Ecologies, Environments, and Energy Systems in Art of the 1960s and 1970s
288 pp., 7 x 9 in, 75 b&w illus.
- Published: February 7, 2014
A fundamentally new view of environmental art that traces a cultural shift toward the unruly complexities of global ecologies.
As the American environmental movement emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, ecological perspectives also emerged in art. But ecological artworks were not limited to conventional understandings of environmental art as something that had to be located outdoors or made of organic materials. Created in a range of media, they reflected a widespread reconceptualization of the material world and a sense of the interconnectedness of all things. In this book, James Nisbet investigates the many levels of intersection between ecology and art in the 1960s and 1970s, examining a series of works that served as sensory interfaces to ecological concepts and reflected the shifting notions of ecology during the period.
Nisbet first examines practices of land art that sought to revise the relationship of art to the biological world. He explores the all-but-forgotten genre of Environments, founded by Allan Kaprow, which produced both closed environments bounded by the gallery's walls and psychedelic multimedia environments; and he examines the transition between minimalism and land art, considering the “planetary visions” that cast singular objects within holistic ecosystems—a sensibility that infused such canonical earthworks as Michael Heizer's Double Negative and Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty. Nisbet then turns to work informed by the language of energy and the ecological notion that all matter is in process, including Robert Barry's radio wave installations and Simone Forti's performances. Finally, he considers Walter De Maria's The Lightning Field, finding in it a reflection of the conflicts within ecological thinking of the 1970s. Offering a radically new view of environmental art, Nisbet traces a cultural turn from an art that addresses artificially confined environments and simplified allegories of the planet to one that increasingly takes on the “unruly complexities” of global ecologies.
Amalgamating the worlds of art and science, Nisbet demonstrates the impossibility of collapsing land art into ecology while making a case for the importance of an evolving lived experience with situated works and with the persistent traces they leave in history through images, films, sounds, and texts.
Chris Taylor, Director of Land Arts of the American West at Texas Tech University
Nisbet's inspiringly capacious conception of the settings for environmental and land art persuades the reader of his hypothesis, which is that the works in question are greatly more open—conceptually, constitutionally, and communicatively—than inherited frameworks for understanding them would have us believe. This study perceives afresh how a multidisciplinary crowd of modernist artists achieved constructions that were entirely coextensive with their enclosing environments, be those natural or unnatural. Ecologies, Environments, and Energy Systems in Art of the 1960s and 1970s is remarkably timely, too, for articulating its subjects' far-reaching significance for the challenges of the present moment.
Darby English, Clark Art Institute
James Nisbet narrates the history of American art of the sixties and seventies from an ecological perspective. He suggests that the discussion of art and ecology exceeds the question of art and sustainability, defining 'ecology' not as a closed environment but as an open system of exchanges. He argues that an ecological imaginary theorized by Rachel Carson, Gregory Bateson, and many others was concurrently manifest in a number of aesthetic tendencies—Kaprow's environments, the process sculpture of Morris and Serra, Haacke's and Barry's conceptualism, the performative activities of Nauman and Oppenheim, and the earthworks of Heizer, Smithson, and De Maria—in which distinctions between object, gallery and site, process and information, and the body and artwork become porous and blur. His well-researched account sheds new light on these and other practices, and the intellectual and cultural milieu in which they emerged.
James Meyer, author of Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the Sixties