could afford to own the entire set of books himself. He went through his entire fortune, having his books created. And they were the first real proposal-- and then followed up by a subsequent publication called Cosmos, where he tried to organize the entire universe.
But he actually did a pretty good job of starting physical geography. It's his disciple, Ernst Haeckel, who rescues ecology from Greek, to bring it back, to say that we live in a-- it's one-home system on the planet.
This is a subsequent illustration made by some other people following his trip from South America and applying it to all of the mountains around the world. And basically showing where human beings could live.
I mean there's actually-- it's very hard to see in here. There's a farm there, right in the middle of that, basically proposes, here's how high in the scheme of things you can have a sustainable farm. That's shown right up in here. So wonderful illustration of putting the world together.
Now, Alexander von Humboldt, who was the most quoted earth scientist of the 19th century-- Paul Crutzen, by the way, is the most quoted earth scientist of the 20th century, coming into the 21st. Frederic Church, falls in love, as what so many other artists did, with the illustrations found in the Humboldt books.
And he follows Humboldt's journey. He goes to South America. He goes to Ecuador. He walks the same path. Today, you can still go to the inns in Ecuador and you can stay in the same inns that both Humboldt and Frederick Church stayed in.
And Church assembles this kind of generalized view of the Andes. This is called Heart of the Andes. It's hanging at the Met. It's not a view you could go actually see physically. You'd have to go in several places and assemble it, as did Church.
And what he's doing is proposing, of course, once again, eternal snows, reaching towards heaven, all the way down to people in the foreground, signs of civilization in the foreground. And right there, that little plume of smoke, that's the highest place you can put a settlement in this organization of landscape that's sustainable.
So this is-- I mean, it's a colonial document. It's a wonderful painting in the history of art. It's all these other things. It's also an encyclopedic representation of a real environment.
Church, when he opened this in New York, rented a hall. Put a velvet rope out. It would be halfway back in this room. Let you come no closer than that velvet rope.
Rented you opera glasses for $0.25 a throw. He put live potted plants on either side of this thing. So he made $10,000 renting opera glasses to people to come see this. And then he sold this for $10,000. At the time, the most expensive painting in America to be sold.
I'm sorry the projection, again, is very red for this. But this is a way of organizing the world, a way of organizing landscape.
1864, we're now in the West, with Timothy O'Sullivan, the rise of photography. So if Church is going around painting a catalog of the world, now the photographers are being asked to picture catalogs of the world, to assemble these typologies of geomorphological forms, and geology, and so forth.
This is the Clarence King expedition, that's crossing the 40th parallel in western America. King is a geologist from Yale. And he was looking for evidence of how the Earth was formed through uniform processes. What he keeps finding are catastrophic events, like this.
This is actually a region in Nevada, not far from Reno, Karnak Ridge. Timothy O'Sullivan is taking a picture of this uplifted columnar rhyolite at the request of Clarence King, basically to show how there's been some kind of violent uplift in the land. So he's making a catalog of the world.
But at the same time, Clarence King was saying, take a picture of this. This is a stamp mill outside Virginia City. It was a very big silver production thing. The silver that comes from Virginia City, which is just outside of Reno, and is stamped here and then sent off to be refined, that's the silver that built San Francisco, starts the Bank of America, and does a bunch of other interesting things in this country.
So Timothy O'Sullivan is being asked to catalog, not just the natural world and assemble a picture of that for Clarence King, a scientist. But he's also beginning to document the picture of contemporary human footprint around the world. This is still first stage of the Anthropocene. There's not so much footprint that's actually really visible. But there's plenty of it, even in the desert, out where this is.
I'm going to skip ahead tremendously. And go to this image, which many of you, of course, would be familiar with. It's Ansel Adams. It's the Winter Sunrise in the eastern Sierra. This is Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48.
Actually, Clarence King climbs this peak. It's Mt. Williams. And he claims that peak because he thought it was the highest peak because it's the one that's a little bit closer. It looks higher. He gets on top and he looks across. And he goes oh, oh, didn't get that right.
So this is right outside of Lone Pine, California Ansel Adams is there because he's been hired, along with Dorothea Lange, to go to the Manzanar internment camp and make photographs of the camp. He's not very comfortable doing that. So he's off making landscape pictures nearby. This is outside the community of Lone Pine.
And what's remarkable about this photograph are the two things that you do not see in it. Lone Pine, like many communities in the West, high school kids every year will go up and whitewash rocks on the sides of the hills. And they put the initials of the town up there, LP. So LP is right here. But you don't see it.
Now, the reason you don't see that, is Ansel Adams had it dodged out in the prints. He either did it or he had assistant dodge out the initials on the hillside because he thought-- they were in the front. He was trying to present kind of the pastoral, with the sublime. He has a magnificent photograph. He does not want the distraction of human civilization in there.
He got so pissed, in fact, that those initials were there that he actually scratched them off the negative. They're not even on the negative anymore. But there's one other thing. And so that's a fairly common story. I mean, people know that story. But here's the other story.
