Earthworks


John Hoge, The Source (1980) - 18

In my previous trilogy of earthworks posts I alluded to another earthwork that I’d stumbled onto on my own, at Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island. After working on that series of posts and becoming increasingly interested in earthworks in the Pacific Northwest I made a return visit to the park on an overcast November day. The piece in question is The Source created by sculptor John Hoge which was installed in the park in 1980. The official description of the piece from Hoge’s online portfolio is:

The Source (1980)
Earth and Stone
3 feet height
140 feet wide
220 feet depth
Earth and stone sculpture which recycles lake water abstracting the cyclical process of water. This image shows an aerial view of the sculpture in the park. Located at Luther Burbank Park, Mercer Island, WA

I include the aerial photo from Hoge’s portfolio here (on the left) because it demonstrates once again an aspect of land art that I find so fascinating: the effect of time on these pieces. The three encircling grass embankments have such definition in this photo, sharply defined and clearly outlining and demarcating the piece. While an aerial view is always  going to be different than the the view from the ground you can see in this linked photo from Hoge’s entry on the City of Kent’s Earthworks page, that it was just as clear in outline from that perspective as well.

John Hoge, The Source (1980) - 22

In the above picture you can see the current much more rounded and worn down state of those embankments; undoubtedly softened somewhat by the longer grass it also clearly has compacted and settled down in the thirty years since its creation. Luther Burbank Park is the primary (almost only) park on Mercer Island so you don’t see the neglect that I saw at some of the other King County earthworks, so this softening is clearly a product of time and use.  The other thing I find quite interesting from Hoge’s portfolio is the description:  “Earth and stone sculpture which recycles lake water abstracting the cyclical process of water“.  This earthwork, much more so than the other three I have written about, seems the most sculpturally.  Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden and Herbert Bayer Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks were built as integrated parts of a water management systems and Robert Morris”˜ Untitled Earthwork is just as explicitly a work of land reclamation whereas this piece strikes me as using the land to make a work of art, whose inspirations are the setting it is placed in and references (as you often see) to ancient earthworks. From the City of Kent’s excellent earthworks page, Hoge makes this statement about his processes and concerns:

“In my own work, my preferred choice of materials are the natural ones: stone and other earth products. I am particularly interested in stones’ naturally occurring characteristics, formations and textures. Much of my work strives to retain, enhance and abstract naturally-occurring shapes and lines through direct carving techniques. I then use textural gradations and stone polishes to create transitions between natural surfaces and worked surfaces.” – John Hoge from the City of Kent’s earthworks essays.

 

John Hoge, The Source (1980) - 10

Of all of the earthworks I’ve looked at The Source has the least information online and the material linked in this post are about all I can find.  This piece was built during that the era that the King County Arts Commission (now 4Culture) was heavily promoting and investing in radical public art projects. Hoge was hired to document and liaise with Herbert Bayer during the construction of the Mill Creek Canyon earthwork and while he is perhaps not as well known (and certainly not the degree as Robert Morris) this is I think as great a piece as the others.  It is perhaps its more sculpturally nature and does not that combination of public works with works of art that is a major component of many of the well known pieces,  this but I think in many ways that adds to it.  Perhaps its form invokes Spiral Jetty a bit too closely, which is another piece that I think is more art for arts sake but also like Spiral Jetty, I think The Source fits perfectly into its environment and was clearly constructed for it. I think its form is fantastic – the whorls that end in a little basin in the central stone that like an alter has steps leading up to it; the stone lined channel that runs down to Lake Washington; the embankments that surround the stones and evoke those same whorls but also prehistoric structures like Brú na Bóinne who over time become little more than grass covered mounds. And most charmingly the little stone offset from the central structure that evokes nothing more than the heelstone at that greatest and most well known of all earthworks, Stonehenge.

John Hoge, The Source (1980) - 13

Check out all of my photos of The Source at Flickr.

Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden (1997)-20
"The Grotto", the third garden of Waterworks Gardens

[This is the third in my series of Washington State Earthworks, the previous entries are on the Herbert Bayer Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks (which contains the introduction to this series) and Robert Morris”˜ Untitled Earthwork.]

The most recent of the three Washington State earthworks that I visited on my earthworks tour is the Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden from 1997. Of the three earthworks I’d visited on this day this one in Renton WA was the only one I’d been to before. It is more or less on the route between the Lake Washington Loop and the Interurban Trail and I the first time I ever rode on the Interurban Trail I had checked out the park.  I usually never had much time, either on my way somewhere else or reaching it at the end of a longer ride so this was the first time I took the opportunity to really explore it. It was though toward the end of the day and the sun was sinking into smoke filled skies (making for a rather apocalyptic looking sun) . This does lead to some of my photos being a bit blurry as the sunlight waned.

