HomeNFTsGuide to Land Art & Site-Specific Work in the Digital World

Guide to Land Art & Site-Specific Work in the Digital World

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Land art and site-specific art are two overlapping genres that emerged in the late 20th century as artists sought to break out of traditional spaces and categories and to interact with the world around them. Land art focuses on large-scale interventions in the landscape, while site-specific art emphasizes the integration of artworks with their unique locations, considering historical, cultural, and environmental contexts. Both forms transform spaces and engage audiences in meaningful dialogues about ecology, place, and identity.

Today, we will take a brief look at the history of these artforms before diving into how contemporary practitioners are using web3 to bring their interventions online. 


Pioneers of Land Art and Site-Specific Art

Robert Smithson is a key figure in land art, known for his iconic Spiral Jetty (1970). Constructed from mud, salt crystals, and rocks, this large-scale spiral structure extends into the Great Salt Lake in Utah and can only be viewed under favorable tidal conditions, as if nature itself were a curtain being drawn.


Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson

Nancy Holt, a contemporary of Smithson, created works that engage with the environment and are often ephemeral in nature. Her piece Sun Tunnels (1976) in the Utah desert consists of large concrete tunnels aligned with the sun’s position during the solstices, emphasizing the interaction between human-made structures and natural celestial events.

A similar, if more violent, artwork can be found in Walter de Maria’s The Lightning Field (1977). Located in a remote area of New Mexico, the installation consists of 400 stainless steel poles arranged in a grid, designed to attract lightning, like the set piece for a performance by nature itself.


Running Fence by Jeanne-Claude and Christo

Jeanne-Claude and Christo are renowned for their large-scale, ephemeral installations that engage with both the landscape and cultural context of their sites. Their 1976 project Running Fence was a 24.5-mile-long fabric fence installed in California, crossing both natural and man-made environments, highlighting the absurdity of borders of all types. 

Donald Judd, known for his minimalist sculptures, also ventured into site-specific works that intersect with land art. His extensive installations in Marfa, Texas, involve large-scale concrete and aluminum pieces that interact with the open landscape and vast sky. Judd’s work — looking something like ancient industrial ruins — emphasizes the importance of the site in shaping the viewer’s experience, merging minimalist principles with the expansive Texas landscape.


Marfa Installation by Donald Judd

Last in this all-too-brief list is Andy Goldsworthy, whose influence can be felt in the work of many web3 artists mentioned below, is an artist known for his ephemeral works. Using natural materials like leaves, ice, and stones, Goldsworthy creates temporary sculptures that are intended to decay and change over time, highlighting the transient nature of the environment and the impermanence of human intervention in the landscape.


Split Oak Wood by Andy Goldsworthy

Web3 Land & Site-Specific Artists

David Popa

You cannot discuss the work of land artist David Popa without mentioning “ephemerality.” From the materials, locations, and subject matter, his work is a choreography of the comforting horror and the horrifying comfort of time passing.

New York-born and now based in Finland, David Popa inherited his passion for art from his father, Albert Popa, a pioneering NYC graffiti artist who taught him traditional painting. Inspired by outdoor adventures, Popa transitioned from street art to creating site-specific, ephemeral earthworks using natural pigments and local water, captured by drone. 

These large-scale works, primarily on Nordic islands, are documented through photography, short films, and NFTs. His temporary artworks interact with their environments, often altered by natural elements, inviting viewers to reflect on the transient nature of existence and its everyday miracles.

As an example, The Water Breaks, a portrait of Popa’s newborn daughter, is a great place to start, an aching piece that memorializes a moment while itself being an even briefer moment than the infancy it depicts.


The Water Breaks by David Popa

Using natural pigments (just as our long-passed forebears), Popa paints a portrait of his infant daughter at low tide on the water’s edge in a remote corner of Finland. Water breaking is obviously a reference to the birthing process, and the location on the water’s edge (waves already breaking on the baby’s lower lip just as the portrait was completed) further emphasizes the natural ephemerality of the image.