See this line of trees right here? It looks like it's a windbreak for the horses in the pasture, and so forth, and so on. Yeah, well, the reason it does this line of cheese there is that's the Los Angeles aqueduct.
That's a waterway. It was taken 100 years ago, last year, from last year. A hundred years ago, south, down to Los Angeles-- to the San Fernando Valley possible. Have any of saw the movie Chinatown? This is the thing Chinatown is about.
And Ansel Adams knows perfectly well that's there. But he's being careful, like, not really to indicate-- he doesn't get up enough so you can see it's a canal.
So he makes this fantastic photograph. He is proposing this idyllic reality, this beautiful wilderness. This is what we should be striving for. And this becomes the signature image in This Is the American Earth, the first coffee table book from the Sierra Club, published in the '60s, that he curates with Nancy Beaumont, in Yosemite Valley, sitting there.
What he puts opposite this photograph-- well, I guess I should-- so I've had these two graphs I want to show you. This is that business of the Great Acceleration. These are the graphs upon which Al Gore bases that one device when he goes up in the lift. These are graphs that show dozens of different changes starting in the 1950s. So this starts in the 1700s, late 1700s, and goes up to 2000. These graphs are now being updated because they've changed even more dramatically.
Here's the amount of land that's been domesticated. The number of coastal structures. What's happening with the chemistry of ocean ecosystems. What's happening with the number of McDonald's restaurants. The amount of paper consumption. The number of motor vehicles, and so forth. And so you can really see-- you can really see here all of these indicators that are correlative to but also causal of a change in the global chemistry. And then here's a way of actually tracking this down I won't get into, but it basically is the same thing.
Now, so Ansel Adams, right when that's going on, right when those graphs are going like this, Ansel Adams is proposing two things. He's saying, here's the great wilderness of the Sierra and so forth, the great untouched wilderness to which we should aspire as a civilization and preserve. That's what the Sierra Club's going to become about.
And then he takes these pictures by William Garnett, who was an army guy, gets out of the Army, demobs, flies on a plane across America to get back to the West Coast. He's lucky enough to sit in the co-pilot seat, and he says, wow, I want to get a plane and photograph this.
So he gets to Los Angeles, and he's taking his flying lessons. He's got a camera up in the air. A developer hires him to document what the developers are very proud of, the building of Lakewood California. And these become the emblematic images of sprawl, of ticky tacky housing as we used to call it.
So these are orange Groves that have been scraped off the planet, and then there are plots made and foundations laid, and then you get these houses that all look pretty much the same. I think there's three or four basic models. And this was built for people coming back from war to settle down and have families and so forth. It's right on the southern edge of the Greater Los Angeles metropolitan complex.
And this becomes evil in This is the American Earth, so that you get these pictures that are there posited against the pictures that Ansel Adams takes. He gets Garnett's photographs and puts them and says, this is what we do not want to do. This is something that we have to resist, and we do that by preserving wilderness.
Ansel Adams is setting up a system of the world, if you will, and he is using typologies to do that. Here's pure geology, if you will, and geomorphology versus urban civilization. By the way, I flew over this with the British geographer Denis Cosgrove several years ago before Dennis passed away. Lakewood is a beautiful little town. Every single house has been modified. The town is full of trees. It's entirely walkable. You can go to school, go shopping, go to a movie all on foot. And it's become a fairly desirable place to live in Los Angeles. So just to complicate that story a little bit.
At the same time, you get people like the Bechers, who were in the first new topographic show that Will Jenkins organized in Rochester. And here, people in Germany photographing-- very consciously adopting Timothy O'Sullivan's methodology. O'Sullivan could not photograph high contrast late in the day. The emulsions weren't sensitive enough to capture that. He needed lots of light and fairly dead light for the photographs of things like Karnak Ridge and that stamp mill to come out.
The Bechers adopt that. So they're photographing these blast furnaces in Germany when the light is fairly high and flat, there's a light overcast. And they're assembling a typology of the human footprint. This is during the Great Acceleration. So they're really looking at-- what are the mechanisms of acceleration? They're not doing this because they're being environmentalists. They're doing this out of a formalist sense of category and so forth. They're not doing this to bolster up my argument, if you will. They're doing this for their own purposes.
Complicate this story. So Germany meets the Kyoto Protocol targets by dismantling these blast furnaces and shipping them off to China, where they're reassembled without the pollution controls and they make the steel they send back to Germany to make Mercedes-Benz. It's a complicated world. It's one system.
So all that's going on, and there are some artists who are beginning to react to the human footprint in interesting ways during this second stage of the Anthropocene now. We're in the Great Acceleration. So we're picturing-- we've gone from picturing nature and assembling a category-- sorry, a catalog of that. Now we're cataloging the human footprint. And you get people reacting to the human footprint on the planet in various ways.
Richard Long. Not so far from Chimborazo. This is Peru, but it's not that far away. It's in the Andes. And he's doing something something as simple as walking and assembling a circle of stones. The art in this case is the act of him making the circle of stones. The circle stones as a trace of his activity. This photograph is a secondary trace of that activity, so it's a tertiary object in a way, tertiary performance of this.
