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The Ethics of Earth Art

2010
Author:

Amanda Boetzkes

The Ethics of Earth Art

Analyzing the ethical stance of the earth art movement from the 1960s to the present

The Ethics of Earth Art analyzes the development of the earth art movement, arguing that artists are connected through their elucidation of the earth as a domain of ethical concern. Revealing the fundamental difference between the human world and the earth, Amanda Boetzkes shows that earth art mediates the sensations of nature while allowing nature itself to remain irreducible to human signification.

The Ethics of Earth Art is indispensable as a theoretical teasing-out of some of the long under-examined art historical practices that complicate the original genre.

Erika Suderburg, University of California, Riverside

Since its inception in the 1960s, the earth art movement has sought to make visible the elusive presence of nature. Though most often associated with monumental land-based sculptures, earth art encompasses a wide range of media, from sculpture, body art performances, and installations to photographic interventions, public protest art, and community projects.

In The Ethics of Earth Art, Amanda Boetzkes analyzes the development of the earth art movement, arguing that such diverse artists as Robert Smithson, Ana Mendieta, James Turrell, Jackie Brookner, Olafur Eliasson, Basia Irland, and Ichi Ikeda are connected through their elucidation of the earth as a domain of ethical concern. Boetzkes contends that in basing their works’ relationship to the natural world on receptivity rather than representation, earth artists take an ethical stance that counters both the instrumental view that seeks to master nature and the Romantic view that posits a return to a mythical state of unencumbered continuity with nature. By incorporating receptive surfaces into their work—film footage of glaring sunlight, an aperture in a chamber that opens to the sky, or a porous armature on which vegetation grows—earth artists articulate the dilemma of representation that nature presents.

Revealing the fundamental difference between the human world and the earth, Boetzkes shows that earth art mediates the sensations of nature while allowing nature itself to remain irreducible to human signification.

The Ethics of Earth Art

Amanda Boetzkes is assistant professor of art and design at the University of Alberta.

The Ethics of Earth Art

The Ethics of Earth Art is indispensable as a theoretical teasing-out of some of the long under-examined art historical practices that complicate the original genre.

Erika Suderburg, University of California, Riverside

The Ethics of Earth Art charts, in short compass, a path of development from the earth art of the 60s and 70s to the contemporary efforts of Chris Drury, Ana Mendieta, Jackie Brookner, Ichi Ikeda, and others. What is distinctive and intriguing is to have done so through a meditation on how Irigaray and Levinas supplement the informing phenomenological vision traditionally supplied by Merleau-Ponty, showing how earth art takes on a specifically ethical dimension.

David Wood, Vanderbilt University

This timely, clearly written book questions circumscribed definitions of both earth art and the ethics of ecology.

Choice

While Boetzkes provides dense and rigorous readings of nearly all the artworks she examines, more importantly she succeeds in explaining an intriguing sort of ethical contact with the earth and art and earth art.

Public Art Review

Boetzkes has made a valuable contribution to contemporary art history by offering a clearly articulated sense of the earth that unites the longer history of environmental art since 1960. . . The Ethics of Earth Art is essential reading for anyone engaged with the ongoing relationship between works of art and the biotic world.

Art Journal

The Ethics of Earth Art

UMP blog: The ethics of earth art — different approaches to understanding ourselves in relation to the planet.

8/11/2010
The arguments I put forward in The Ethics of Earth Art implicitly critique two ways of understanding ourselves (humans) in relation to the planet. On the one hand, there is the more dangerous of the two, in which humans presume dominion over the earth by harvesting natural resources for profit. This means that not only is the planet conceived entirely as a means to the human end of producing a reserve of energy that can be exchanged for money, but also that there is an infinite demand for those resources which inevitably leads to the exploitation and destruction of highly complex ecosystems.