Lorna Jordan Waterworks Park map
Map of Waterworks Garden

Waterworks Garden is the most intricate of the three earthworks, with five separate garden “rooms” each with a distinct character to them. The once again excellent Earthworks pages on the city of Kent’s website contains a decent overview on Waterworks Garden and Lorna Jordan’s website features pictures that showcase it in its prime (note that this is a Flash site and I can’t link directly to the Waterworks Garden pages. They are located under the Portfolio heading). Being built so much later then the other earthworks it incorporates decades worth of of theory and practice in the making of earthworks, which has by this time fully absorbed the reclamation theme  which Robert Morris wrote about (which is s0mething you don’t see in pieces such as Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, De Maria’s Lightning Field or Serra’s Shift).  Jordan’s particular muse is water and her pieces often work with the material in context of reclamation: this piece for instance is a wastewater treatment plant.

Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden (1997)-3
"The Knoll", the first garden of Waterworks Gardens

“Stormwater runoff is collected from the grounds of the wastewater reclamation plant and put through 11 ponds where contaminates and sediments are allowed to settle. The water is then released into the wetlands which sustain plants, microorganisms and wildlife. The stormwater treatment ponds and the wetlands form an earth/water sculpture that funnels, captures and releases water.”
– from the City of Kent Waterworks Garden page

The Garden is on a hill and the water is presumably pumped up there and then gravity pulls it through the various treatment ponds that make up the combined artwork/processing plant.  The entrance at the top is a very ceremonial garden whose large monolithic columns give it the feel of a Stonehenge or Brú na Bóinne.  Artistically cut out sections of tile with rusted grates over them makes the presence of water felt amongst this stonework. This garden and the Grotto are the most obviously shaped and have a more public art feel. In between these two are the much more earthwork style portions of the piece. The second garden is a series of larger pools which begin the stormwater treatment.  A path wends its way through these pools, each one descending down the hill.

Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden (1997)-9
"The Funnel", the second garden of Waterworks Gardens

Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden (1997)-18 From the Funnel, the open ponds become smaller and more in trees and then you enter the Grotto.  Even more so than the Knoll, the Grotto is through and through a sculpted garden that wouldn’t be out of place in a formal English garden.  A rounded space with fountains and pools of water that are allowed to have brilliant green scum floating upon them.  The Grotto is constructed from concrete (or shotcrete apparently) in the shape of a seedpod and is finely detailed on every surface. Nature in the form of trees, vines, shrubs and the aforementioned pond scum has been allowed to run rampant making the Grotto even more mysterious as if you had found an abandoned garden in the woods.  A nice tranquil spot in the middle of this earthwork it does once again embody the overall feeling of neglect that I experienced at all of these earthworks.  Being more of a park than Robert Morris”˜ Untitled Earthwork it is closer to the Mill Creek Canyon Earthwork and had about the same level of neglect, though not the amount of trash that had piled up there. It is instructive to look through the City of Kent Earthworks Site and other resources to see how these earthworks looked in their prime. Each of these earthworks cut shapes into the terrain that is mostly obscured due to overgrown plants (though the goats seem to keep Morris’ earthwork in an approximately original condition).

Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden (1997)-23
"The Passage", the fourth garden of Waterworks Gardens.

The last two gardens The Passage and The Release are the filtering of the processed stormwater into a wetland and are harder to take distinct photographs of.  The Passage is akin to walking on a path through a wetland, with shallow lakes, swampy regions, marsh grasses and other flora that you’d find in these areas.  The Release was pretty wooded and became a stream eventually, the final release of the water back into nature.  On Lorna Jordan’s site you can see pictures, maps and models that show all of these areas a lot clearer than I was able to photograph them.  The park also contains the Springbrook trail which connects to other regional trails. Its a great park with a combination of the artwork mixed with the water reclamation and recreation. Well worth visiting and makes for a nice way to begin or end one’s earthworks tour.

This is the last of the three earthworks I visited on my August 1st earthworks tour.  There is however a fourth earthworks I’ve visited on Mercer Island which I plan to revisit and write up at a later date.

Check out all of my pictures of the Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden on Flickr.
Read all of my posts about Washington States Earthworks.

Robert Morris Untitled Earthworks (1979)-13

[This is the second in my series of Washington State Earthworks, the first was regarding the Herbert Bayer Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks and contains the introduction to this series.]

The most well known of Washington’s earthworks is the Robert MorrisUntitled Earthwork from 1979 which was built in an abandoned gravel pit in what was then fairly empty land. This of course was the landmark work of the King County Arts Commission’s Earthworks: Land Reclamation as Sculpture symposium.  The essay that Robert Morris wrote for the catalog for this symposium is quite revealing and well worth reading in its entirety.  The once again excellent Earthworks pages on the city of Kent’s website contains the essay for those who wish to do so.