And this circle of stones is a very modest gesture in the landscape. Like most deserts, this is also a pluvial landscape. It's shaped by rain. But there's not a lot of rain here. This circle of stones is going to last for a very long time. If you the Nazca Lines in Peru, you know that's just-- they simply swept aside some stones to make those figures on the desert floor. They've lasted for a very long time. This will last even longer. Keep that in mind when you look at this.
This is Michael Heizer's City Project. You can't really go photograph what Mike is doing because he doesn't want anybody to do that. Actually, he doesn't want you to experience this through photographs at all. He actually insists that you have to go there when it's done and experience it yourself. A mile and 1/3 long, almost 1/3 of a mile wide or 1/4 of a mile wide at its widest. 20 feet deep and 20 feet above great. So it's about a 40 foot throw vertically overall.
Complex 1, the first part that was made back in 1971, is down here, and then it's grown from here. And what Mike is doing is he's proposing a dialogue between Western geometrical forms and Mesoamerican much more amorphic forms. So Western geography is here, and here with the bunker shape of Complex 1, and then in between are all of these organic shapes that are based on his experiences with his dad, who was an archaeologist, going to Olmec sites like La Venta and going to Saqara in Egypt and so forth.
So he's setting up-- again, it's a very formal thing. He's not doing an environmental project. But what Mike is doing a saying, jeez, if they can build those suburbs like Lakewood, Los Angeles, if we're going to have that big a human footprint, I can have a big human footprint that's art based. It's legitimate for me to do this.
And then here's his ranch and his home and so forth right here. He raises alfalfa and buffalo, actually makes beefalo, a cross between cattle and buffalo. He does that to keep a tax credit on the land so he can afford the water to stay there. It's a big piece. It's bloody big. That photograph you saw was taken from a commercial airliner at 35,000 feet by just somebody who happened to know what they were looking at.
And this is a picture on the ground that was taken by a photographer from England for Michael Kimmelman's New York Times article about hijackers work. Heizer let Kimmelman in and let those photographs be taken because he was scared-- and it could still happen-- that a train was going to run through this valley carrying nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. And he was trying to get enough public opinion around about that so the train would be stopped.
So it's a darn big project. And these are stele, basically, that he's created out of concrete leaning up against this form. Now, this is a huge project. Remember that little circle by Richard Long? Richard Long's circle is going to be there for a very long time. This project is continually coming apart because rain is destroying it. Just like Double Negative, if any of you know that project, those two great incisions in the mesa above the Virgin River that's crumbling now because of erosion.
Mike never thought rain would act that fast in the desert. He'd actually like to get Double Negative back from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and do to it what he's done here, which is shoot it with a shotcrete. And so he'd try and stabilize that structure. No one's going to let him do that, just like they're not going to let somebody rescue the Spiral Jetty. These projects are meant to live on the planet, live with the Earth. This will be gone long before that little circle of stones in Peru has disappeared.
People often say, isn't this a big scar on the Earth and stuff? When you come into this valley, this is the piece under construction several years ago right at the entrance to Mike's property. You can see the Cottonwood trees pretty clearly, but you really don't see this. And this has all now been planted with native grasses, so it disappears pretty thoroughly into the landscape, oddly enough.
You all know what this is. Really dark picture. I'm sorry. It's The Lightning Field by Walter De Maria, photograph taken by John Cliett. Walter also did not want his photographs-- his property photographed except just that once. He wanted Cliett to actually show The Lighting Field. People say it's not important that lightning hits the lightning field. Actually, that's not true. Walter De Maria hired a pilot named Guido Deiro to fly around the Western United States. And this is the same guy who flew for Mike Heizer and located his properties.
Actually, Walter De Maria was very interested in where the most lightning could be found in the Western United States. This is the second or third most lightning struck place in the country. Southwestern Colorado is the most. This is central New Mexico, south central New Mexico. It's second. John Cliett, right after he takes this photograph, about 30 seconds later his truck is hit by lightning. It cooked the truck. He was unhurt, but it cooked the truck.
Anyway, so this is The Lightning Field. Now, Walter's not making this picture-- I'm sorry, this art piece-- because he wants to say something about necessarily the nature of the Earth. This is a piece of minimalism based upon a lot of earlier minimal sculptures. Bless your heart.
It's a mile across, a kilometers deep, 400 stainless steel rods, a little more than 20 feet in the air, forming an absolutely level surface. You could lay a plate of glass across the tips of all of these poles. And you have this beautiful horizon, the second horizon, that would be formed in the landscape. So he's really interested in expressing that.
By the way, at the Archives, we have the first sketch of this. It's done on a cocktail napkin in Los Vegas in 1972 and the Stardust Coffee Cafe in the hotel casino there. And it was done for Guido Deiro, the pilot. So Walter De Maria is saying, here's what I want to do. It's based on these sculptures. Go find me a place where I can do this.
