Living the frontier.Emanuele Piccardo
Michael Heizer, Double Negative
Living the frontier examines the frontier as experimentation space where architects and artists express their own creative freedom through new visual languages.
When Frederick Jackson Turner published in 1893 his thesis on American history, he believed the frontier –the juncture between the civilization and wilderness- as a characteristic Weltanschauung. The earthworks and settlements realized during the 20th century confirm that prophetic hypothesis since they represent a new conquest and colonization kind of the West.
The desert is the chosen place to test ideas able to criticize the traditional significance of art work or architecture work. It is not by chance that Frank Lloyd Wright establish his winter home school, called Taliesin West (1937) in the Arizona desert, near Scottsdale, with the intent to immerse himself in the light and quiet of the wilderness. In that place, in 1946, the Italian architect Paolo Soleri spends time with the American master, living en plein-air and absorbing with desert his mind and body. Soleri’s projects as Cosanti (1956) and Arcosanti (1970) are born on the basis of that experiences and demonstrate the desert is a liberty hall. During ‘60s and ‘70s the frontier, that meantime extends her connotation beyond the 19th century practices, is an experimentation field for artists and in particular land artists.
Michael Heizer, one of them, realize Double Negative (1969) in the desert Moapa Valley, Nevada, cutting the land texture and originating a moving black sign generated by the shadow and light changing. Heizer’s approach is similar to Soleri’s behaviour. Both decide to build two monumental settlements in the desert: respectively City (1972-) and Arcosanti. Both works are comparable to land large-scale and to desert monumentality, although they have different purpose.
Michael Heizer, City
According to Heizer, City is a topographic sculpture on the contrary Soleri, theorizing the concept of arcology (union of architecture and ecology), promotes an alternative way to dwell, in opposition to the contemporary metropolis. Roden Crater (1974-) by James Turrell has comparable dimensions and stimulates similar reflections on the relationship between man and environment. In the last decades Turrell has built into a volcanic crater several paths, rooms, tunnels, as inside an Egyptian pyramid, to look at sky organizing distinct set of changing experiences of light from within and around the crater’s surface.
The light and the desert create a connection between the works by Soleri, Heizer and Turrell but the frontier has generated several theorizations and behaviours.
For example Robert Smithson adopts a different approach. When he realizes Spiral Jetty (1970) on the Great Salt Lake shore, his earthwork dialogues in union with the environment. The relationship with the context is monumental, to avoid the work vanish under the weather, but today Spiral Jetty is part of the lake, as if nature influenced the work existence and without an human contribution.
More the frontier space allows and encourages many empiric experimentations. Buckminster Fuller’s students promoted the foundation of Drop City, Colorado (1965), hippie commune. Directors such as Michelangelo Antonioni and Wim Wenders, photographers such as Richard Misrach, Robert Adams, Lee Friedlander, intellectual such as Jean Baudrillard and the England architecture historian and critic Reyner Banham, have crossed the frontier for their expeditions, all fascinated with the wilderness spaces.
Many other examples and works can be list referring to more recent period. The project Living the frontier aims to demonstrate the importance of the frontier in contemporary art-architecture complex. Living the frontier, architects and artists have had the chance to experiment freely forms, materials, and new way to conceive an human settlement .
To achieve the project objective we are making an atlas with all mentioned case studies and several minor experiences. More we are collecting movies, documentaries, books, photos, drawings, videos, to present a complete picture.
It is our intention to organize surveys for interviews and photographs and visit private and public archives -such as Columbia Library University (F.L. Wright), Cosanti Foundation (P.Soleri), Archivio fotografico Gianfranco Gorgoni, Drop City (G. Bernofsky), MOCA (M.Heizer), Lannan Foundation/Friend of Roden Crater, Dia:Beacon-Dia Art Foundation, Getty Research Institute- to access to primary sources.