To my knowledge, this is the first time that art has functioned as land reclamation. The idea of cleaning up the landscape that has been wasted by industry is not, of course, new. I have previously had discussions with coal mining interests in West Virginia, and I know Robert Smithson was negotiating some time ago with coal miners in the West.

But a few things have not been discussed, to my knowledge, about art as land reclamation.

[…]

The most significant implication of art as land reclamation is that art can and should be used to wipe away technological guilt. Do those sites scarred by mining or poisoned by chemicals now seem less like the entropic liabilities of ravenous and short-sighted industry and more like long-awaited aesthetic possibilities? Will it be a little easier in the future to rip up the landscape for one last shovelful of non-renewable energy source if an artist can be found (cheap, mind you) to transform the devastation into an inspiring and modern work of art? Or anyway, into a fun place to be? Well, at the very least, into a tidy, mugger-free park.

It would seem that artists participating in art as land reclamation will be forced to make moral as well as aesthetic choices. There may be more choices available than either a cooperative or critical stance for those who participate. But it would perhaps be a misguided assumption to suppose that artists hired to work in industrially blasted landscapes would necessarily and invariably choose to convert such sites into idyllic and reassuring places, thereby socially redeeming those who wasted the landscape in the first place.[emphasis mine]

Robert Morris Untitled Earthworks (1979)-0Morris chose in this first earthwork as land reclamation to not convert the site into an idyllic and reassuring place instead emphasizing the transformed nature of the landscape by terracing the assault on the earth, preserving yet transforming its fundamental character. The terraces work their way down into the central pit with a narrow wooden staircase leading down to them. I found it interesting that the stairs were all on the north edge, one could easily imagine them being staggered around to encourage walking around the various levels.  Entry to the piece is at the very western top of the pit where there is a parking lot and information boards and such which Morris dubbed the “Access Point”. One level down on the western side are scattered a series of blasted looking tree remnants which Morris referred to as the “Ghost Forest”.  These trees were meant to evoke the shaggy forest that had grown there in the interim since the pit was used – nature reclaiming the land itself. Later in 1996 the artist added a bench (a rough hewn block of wood) and a path around the uppermost terrace.

Robert Morris Untitled Earthworks (1979)-4

The questions that Morris raises in his essay are certainly apropos and considering that there has been much land art used as reclamation or to justify various assaults on the earth since then, these question have not lost any of their sharpness.  But they way that public art fits into the landscape, the way that people interact to it, its actual legacy are notions that I personally find fascinating.  As I noted with the  Herbert Bayer Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks this piece also has an air of neglect around it. Being still relatively off the beaten track it doesn’t have the accumulation of trash along a busy road as is the case in Mill Creek but it certainly had a feel of disuse, or perhaps even misuse. From the firepit in the center ringed with fallen members of the Ghost Forest to the porn magazine discarded at the Access Point, it is clear that the local use is not really taking in notions of land reclamation.  A dog walking park, a place for teens to get away from their parents, a location to harvest blackberries and an amusing sight when 4Culture has the goats out there to trim the grass, that seems to be the local take on it.  Perhaps most interestingly the middle of nowhere aspect is certainly not the same as housing developments and apartment houses have crowded the margins and the once endless farmers fields are partially cut up into gated communities.

Robert Morris Untitled Earthworks (1979)-24

The piece remains (mostly) the same (there was apparently some changes on the margins to accommodate the immediate adjacent apartment complex)  as the land changes around; this to me seems the real legacy of land art and the real captivating aspect of public art in general.  While there is probably no more obvious (and unfortunate) example of this then the constant attempts to industrialize the land around the Spiral Jetty, the carving up a chunk of this piece for the eternally creeping exurbs of Seattle is right up there. With the projected population growth in the Puget Sound in the coming decades, it is not hard to image this piece as becoming basically a tiny park among the housing developments, an oasis amidst Kamazotz.

See all of my photos of Robert Morris’ Untitled Earthwork (1979) on Flickr.

Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks (1982)-24

King County in Washington State is home to several important Earthworks, built from 1978 to the present. The earlier earthworks were more in line with the genesis of the movement which linked land and art and tend to have an almost totemic style. That is they remind me of archeological earthworks; that is the mounds, fissures, stonework and the like that is all that remains of an ancient site (see Brú na Bóinne as a good example). Later earthworks seem to be more an attempt to transform disruptive human action, such as a wastewater treatment plant, into an artificially natural landscape. That is to say it acknowledges the disruption and tries to reclaim it as art.  Of course earthworks were often built on land that had long been abused and the artists often highlighted this.

