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The Ethics of Earth Art

Amanda Boetzkes

Publication Year: 2010

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.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-6

List of Illustrations

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pp. vi-viii

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pp. ix-xii

ix This book is dedicated to Aron Vinegar, with heartfelt thanks. I am grateful for your insights, and for our many spirited conversations, which have enriched these pages. Special thanks go to Christine Ross, for her perceptive recommendations and advice. ...

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Introduction: At the Limit of Form

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pp. 1-24

At the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Washington, a giant hemlock tree lies entombed in an eighty-foot-long greenhouse. Having fallen over a ravine in a protected watershed area not far from the city, the tree was recovered by the contemporary American artist Mark Dion and installed in a conservatory ...

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1. Contemporary Art and the Nature of Site

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pp. 25-64

25 Though the systematized exploitation of natural resources now seems unstoppable, there has been no lack of vision on the part of artists of how to reinvent our relationship to the environment. A plethora of strategies have surfaced with a view to, in Robert Smithson’s now-famous phrase, “mediating between the ecologist and the industrialist.”1 ...

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2. Spiral Jetty: Allegory and the Recovery of the Elemental

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pp. 65-100

In two essays published in October in 1979 and 1980, the art historian Craig Owens developed a theory of the merging of language and visual art read through the concept of allegory.1 An allegorical impulse, in Owens’s view, explained the decentering characteristics of early earthworks and site-specific projects, ...

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3. Ecotechnology and the Receptive Surface

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pp. 101-144

Spiral Jetty does not merely use the earth as a medium of architectonic shaping; that is to say, it is not just a formed space in the land that can be occupied by the spectator. Rather, through textual modes of presenting the site, it reconfigures the dialectic between sites and nonsites (external nature and representation) ...

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4. The Body as Limit

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pp. 145-180

The artworks I discussed in chapter 3 take two complementary approaches to making the earth visible: first, they confront the viewer with elemental phenomena, and second, in troubling the viewer’s mode of encounter, they posit the earth as a sensorial excess, thus foregrounding the limits of the perceptual field. ...

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Conclusion: Facing the Earth Ethically

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pp. 181-200

In a 2006 press release, Greenpeace reported on the danger of accumulating plastics, also known as “marine debris,” in the world’s oceans.1 Estimating that over 267 species of animals were being contaminated through the ingestion of plastic waste floating in the water or aggregating on seabeds and shores, ...


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pp. 201-212


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pp. 213-228

About the Author

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p. 243-243

E-ISBN-13: 9780816673582
E-ISBN-10: 0816673586
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816665891

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2010