Artists Reshaping Landscape
by Edward S. Casey
University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis,
256 pp., illus. 31 b/w, 32 col. Trade,
$83.95; paper, $27.95
ISBN: 0-8166-4332-6; ISBN: 0-8166-4333-4.
Reviewed by Rob Harle
Earth-Mapping by Edward S. Casey is
a major work investigating both critically
and philosophically the way artists have
incorporated earth into their creations.
Earth is to be understood in the broadest
possible sense. Literally, as in rocks
and clay used as the medium of the work,
in natural outdoor settings. Earthy materials
retrieved from quarries, deserts and so
on and used solely or as mixed media in
studio created pieces. Metaphorically
as representations of earth features in
landscape and abstract style paintings
and sculptures. The central theme of the
book concerns mapping techniques used
by artists to explore our relationship
to earth, place, and space. As with earth,
mapping is used by Casey in ways
that transcend our conventional understanding
of maps as images or devices to help us
get from point A to point B.
I remember years ago a book I read suggesting
that maps could function as images to
evoke dreams. We gaze at the coloured
marks on the flat paper surface, and our
imagination takes over, wondering what
such and such a town is like, what adventures
well have if we go this way rather
than that, and we develop three dimensional
images of features which are described
in deceptively simple words. The earth-mapped
artworks in this book have a similar affect,
though at much deeper and more complex
This book presents a detailed and scholarly
investigation and is arguably one of the
most definitive works published on this
subject. It is well illustrated with both
colour plates and black & white photographs.
There is a Prologue and Epilogue, together
with a good Index and an extensively detailed
notation of each chapter. The book is
divided into two parts. Part OneEarth
Works that Map and Part TwoMapping
The Landscape In Paintings. The first
part concentrates on the "earth art"
of four artists: Robert Smithson, Margot
McLean, Sandy Gellis, and Michelle Stuart.
Smithson, perhaps best known for his earth-art-work
Spiral Jetty, was the modern pioneer
of this type of work including its conceptual
basis. This selection of artists is small
enough to allow detailed analysis and
broad enough to show the different approaches
of artists engaged in this often, site
specific, approach to mapping the earth.
Other artists relevant to the investigation
are mentioned briefly and special attention
is paid to earth-mapping antecedents,
which highlights Caseys extensive
knowledge of art history.
Part Two concentrates again on a small
selection of artists: Eve Ingalls, Jasper
Johns, Richard Diebenkorn, Willem de Kooning,
and Dan Rice. The appearance of the earth-landscape-mapped
paintings of these artists is very
well known, so a description here is not
necessary. What Casey has achieved, though,
is a rich, detailedperhaps slightly
fresh takeregarding these works,
particularly from a philosophical perspective.
"My primary concern in this volume
is with certain contemporary artists who
have displayed a special sensitivity to
novel forms of marriage between mapping
and landscape painting (and other assembled
or constructed works)" (p. xix).
Caseys project has been to "rethink
art as a form of mapping" (p. xi).
This approach has resulted in numerous
published works, including Representing
Place: Landscape Painting and Maps
and The Fate of Place: A Philosophical
History. The fourth in his series
of studies on the importance of place
in peoples lives is this volume,
Earth-Mapping: Artists Reshaping Landscape.
He is distinguished professor in the philosophy
department at the State University of
Casey discusses two types, or better,
modalities of earth works, "earth
works created for the first time
and painting taken to a new limit"
(p. xxiii). Whilst I recognise the limitations
of space available in one manageable volume,
I do think the book would have benefited
from a brief discussion or at least acknowledgement
of traditional indigenous earth-mapped-artworks.
There is no shortage of information regarding
this practice, as for example, with the
people of Micronesias practice of
Mapping the World in the Mind (Turnbull,
D. Deakin University 1991) to navigate
vast ocean distances with their functional
art objects. More importantly, Australian
Aboriginal art, both painting and earth
sculpture works, is arguably the most
highly developed of this type of art in
the world. In this light, Smithson is
about ten to twenty thousand years behind
the eight ball, both from the aspect of
physical-earth-creations and their conceptual
underpinnings. Putting this lacuna aside,
which perhaps could form the subject of
a further volume, this is a well-researched,
well written, and important book.