In 1978 the King County Arts Commission (now known as 4Culture)  held the Earthworks: Land Reclamation as Sculpture symposium whose stated its purpose as:

“The purpose of the symposium was to create new tools to rehabilitate land abused by technology and to provide artists with design opportunities for surplus King County property in gravel pits, surface mines and landfill sites.”

Along with this symposium (which I should mention is something I can’t possibly imagine 4Culture doing) there were two earthworks constructed not to far from each out in south King County. The most well known is Robert Morris’ Untitled Earthworks (more on that in another post) but just a few  miles from it in Kent is the Herbert Bayer’s designed the Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks.  Morris’ earthworks was of course constructed for the symposium in 1978 whilst Bayer’s was finished in 1982, but they are both connected to the symposium. Also related is The Source at Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island (the first of these I visited, more later) which of much smaller scale was completed in 1980 while the Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks was in progress.  This seems to have set off a trend that slowly continued over the next few decades: Waterworks Park (more on this one in a subsequent post) in Renton (finished 1998),  and current projects such the one in association with the Brightwater treatment plant in north King County.

Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks (1982)-0

The City of Kent seems to be pretty proud of its earthwork and its website is the most comprehensive about not only the Mill Creek Canyon Earthwork but also the others in King County. They designated it a city landmark and held a 25th Anniversary Earthworks Celebration in April of 2008 which seems to be the genesis of this website. Recently they announced that they’d be adding a bicycle tour of three adjacent earthworks to their existing vehicular tour. I’d been planning to cycle out to the Robert Morris earthwork for some time now, but hearing news of this planning I worked out my own tour route (which honestly I bet is about what the official one does: there aren’t many options). Anyway on Sunday August 1st I did said tour visiting the three earthworks (for more on the tour look for a forthcoming post on my cycling blog). Over the next couple of days I’ll be posting about these earthworks beginning here with Herbert Bayer Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks.

Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks (1982)-1

As the name implies the earthwork is built in a valley with a creek running through it. This Google maps satellite image gives the best overview of the valley, which by moving around you can see goes on for quite a ways. Trails run throughout the wood section following the creek and makes for a nice shady park. The entrance of the valley, which is pretty much right beyond the downtown of the small city of Kent is where the Herbert Bayer designed components are located. Bayer of course was a Bauhaus artist and its interesting to see the geometries and platonic ideal forms structured out of nature. The main features of the park are two depressions each with a circular form molded out of the earth, a ridge area with two mounds and a third mound with a wooden bridge running over it. Their is also a well integrated washroom and toward the wooded end of the park a rather Japanese-esque amphitheater. I began my exploration of the park from this amphitheater and made my way toward the entrance of the park.

Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks (1982)-5

The first of the major structures is a bisected doughnut like mount in a shallow valley. The cuts are marked with white cement and in and around it runs a little creek or corralled wetland. This area was quite overgrown with very lush grass. In the center of the doughnut was a wooden platform that is like an oasis in the overgrown grasses. The path wends its way through this valley and then under a ridge of on which the path to wood bridge runs. The path through the doughnut continues on up the valley to the second circular structure. This one is more a depression that I think was again like a shallow wetland but was again quite overgrown. This I think would have some of those interlocking shapes that evoke the Bauhaus if the grass was more controlled. It does appear so in the Google Maps images.

Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks (1982)-11

Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks (1982)-16Climbing up the ridge from this structure on then can make ones way around this valley toward the washroom or toward a field a the entrance that has the two mounds. Near one of these mounds is a rather bauhaus-ian cistern. Following the path around past the washroom (which features the ceramic tile art, Underworks, by several artists) then over the ridge between the two circular structures. This leads to the wooden bridge which cross the third mound and then there is a stairwell up to the street above. This stairwell was blocked off from here, though the steps up to it from the valley floor were not. The staircase up was blocked at the top and rather half-assededly in the middle.  Further displays of the neglect were in evidence here as their was vast amounts of trash around this structure.Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks (1982)-10 This was unfortunately a really dominate aspect of the park irregardless of how nice the website was and the occasional events that they put on here. On a fairly nice summer Sunday the park was pretty sparsely attended and the signs of neglect were everywhere. Trash was all along the margins and piled up under the structures. All along the valley walls blackberry bushes were growing out of control. Aspects of the earthwork itself seemed overgrown and wild. All of which is a pity as this is both a great park and a great piece of art.  I did enjoy the relative peace and quiet and clearly with the path through the woods there is even more of that to be had, but it’d be nice if they kept the park up. This is a unique and wonderful place that deserves respect and appreciation.

Check out all of my photos of the Mill Creek Valley Earthworks on Flickr.