You go there. You spend roughly 22 hours. You drive to a town. You're escorted onto the property. You're left with a tray of enchiladas and a book that tells you how to experience the piece. And then you're left until the next day when you're escorted back off the property.
Now, this is still very much kind of a second stage of the Anthropocene project. It's basically an artist reacting to the fact that he can have a big footprint, if you will. This is Richard Box, British artist. Graduates from art school. Gets a residency at a science lab. He wants to go learn how to blow glass and make scientific instruments out of glass, how to make chemistry ware out of glass.
He's there, and the tech he's working with says, have you ever made a fluorescent tube? You know, you can actually do that. And so they make a fluorescent tube and they light it up. They put some wires on it and it lights up. And then the tech says, you know what's really cool is if you walk outside the lab underneath these 400,000-volt power lines and hold it up, there's enough electricity leaking out of those lines that it will light up the tube.
Richard Box says, no. Tech says, come on, follow me. So they go outside at dusk, and it lights up. Richard Box goes out to local hospitals and so forth, and he rounds up 399 more used fluorescent tubes, and he plants a lighting field, a field. This is not surrounded by a fence like the lightning field to keep out the cattle. It's next to a freeway. You can go sit there and have a picnic when it's up. And he goes around the UK and he does this in different spots.
You're invited into the project. You're not told how to see it. He's not connecting heaven and Earth with lightning. He's connecting the sky and the ground. He's connecting a human grid. Up here, you can't see it very well, but here are these powerlines going overhead. He's connecting a part of the human footprint that's in the sky with the human footprint that's on the ground. This is a third-stage Anthropocene project. This is a project that's aware of the fact that we've constructed systems that interact with Earth systems. Bless you. And so it's a very, very interesting and very aware-- he knows exactly what he's doing vis-a-vis The Lightning Field.
Patricia Johanson is sitting in the bar in New York City with Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer and Walter De Maria and Charles Ross and all these people. And she's the only girl there. They don't talk to her much because she does drive a bulldozer. She gets married. She moves to upstate New York. She has the first, I think-- Suzanne, you might remember this too. She has the first solo show of a minimalism at a gallery in New York City, which I think is a remarkable accomplishment. Yeah, I know. Who knew?
SPEAKER 2: When would that have been?
WILLIAM L. FOX: Yeah, it's in the '60s, early '60s. So I don't know if that's-- we've got to track that down. We've got to find out if that's really true. Anyway, so Patricia Johanson moves to upstate New York, and she starts sketching things, animals in her garden, like these little snakes. And she starts thinking about how to weave these animals and so forth into experimental garden designs.
So this is a proposal that basically says, if you have a lot of channels and the channel water that go into a pond, those channels will help purify the water. It's a very, very simple water purification system. This is what Patricia does now. This is a tertiary level wastewater treatment plant in Petaluma, California. It's a sewage plant. You can drink the water out of it. It's based on animal forms, like this head of a mouse that's endemic to the site, and this beautiful little morning glory flower, and some other features that are embedded in this project.
The people of Petaluma said, yeah, we've got to tear up the landscape to do this wastewater treatment stuff. It's a wetland that we're messing with. Is there any possible way that we can preserve some biodiversity and we can make this a place that's also usable for people? Patricia gets engaged as an artist based on her experimental garden designs and other things.
This is a very large version of that little drawing I just showed you writ large. This is now the most popular park in Petaluma. It's one of most popular educational facilities that the school system uses. The biodiversity is higher here now than it was before they built the plant. She's moving more dirt than Michael Heizer. Patricia and her infrastructure projects from out of the United States is moving more dirt because she's hooked herself to the spread of the human footprint and found a way to subvert it, if you will.
So she's making an intervention. This is art that walks in the world. She's making an intervention on behalf of infrastructure that actually runs something counter and undoes, it mitigates some of the things that the human footprint is doing that's not so good on the planet.
This is the kind of art that really interests us at the Center for Art and Environment. And what it's doing is-- remember, the relevance of all this stuff to the show that's out here is the vocabulary invented by the Earth artists, by the land artists, in the late '60s and early '70s and so forth, that vocabulary, that boldness, if you will, of intervening in the landscape, has been adopted by many artists around the world to make actions that are actually very concerned about the environment. So it's a formal vocabulary that's been adopted and been used. And Suzanne, who's going to talk next, is someone who's written extensively about this.
The Harrisons. Here we are in the Sierra Nevada. This is part of the watershed. This is the crest of the Sierra right here. Snow that falls here melts and goes into the Central Valley of California. Snow that falls here goes into the desert, comes to Reno basically, in the Truckee River.
Temperatures are warming in the Sierra Nevada. They are chasing species up the elevation. Von Humboldt we know exactly what this was all about. Temperatures rising. And certain species, let's say the lodgepole pine, are creeping upwards as the temperature rises. They will boil off the top in what scientists call the rapture effect. Those species won't be able to live in the mountains anymore. They'll be too warm.
