Land Arts of the American West is an ongoing experiment in an interdisciplinary model for an Arts pedagogy based in place. The Land Arts program provides students with direct, physical engagement with a full range of human interventions in the landscape, from pre contact Native America architecture, rock paintings and petrogylphs to contemporary Earthworks, federal infrastructure, and the constructions of the US Military. Land art includes gestures both grand and small, directing our attention from potsherd, cigarette butt, and track in the sand to human settlements, monumental artworks, and military/industrial projects such as hydroelectric dams, interstate highways, mines, and decommissioned airﬁelds.
Each year the Land Arts program travels extensively throughout the southwestern United States and north central Mexico to live and work for over fifty days on the land. Our time is divided between investigating cultural sites such as Chaco Canyon, Roden Crater, Hoover Dam, Wendover Complex of the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Juan Mata Ortiz, Spiral Jetty and the Very Large Array and working in the variety of eco-niches provided by our campsites at places such as the Grand Canyon, Grand Gulch, Gila Wilderness, Bosque del Apache and Otero Mesa Grasslands. Our current focus is on the issues of sustainability with a particular interest in food production and water use in the southwest.
Bill Gilbert started the Land Arts program in 2000 based on ten years of field programming at Acoma Pueblo and Juan Mata Ortiz, Mexico. In 2000, John Wenger served as co-director contributing his experience of over 25 years in the wilderness of northern New Mexico and southeast Utah. Starting in 2002, the Land Arts program has developed as a collaboration between Gilbert and Chris Taylor. Professor Taylor currently directs the Land Arts program at Texas Tech University, http://landarts.arch.ttu.edu/. In 2005 and 2007, Erika Osborne co-directed the program in the field. In 2009 Catherine Harris joined the program as new faculty in the Art & Ecology area at UNM and Jeanette Hart-Mann (Land Arts program 2000) has assumed responsibility for the program field logistics.
In 2009 the University of Texas Press published the book, Land Arts of the American West, presenting the ongoing collaboration in which artist Bill Gilbert and architect Chris Taylor investigate and create land art with their students. The book is organized around places visited over the first seven years of the program. The over 400 color photographs are accompanied by descriptive information about the site’s natural and human history; student journal entries presenting first-person experiences; essays by William L. Fox, Ann Reynolds, J.J. Brody, and Lucy Lippard; and interviews with Mary Lewis Garcia, Graciela Martinez de Gallegos and Hector Gallegos, and Matthew Coolidge. Woven throughout the text is a conversation amongst Gilbert, Taylor, and writer William L. Fox, covering the Land Arts program’s origins, pedagogic mission, field operations, interactions with guest lecturers, and future directions.