Sculptor as Alchemist
Andrew Rogers brings the mystical down to earth
Peter Webster -- Interior Design, 8/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Over the last decade, in 12 geographical locations around the world, sculptor Andrew Rogers has produced a series of 32 monumental "geoglyphs," giant images inscribed on the landscape with stones, gravel, earth, or chalk. When Andrew Rogers: Geoglyphs, Rhythms of Life, a recent monograph chronicling the massive project, calls it "the world's largest contemporary land art undertaking," you really believe it.
Not that he has always worked so big. Before the millennium, he was best known for abstract bronzes, particularly a sculpture also called Rhythms of Life. Comprising a juxtaposed sphere, curve, and cascading ribbon, the 8 ½-foot-tall work is a symbolic expression of human existence as the interplay of the planned and the unforeseen. "It's about our journey through life and all the diverse influences upon us," he says.
Andrew Rogers with Steve Reevis, a member of the Blackfeet Nation dressed for the smoke ceremony that concluded construction of Rhythms of Life and Atlatl (2008) in California's Mojave Desert. The building of Ascend (2005) in Kurunegala, Sri Lanka.
When asked to create a sculpture in Israel's Arava desert, he saw that only a massive environmental work would stand up to the site's vast drama. So he assembled a team that included two Israeli engineers, three architecture students from the Technion—Israel Institute of Technology, and 20 Arab stonemasons and laborers, many of them bedouins, to construct a 125-foot-long, 108-foot wide, 12-foot-high geoglyph from local limestone boulders. The work took its form and name from the Hebrew letters for chai, the Jewish cry of exultation: To life!
"Once the first geoglyph was completed, I thought, This is something worth exploring," Rogers says. He returned to the same desert to construct a second limestone geoglyph, equally large—and equally celebratory. It's a horizontal reworking of his bronze Rhythms of Life "as if I'd drawn it on the earth," he explains. This dynamic, curving form would not only repeat at the 11 subsequent sites in the global project but would also give the series its title. The pieces are, as he notes, "metaphors for the eternal cycle of life, growth, and all the attendant emotions that color human existence. They are optimistic symbols of life and regeneration, expressive and suggestive of human striving and introspection."
Villagers passing rocks up a hillside for Presence (2005) in Bolivia's Cerro Rico mountains.
By the time Rogers added two further works to the desert location, the idea of extending the privately funded enterprise globally had evolved, as had the methods of achieving the goal. He would choose remote desert or plateau landscapes, devise geoglyphs based on symbols from the myths and history of the indigenous population, and construct them—along with his own signature geoglyph—employing local materials and workers. (More than 5,000 people total labored on the various sites, providing a significant economic dividend in what are often very poor communities.) Among the results are Bunjil, depicting the wedge-tailed eagle that is the Great Ancestral Spirit in Geelong, Australia; The Gift, derived from a rock carving in Cappadocia, Turkey; Ancient Language, inspired by a stone carving in Chile's Atacama desert; and the final installment, Atlatl, based on a rock carving of a spear thrower in California's Mojave Desert.
Shot from a hot-air balloon, The Gift (2007) in Cappadocia, Turkey.
It is the close involvement of locals in the conception and construction of the geoglyphs that distinguishes Rogers's work from such classic American land art as Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake in Utah or Michael Heizer's Double Negative trenches cut into the Mormon Mesa in Nevada. In some respects, Rogers's series seems closer in spirit to certain types of aboriginal art in his native Australia. "Indigenous Australians have always drawn landscapes as if seen from the air," Rogers says. "Modern technology allows us to actually see what those people visualized." In fact, satellite photographs of all his geoglyphs appear in the book. "It helps us, as humans, to get things into perspective in terms of scale relative to the cosmos and the earth itself," he explains. That is the impressive impulse behind all the earthworks in the Rhythms of Life series.
Ancient Language (2004), constructed in Chile's Atacama desert.