That's happened many times in the Sierra before. Usually, there's a nice orderly succession of plants that come behind the species that are being chased off. And these are plants that are adapted to handling the snowfall runoff that comes every spring, and they preserve the shape of the mountains and so forth in as much as you can stop geomorphological process. It's basically wearing down the planet.
What's happening now, however, is that the plants that are coming in after species such as the lodgepole pine are not good and well adapted plants to this change, because one, the change is happening way too fast. So there's not this nice orderly succession. Two, we have chopped the physical lines of succession with roads and housing developments and all sorts of interventions as the spread of the human footprint has gone around the planet. So the spaces that are coming in behind the lodgepole pine or things like cheatgrass. So they burn fast. They burn often. They're lousy at holding back runoff during the spring. So the water quality of the stuff that's coming off the Sierra is lowered. Not good for Reno. Not good for the Central Valley, which is all the vegetables we eat, or many of them.
So the Harrisons have basically said, is there a way to bring plants deliberately into the Sierra Nevada to make a human forged succession that's going to actually be well adapted to the Sierra Nevada? And the scientists are all saying-- and this conversation-- we've been documenting this conversation now. Fascinating conversation. Scientists are saying--
So Newton and Helen-- Helen, by the way, is 86, and Newton's 82. Like I said, we've made a 50-year commitment to document the real-time changes in this project. We'll be dealing with their grandchildren. Helen, what kind of plants do you propose putting up here? Where are you going to find these plants? You mean like from down below?
And they go, well, there could be some plants down below we can bring up, yeah. But there might be some plants that were here 10,000 years ago when the climate was different. Maybe we'll bring those plants in. So Helen, where are you going to find those plants? Well, Central Asia. The scientists get real quiet at that point, and they say, like, have you ever heard of invasive species and unintended consequences? And the Harrisons go, of course we have, you idiot.
So anyway, so they have marvelous back and forth, very tense back and forth with some of the science over a two-year period. But now, they last spring-- last summer, late last summer, planted 10,000 specimens of 200 species in test plots, six test plots, at different elevations and soil sites, at the UC Berkeley Sagehen Creek Research Station.
And so this is an art project that is proposed in poems and maps and drawings that's being translated onto the ground. Again, it's art that walks in the world. It's a deliberate intervention by artists. This just shows some details about where this actual watershed is in this beautiful little valley.
Atacama Desert, northern Chile. One of only two photographs I've ever taken, Christian. It was in the Antarctic where there's not a single blade of grass. Nothing is growing in this photograph. There is no fresh water that flows through the Atacama anymore. There used to be one small river, and it's now used by the mining companies inland, so it doesn't reach the ocean.
There are villages on the ocean. These are the coastal mountains. On the other side is the Pacific Ocean. On the other side, in the Pacific Ocean, is something called the Humboldt current, which drives, among other things, El Nino/La Nina cycles. Humboldt's had-- like I said, he was the most quoted guy in the 19th century in terms of Earth sciences.
This fog comes off the ocean because the Humboldt current's relatively cold and the air is warmer, and so you get this fog coming in. That fog is the only source of fresh water in the Atacama at the coast, a place where it's not rained in recorded history, although that's beginning to change too now with a changing climate.
Scientists found-- some archaeologists found beneath this little cliff here a [INAUDIBLE] of abalone shells. Now, this is about 1,500 meters down to the coast where the Native Americans were living, the Mapuche were living at that time hundreds and thousands of years ago. And the Mapuche would come from the coast with their abalone shells, climb up here.
Why on Earth would you make a claim of 1,500 meters carrying a bunch of really heavy seafood? Because the only freshwater was found here. The fog would hit that little cliff, which faces in exactly the right direction. It's one of three of these small cliffs in the entire like 120-, 130-mile mile throw of this part of the desert where the fog will hit and condense into freshwater.
So the scientists atop that cliff, once they figured that out, set these little screens, which basically just a little bit of fog hits and water precipitates out. And what happens? Stuff grows. Remember I said that photograph didn't have anything in it? This is that same region, and here these plants growing.
They're finding two things. They're finding, one, there are actually seeds that are viable that are in the sand that will live if you give them some water. And two, you can actually plant other kinds of seeds, and they can live. You can have plants that will survive here. So they're thinking about fog screens. And I go with some students from the University of Texas, Austin and the Catholic University in Santiago, Chile, and we go up to this place, to the Alto Patache, and make a bigger, much bigger fog screen.
And the students figured, well, maybe we could fill like an oil barrel size container. We could fill that up after a week of doing this. It filled up and overflowed every single night. And just precipitation dripping off this cloth, hitting this plastic trough, and running into a barrel. So you can drink the clouds. And it's prodigious, prodigious source of fresh water.
This has been tried for a village on the coast before. Some similarly ugly screens were built by some scientists, collected water. Water went down to the village. Villagers for the first time had enough water to grow vegetables. They had so much vegetable growing they could actually export it to other towns on the coast.