But at this interpretive junction, Popa’s work begins to speak to the range of responses one might have in the face of the ephemeral: regret, wistfulness, nostalgia, yearning, grief, freedom (to name a few).

On one hand, you cannot view his ice floe pieces without pangs of climate anxiety in response to the unnatural ephemerality we’ve wrought. But, recalling the eternal truism that the only constant in life is change, Popa’s work imbues the more “traditional” forms of fleeting with a marked beauty.

Water breaking brings change: it brings birth. Though the literal water washes away the infant’s portrait, the person doesn’t vanish; the baby becomes a little girl, a young lady, a woman, an old woman, a memory, a story, and finally nothing at all. Together, the pigment, the rocks, the sea, and the subject perform a loving embrace with beautiful inevitability.


Patrik Proško

Patrik Proško is an artist who masterfully navigates mediums and styles, including hyperrealism, anamorphic illusion, and site-specific art, challenging our perceptions of reality through his intricate and ephemeral creations. 

Proško’s diverse body of work ranges from hyperrealistic sculptures of extinct creatures to complex anamorphic installations that reveal their full image only from specific angles. Proško’s site-specific projects, deeply intertwined with their environment, reflect on the transient yet impactful nature of existence and art.

Genius Loci by Patrik Proško

Take, for example, the artist’s Genius Loci: an ephemeral site-specific installation using ecologically safe biodegradable paint. It depicts the outline of a two-lane street running along a leaf-covered forest floor with a blurred human figure hurrying through the crosswalk. 

The lines recall the chalk outline of a crime scene, as if to condemn the destruction of nature in service of our human hurries. It might also be a prediction of things to come, a completely paved and domesticated world, a project already too far underway. 

The scene is ultimately a sardonic reflection of the scurrying figure barely visible among the trees: something that should be wild (humanity) is now laughably housebroken. In such a serene setting, why rush? And why oh why, you sad domesticated animal, would you bother minding the crosswalk? 


Blakeney Sanford

Blakeney Sanford, a multimedia sculptor from California, blends her passion for the natural world with innovative art practices, creating works that range from large-scale land art to immersive sculptures. With an international exhibition profile, including a recent showcase at COP27 in Egypt, her work integrates environmental themes with artistic exploration. 

Ancient languages & many modern ones don’t allot “blue” its own word. Despite its metaphorical richness, it’s a bit of a bastard color. Sanford’s The Portals focuses on this unnatural color in natural environments to create an experience both surreal and serene.


The Portals: Kinesis – American Wheat Field, 06.29.23, Waukesha County, WI by Blakeney Sanford

Calling to mind the deep blue of Barnett Newman’s color field painting Cathedra (1951), Yves Klein’s International Klein Blue, and the colored plexiglass employed by Donald Judd in his wall-hanging work, Sanford unleashes this mystifying color on natural landscapes across the world. 

Though Sanford wasn’t intentionally tipping her hat at Donald Judd, The Portals bear more than a passing resemblance to the minimalist master’s above-mentioned series of outdoor works, massive concrete structures built in the Texas desert. 

Though Sanford documents the places photographed in the series in the titles of the work, locations are chosen partially for their ability to speak across cultures precisely because nature does not represent any culture but a shared human heritage. 

After viewing enough of Sanford’s series, the impassive blue square starts to bear a personality that inserts itself into the landscapes it occupies, like a beautifully haunted, faceless version of the gnome from Amelie (dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet) though one that prefers natural settings over cities and landmarks.

Like Popa and Proško, Sanford’s work with the series has been ephemeral to date, but she hopes to one day create permanent or semi-permanent installations within this series. 


Conclusion

By embracing both literal ephemerality and digital permanence, contemporary artists like David Popa, Patrik Proško, and Blakeney Sanford are defining new working methods while honoring the traditions of their predecessors. As these genres continue to evolve, they offer us a glimpse into a future where art, technology, and nature coexist in harmony.


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