Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Fine Line: Twelve Environmental Sculptures Encircle the Earth
Martin Hill and Philippa Jones
Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Most New Zealanders at some time in their lives engage in the practice of Land Art or Earth Art. This normally involves making sandcastles or other constructions at the beach. These temporary sculptures sometimes simple, at other times elaborate will normally last for a few hours before being washed away. For that short time they become metaphors for man’s futile attempts to control Nature while making us aware of the daily cycle of the tides.
This practice of making art out of materials which are part of the landscape has been going on for millennia as the various standing stone sites around Europe attest to. The more recent practice has seen artists such as Robert Smithson with his “Spiral Jetty” where he constructed a koru-shaped jetty of rocks protruding into the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Andy Goldsmith has created a number of Land Art works both permanent as in his “Arches“ at the Gibbs farm as well as more ephemeral works.
New Zealand artists Martin Hill and Philippa Jones have been creating Land Art works for the past thirty years both in New Zealand and internationally with permanent records of their work available as photographs or in their many publications.
Their latest publication “Fine Line” extends their work with the documentation of their most ambitious and impressive project.
It stems from a concept or vision that Hill had twenty-five years ago where he envisaged “A symbolic line drawn around the Earth touching at a series of twelve high points.”
To achieve this goal the pair have visited twelve elevated sites around the world, made their ephemeral sculptures, photographed them and then left them to return into the environment.
The sculptures were made from natural materials found at each site, enduring only in the mind (and in photographs) as an artistic evocation of the temporary and interconnected nature of life.
The places they visited included New Zealand, The Antarctic, Madagascar, Kenya, Switzerland, Scotland, Vanuatu, Iceland, the USA and Canada.
The first of the visits was to Ngauruhoe in 1997 and the final one to Ruapehu in 2019 with the other ten sites visited between those years. The whole project was not consecutively photographed but were visited every one or two years.
While some of the locations were not much over sea level with Mt Yasur in Vanuatu at 361m others tested their climbing ability with Mt Kenya at 4580m.
The works are circular either discs, inscribed circles or spheres. The shapes on Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu and Pigeon Spire in British Columbia were circular forms made of compacted snow, the works in Switzerland and Scotland made with rocks from the site while the works on Mt Yasur and Madagascar were constructed of foliage taken from the foothills and carried up the mountain.
The circular forms reflected the two artists concern about the cyclical nature of environmental activities and expresses the age-old notion of the circle of life. Linking these circular motifs together is the hypothetical line they have imagined which links the twelve works and in each of the “final” photographs this nebulous line is imprinted, passing through the centre of the sculptures.
The works have a familiarity with their own previous Earth Works and those of others such artists with the circle of rocks on Cioch Pinnacle in Scotland like an Andy Goldsmith work. Some other have connections to New Zealand art notably the koru form made on Half Dome in Yosemite. The Madagascar work has an affinity with the found circular constructions of Meryn Williams and the circular snow works with the art of Max Gimblett.
The book documents the works the pair created as well as the amazing landscapes they worked in with over 200 remarkable photographs. Hills photographs capture the essence of the sculptures, the spectacular landscapes as well as the showing the difficulties of navigating to their spectacular locations. Among the dramatic photos are images of the active volcano My Yasur, the eerie landscape of Iceland and the precipitous Yosemite location.
The photographs are accompanied by the couples’ thoughts on their endeavours as well as essays by international specialists in systems theory, climate science, fine art photography and regenerative design which further elaborate on the artists’ ecological philosophy. The wide range of issues and activities the book touches on means it will appeal to artists, mountaineers, scientists and environmentalists.