But after about 10 years, they gave up this project and they let it go. They didn't keep it going. It was an ugly project. Again, the screen looked kine of like this one except it was made out of metal. And they just thought it was more modern, it was cooler, to pay for really expensive, bad water trucked in or piped in from the mining companies in interior Chile than actually doing something natural that was available, that was close and free.
The architects in Santiago, who were the teachers of the students I took out there, began to think about this. And they started to design very cool sculptures that would do stuff like actually increase wind flow and collect more fog. And they actually started to design a series of projects as test vehicles for this, and they came up eventually with this.
It's called the Fog Garden. It's contemporary architecture applied to a technology of sustainability, and it collects small things for local gardens on top of the hills and enough water that can be sent down the hill, down to the villages down below. The villagers love this. This is cool. This looks good.
This stands up to the international community. People will come from around the world to look at it. They won't let this go. What the architects have done is provide a culture of sustainability to match the technology of sustainability so the technology will be adopted and maintained and used and honored. And that's something we're very interested in.
John Reed, photographer, Australian National University, runs the art and ecology program there. Used to take his photography students into these forests in New South Wales, Australia. These forests are remnants of when Australia 200 million years ago was part of Gondwanaland. And the trees that are in this forest are the same species of trees that grew in what is now the Antarctic. And you can go actually find a standing petrified forest in the Antarctic. It's the only standing forest on the whole continent. It's petrified in stone and it's glossopteris. It's the same trees you find growing in these forests in Australia.
And the forest at the time-- this is about 20 years ago-- is being threatened by a logging company because these are big trees, and they want to go in and clear cut this. And John's not happy about it. So he's taking students in to photograph this landscape, and along the way takes a photograph, and there's an artifact of some kind made by the lens. And this back in the days of pre-digital photography. We're still talking film here.
And one of the students says, oh, it looks like a figure of a person almost, doesn't it? Almost looks kind of like, I don't know, some kind of hominid or something. And John Reed goes, the fish man. John spends two years documenting the fish man, the last undiscovered hominid on the planet. Only one creature apparently still exists. John Reed has never seen this creature in person. What he has to do is set up cameras along the side of a--
Now, you're following me, right? You got this? We're in Bigfoot land here. So he finds places along stream bands where he sets up-- banks where he sets up his camera on a tripod, and he sets up motion detectors. And when the fish man swims by, the camera goes off and he gets a portrait of this blurry thing in the water, the fish man. After two years of this, he holds a national press conference.
Now, Australia is a country that's the size the United States with only 22 million people in it, so the media outlets are few but big, and they're monolithic. And they all come to Canberra, to Australia National University. And John is in a suit, and he gives what is basically a 19th century natural history lecture about the fish man. And he says-- the first thing he says-- and he says, it's very Important to know that this is an artistic discovery, it's not a scientific discovery. So he was very clear.
How do the newspapers handle this? How do the TV stations handle this? Well, they handle it kind of like it's a joke. But on the other hand, all these phone calls start coming in from around the country saying, I've seen the fish man. Aboriginal elders are sending John letters-- you are honoring one of our ancestral beings. You've seen the fish man.
This gets turned into a national park. The logging company is stopped dead in its tracks. There was so much national attention that John Reed is bringing through a performance piece, a conceptual art project, that he helps-- along with many other people-- helps get this turned into a national park. That's art that walks in the world. That's a third-stage Anthropocene art project.
Photography and performance and all these things, they never replace older art forms. They're just all added layers. Here's a guy who's the same age as John Reed who lives outside of Perth in Western Australia. His name is Larry Mitchell. For 25 years, he's been sailing around the southern oceans, documenting the rise of the ocean.
25 years ago, he didn't know why. He just knew that the islands and these small fishing villages he was dealing with, he knew that the palm trees were all dying. He knew the salt water was coming up into the islands. And he was like, well, they're not pumping out. There's no fresh water really to pump out. They live on rainwater. Why is the salt water coming, killing everything? Why are all the fish disappearing?
So he starts painting these amazing, huge, 12-foot long panoramic paintings of changes in the southern hemisphere. This is another. So we've collected-- John Reed, the archive that we have for John Reed, we've got the 50-foot long cable release that he used to photograph himself swimming naked in the rivers as the fish man. We've got Larry Mitchell's archives of going around the southern ocean, documenting-- isn't that cool? I love that.
We've got Larry Mitchell's drafts and his oil sketches and his charts and everything of going around the world for 25 years looking at this climate change-induced rise of the ocean levels. Here's another water project. This is outside of Reno, the Truckee River. US Army Corps of Engineers. Truckee River goes right through the little town. Every now and then it floods. Now, you can't-- it's a bad idea to have a flood where you have casinos because people don't want to get up and leave their cards on the table when the Casino has to close because the water's coming up on the floor.
So the Army Corps of Engineers goes through and they scoop out the river and they channelize it so that it's not going to flood Reno. Of course, that doesn't work. You still have to close the casinos every now and then because there's a big flood. That's that snowmelt coming off the Sierra because it's getting warmer and things are changing in the mountain range.
