Early societies channelled vast resources into reconfiguring their environment. They quarried and transported gigantic stones, as at Stonehenge and Carnac (below).
Print, circa 1890, showing alignments of menhir or standing stones at Carnac, France. Photograph © Chris Hellier/Alamy
They shifted tonnes of earth, and carved patterns in the soil, like the Uffington Horse in Berkshire (below). Whether viewed from afar or experienced through contact, these forms were essentially conceptual. Actually making them was a business of plain spadework.
Aerial view of the White Horse at Uffington, Oxfordshire, Great Britain
Photograph © Simon McComb/Alamy
In European and American land art of the 1960s onwards, the terms were reversed. Where societies had sought to tame or comprehend their environment, the new land artist restored humility and awe to the relationship. In Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970), art is transformed into landscape rather than vice versa (main image at top).
More intimately, British artists such as Richard Long (below) have found in stones, mud and unmarked tracks a lexicon of human experience and emotion.
Richard Long, Circle in Africa, 1978
© Tate, London 2014. © Richard Long. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2014
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