In our time Earth Art and Process Art have become important formal ways of looking at things, but when I see something practical, like this pine tree being held up by two poles a local farmer used to support the tree, I think – this is real art,not just that it looks like art, in that it can be seen as beautiful, and it has a real function. Of course it becomes even more beautiful with the red shutters and lovely light and shadow, and the shape of the house, and the feel of the day, and finally, that sweep of the pine tree into the heavens.
There is a winery about 45 minutes away from Bonnieux which had some interesting contemporary architecture and site installations, so we were told. We made a trip there with some friends to have a look, a picnic and enjoy a spring day. Of all the works there – and there were some by well known artists – this cage of color strips provoked me into a playful mood and made me feel the ‘quality’ of the dappled light I had experienced in the woods I walked through to get to it.
How do you judge if a work works? If you feel something when you come near it, or within its space, and the feeling brings up a range of fresh sensations and thoughts, then I think it is a ‘living’ work, and becomes like nature in some strange, new way. This jungle gym of color strips made my eye work hard and set up spatial conditions and confusions that kept me engaged, and playful, which is what a work of art can do. I know that photographs, which are so tied to the material world that it is often hard to make them seem special, can, at their best moments, lift us from the bare facts and bring us a new understanding.
Who did this? Why are they sitting in this open field? Was there any intention behind it? Is it Art? Or is it what it looks like? A pile of dirt and a pile of stones. Why is it so satisfying? The transformation of ordinary things onto objects we call art usually comes from the mind of someone who is pushing the boundaries of whatever materials they are working with.
This push has been greatly aided by photography over the history of the medium, and certainly it has taken a huge leap forward since conceptual art has become part of our culture. Think about how many artists have used photography as their ‘record of effort’, like Andy Goldsworthy for example, who leaves his marks in nature by assembling forms out of ice, or stones, or leaves, then photographs the work and leaves it to decay, the only record of the effort is the photograph which allows us to believe he did that!
All of us have been so cultivated by these examples that we now can see for ourselves surprising incidents, gestures, accidents, coincidences, or any of the numerous ways that chance leaves vestiges of effort lying about for us to claim as our own. This is no different, we might say, than Duchamp taking the toilet bowl as a ‘readymade’ and calling it his art.
I caught sight of these piles on a trip to another town and immediately stopped to walk into the field and consider them up close. They reminded me of a photograph I made many years ago in California while on a Guggenheim Fellowship. But what was best of all on this day was that I got out of the car and stood in contemplation of a pile of dirt and a pile of stones, and the pleasure I got from walking around them and standing on what was once a sea bottom countless eons ago, was what is most important.