And when they channelize it, the river gets like this. It gets kind of dead. Lacks oxygen. Fish die, don't come back. The trout are gone. So forth and so on. The Nature Conservancy comes in and re-meanders the river, and the river now is beginning to look like this, full of trout, full of eagles eating the trout. It's really beautiful. It's really gorgeous.
I've been working with the Nature Conservancy for about three years trying to convince them to involve artists in the process of re-sculpting the river. Now, when they do this, by the way, the point is you make an intervention in the life of a river, and all you've done is restore its ability to meander.
You don't re-carve a new course and say, that's where the river shall flow. What you do is liberate it from the channel and then let the river go, and it will do its thing. It will re-meander. And by the way, it would function more efficiently during floods doing so than if you had a concrete channel.
This is a site that they're working on right now. The Nature Conservancy is dealing with the river as it goes past this coal-fired power plant, the Tracy Power Plant east of Reno. Big site. Lots of ponds for cooling and so forth. The river's been severely modified here. All these banks are eroding like crazy. It's a real issue. So the Nature Conservancy is going in to work on the river here and restore its function. Not restore its previous shape, but restore its function.
So there are these two people, Daniel McCormick and Mary O'Brien, in East Marin County down by the Bay Area in California. And what they do is they look at an eroded stream bank like this and they measure it, and then they create a sculpture. And the sculpture is woven out of native materials, and then live stake in this bank. So this is the kind of sculpture where artists design a form, and they know how to make it. and they bring people in from the community, including school kids and business groups and so forth.
Everyone gets together and weaves these sculptures. They live stake them to where the banks are eroded. Life staking mean let's take willow cuttings, willow branches. Let's put them in the ground. Let's anchor this piece. You walk away. You've got a beautiful sculpture. The public comes to see it. The public's getting taught about the river, being taught about erosion.
This is capturing silt. That slows the water down and it starts to provide habitat. After two years, it looks like this. There's no longer a sculpture there so much as there is a living riverbank. So they just finished the first project on the Carson River, which is very nearby, and the Truckee River they're starting work on next month. That's art that walks in the world. This is the stuff we're really interested in. That's a third-stage intervention.
Something else we collect, something else that's of great interest to me is Burning Man. This is Burning Man on Baker Beach in 1986, the first man that's going to be burned. This is Larry Harvey lamenting the loss of his girlfriend, creating a figure and saying, I want to get rid of all my angst at the end of the summer. So I'm going to create this figure, and I'm going to burn this and have a party and drink a little bit and have some fun.
This is on 1992. the first year I go. About 600 of us are gathered in the desert. The Man's now a 40-foot tall figure. They get kicked off Baker Beach because the police basically say, Larry, you can't have 1,000 people come to Baker Beach and watch a man burn. It doesn't work. We can't control the crowd.
So they get invited by the Cacophony Society to come out in 1991 to the Black Rock Desert outside of Reno, about 100 miles north. And here's the man now so much taller figure it's assumed the form that we you're we're all familiar with now. Now it looks like this. 70,000 people. A one-week pop-up city.
This is the largest nonprofit desert educational program in the world. It's a big party. We still drink. There are people wandering around without any clothes on. It is still place, at midnight, you can go out and walk through camp, and someone will say, hey, do you have enough water to drink? Are you OK? Or you want a shot of tequila?
You'll basically get taken care of. It's a very self-supporting, radical, free, self-expression experiment in the desert. And I'm really interested in the city design here. So in 2016, the 30th anniversary, we'll do an exhibition at the museum from the archives of the city, and we'll talk about city design and pop-up culture and pop-up architecture.
Last project I want to talk about. Lauren Bon runs something called the Metabolic Studio in Los Angeles. Lauren is a person of means, so the project I'm going to describe to you is not typical in that it takes a bunch of money to do it. Lauren had a thing called "This is not a cornfield" in Downtown Los Angeles. And the water she was using for that came out of what was left of the LS River, another US Army Corps of Engineers channelized river.
And she began to think about where the water came from and the fact that this was going to be 100-year-old aqueduct soon, and Los Angelenos really didn't know much or think much about where their water came from. So she traced the aqueduct up into the Owens Valley. This is right outside of Lone Pine, very close to where Ansel Adams took that photograph.
And this is the Owens Dry Lake. This used to be a "lake" lake, like it had water in it. If you look at the USGS Topo Maps, it's still blue because the maps, of course, are old and they don't reprint those maps anymore. They don't revise them. And this is a plate glass facility that was on the edge of the lake that used the [? trone ?] or the chemicals from the lake-- hi, loons-- used the chemicals from the lake to make plate glass. It's actually appropriate to hear the loons pr water bird with this disappeared lake.
So Lauren gets her hands on this facility. And she's starting to do all sorts of things in Lone Pine. She's starting to collect the droppings, the horse shit, from the pack trains up in the Sierra Nevada going up in the Whitney region and bring it down to Lone Pine to mix with local very poor granitic soils to make a better growing environment for community gardens. And she turns that over to the local people, turns that into a business and it gives it to the local people.
And then she gets her hands on this facility, and she starts installing a camera obscura on one of the silos and an ambient sound device, an Aeolian device on another silo. And she's got a camera obscura. It's just a box with a hole and a lens in it. And she's got one on a shipping container that she hauls around on a semi truck. She takes that camera out to Lone Pine, she makes a photograph of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass facility. And she starts to realize a couple of different things.
Yeah, the loon will go away in just a minute. I know, it's driving me nuts too. It's driving me loony. That's where the word comes from. So this beautiful photograph of this facility leads Lauren to think about two more things Los Angeles didn't just take the water from the Owens Valley. It took the chemicals from this lake to develop the film that Hollywood was making in the early 20th century to make Westerns in Lone Pine.
So our version of the West, which is formed in large part by movies made in Hollywood in the early 20th century, many of which we all grew up with, were made actually using materials from the place they were filming. And the silver came from the mountains up here. The silver that was used to create the film stock, to coat the film stock, was mined here and Cerro Gordo and shipped back to Rochester and used by Kodak to put on the film, and then the film was shipped back to Hollywood to be taken back up to Lone Pine.
So she's beginning to realize this is a pretty interesting situation. So she takes that portable camera, that camera obscura on the back of the semi truck, and drives out onto the dry lake bed, which is occasionally washed through with water that's being pumped out there to keep dust down. And so you've got of this skin of brine that sits on the dry lake. She drives out there and takes a picture.
But then she does something even more fun. She'll take those big sheets of print-out paper that are about 4 by 8 feet, and they'll sit in the truck and they'll take the cap off on of the holes for the lens, and they'll expose the paper in the truck during the day. And then they shut it down and they wait till nighttime falls. And then they go in the truck and they take the paper out.
They go out onto the dry lake bed, and they carve-- well, it's a trench about the size of a grave, actually. They carve a trench in the lake bed, and they put the paper in there. And then they just bury it, and the same chemicals that were harvested to develop the film in the early 20th century, those chemicals are still in that muck. You come back three days, you uncover the print, it's been developed and fixed.
So here are the guys. Here's two of the guys from the optics division of the Metabolic Studio pulling out a print that's been sitting in this trough, in this graveside kind of hole in the ground. That's what the prints look like. This is the Center for Art and Environment Gallery. So you can see it's this kind of gold skim, almost, on top, and the landscape is underneath this.
Here's an actual-- we actually put a pool of brine in there. We're letting it evaporate, and we're filming it with time lapse photography up above. And so we're kind of duplicating what's going on in the lake bed just to show how these remarkable photographs get made. There are other things in that show, but those are the primary objects.
Here's a picture Lauren by a bridge over the LA river. So Lauren's next version of this-- so what she's done is she's turned that photographic process into a business and given it to local people in Lone Pine. She's turned the silver mine, which is kind of a boutique silver mine. One person can run it.
She's turned that into a local business opportunity, sold it to a person-- or given it to a person in Lone Pine. So all these little businesses that she's using to deal with the fact that LA took the water from the Owens River and from the Owens Valley and basically killed agriculture there, she's taking what they killed and turning it on its head and making into business opportunities for local people.
Now she's talking about starting a local credit union to keep the money that they're making from these things in town. So they can take the silver. They can make small tourist objects out of them. They can actually use this local material, sell it locally, keep the money in town. It's a way of keeping an economy going.
Now, that's a social practice. That is a fully developed, really rounded out social practice. Again, Lauren's a woman of means. She's got a way to do this. But she's also giving grants to other artists, so she's helping them do similar kinds of things in different places, including the Harrisons. She's been supporting the Harrisons.
What she is doing next. The studio is basically right down here. And this is where the cornfield was. It's now a public park. And actually, that's a studio right there. And she's going to make a garden, a community garden here, using water pumped up out of the river with a waterwheel she's designed. And then she's going to purify the river and put the water-- and put it back in the river. And she's going to use the vegetables to give to homeless, local people, and so forth and so on.
It's another version of using the water from the Owens Valley and turning it into something that's of value to the people of Los Angeles but in a different dimension, so it makes them aware of where the water is coming from. A really evolved practice. That's a model for the waterwheel. Let me stop there. I don't know, how am I-- yeah, OK. Let me stop there. And do we have time for a question or two?
SPEAKER 2: We're going to do those later.
WILLIAM L. FOX: Later, fine. So thank you so much. Thank you very much.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about this request.
"The Art of the Anthropocene," a lecture by William L. Fox, director of the Center for Art + Environment, Nevada Museum of Art, Reno.
Artists, curators, and art historians explored topics found in the Johnson Museum of Art's "beyond earth art" exhibition April 11 during the 2014 Atkinson Symposium.
The symposium was funded by Cornell's Atkinson Forum in American Studies Program and organized by Andrea Inselmann, curator, and the education department of the Johnson Museum of Art.