Landscaping As Radical Art

The term “radical” stems from the original Latin radicalis – “of roots” and from Latin radix “root”. Whereas, this term ironically resembles “Conservative”, owing to Conservatism’s high valuation of something’s earned past (especially when confronted with “radical change”), I really like the application of “radical” to art as something very nearly opposite of the spirit of its definition. “Radically opposite”, in fact. The term is loosely applied here, but in the overall “sense of things”, it fully meets the spirit of my claims regarding the stunning evolution of a trade which has seen periods of high fashion – from Ancient Times and Babylon’s Hanging Gardens to Frederick Olmstead’s White City and his incredible collection of urban designing accomplishments. Currently, we see regular people create masterpieces of riveting detail and variety in their own fabulous yards, inspiring more public artists and landscaping specialists in a wider realm. I have always said that the best work I ever ran across were productions made by homeowners in the experimental privacy of their own homes.

My current usage of the term “Radical Art” indicates a departure from “the regular” cosmetics of a trade so long defined as just an adjunct to buildings and their grounds – the General Field of Landscaping. It is my conviction that landscaping has evolved into its very own species of art and architecture, outgrowing “Dad” –  into it’s own sort of identity as it evolves further into real art.

Of course, architectural renderings oversee the more vast properties of our urban environments. We’re talking huge.

Noguchi:

 

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What we now see all around us in growing profusion are swaths of land, of urban and suburban wonders, we can simply no longer take for granted and which rivet our minds and souls in ways by which we find ourselves utterly challenged. Some are larger than others:

This work of art in Australia, known as ‘Mundi Man’ or ‘Eldee Man’ was constructed by noted painter Ando (website here) and is located on Mundi Mundi Plains, NSW. It is the world’s largest art work, covering some 4 million square meters, or 5 million square yards. That’s a lot of “cosmetics”!

Antonio Gaudi may have set the Lunatic Fringe of Radical Art in landscaping with not only his remarkable building designs, but in the incredible complexity and bizarre designs so rife at Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain. His admixture of “primitive” and ultra-modern are well-illustrated in this photo I gathered from this website, dealing with Cruises.

 

From the same park………….

 

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Underneath this….

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The stunning work of Isamu Noguchi, as offered in the first photograph above, has also offered a primary glimpse of landscaping radicalism for long years prior. Now fully enacted by a fabulously and numerically-rich coterie of building designers, the arresting visual and sensual 360 degrees of 3 dimensionality of landscaping reaches an exemplary peak in his work. Below is his spare, yet incredibly evocative construction of a park erected on the site of a former garbage landfill.

Moerenuma Park, Sapporo, Japan:

 

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My view of these installation includes the packages relative to the advancement of technological breakthroughs in the machinery itself of construction. If Da Vinci could conceive of “lift”, “displacement” and the eventual forms which encourage Mankind to fly, then the wildly impractical new wonders of Drip Irrigation, water pumps and advancements in adhesives have opened an entire realm of gravity-defying work of its own.

Vertical Gardening will produce many Babylons, right before our every eyes:

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Even residences will gain from inexpensive-yet colorful profusions of verticality, a technology now just getting underway.

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The advent of the Mini-Excavator, in my world of installations, has produced amazing wonders, quickly-accomplished, only requiring an imaginative combination of materials, designers and installers to implement the next wave of the booming field of water features. Note here the incredible handsomeness of the stud at the business end of such a handy little monster of torque:

 

The above became this……….

 

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Fountains, water, radicalism, sound and senses…………………..

(Noguchi again):

Lighting has caused a Mini Sensation and a completely outrageous burst of creativity in the field as well, from simple, well-placed uplights and filters of a smaller but ineffably gorgeous dimension:

To the radical fringe of massive urban production such as this Mall Fountain in Singapore – the world’s largest fountain:

More Radical yet, we have the entire realm of fountains and the myriad new applications of water, beginning, once again, with Noguchi’s completely impractical 9 Floating Fountains at the 1970 Osaka World’s Fair:

My belief is that we are just entering a field which promises a burst of fabulous artwork of increasing meaning and relevance. I honestly believe we are being pushed outdoors, kicking and screaming, as our back yards become “destinations” and extended living rooms, kitchens and dens. Our cities become more vibrant when we supply other “destinations” to please the eyes and senses. The factor of radical art in landscaping may even supply microcosmic pleasure in the tools and those items which we have so long merely taken for granted………..

such as garden furniture, as Helen Nock (website included)  so brilliantly illustrates:

Walls and fences take on some structural interest when in the hands of Micahel   Eckerman of Santa Cruz, his website here. A surfer and gatherer of native materials, his formations show movement and form which closely resemble the behavior of ocean waves:

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The creations we see today raise our vision and stop our wandering eyes so that we can better focus on their message. The “message”, as in all art, is that of celebration of our shared humanity. These spiritual accomplishments encourage us all to be better people, in every way.

I am glad Landscaping enters the realm of art itself. The scope of the trade has no conceivable limit, from the very tiniest of realms to those of massive scale. It is Man tickling Man and the sooner we understand that, the more we can create and enjoy more of the same.

 

Avante Garde Things – Real, Not Trends

Yes, this is another recycled post from about 3 years ago which I feel good enough to re-post with a couple of additions. Inasmuch as I am officially a “retired landscaper”, we will not be seeing more pictures of myself and friends on the job.  My last one was about 2 years ago, here in Louisville.

For a landscaper, any intensity of interest towards something Avante Garde might seem unusual. But these are the bizarre personal complications our Maker has decided to afflict some of us with. The inspiring nature of art needs to be a part of any grade school and especially junior high school curriculum. Artists hang out way out there in their own whimsy, dedicated beyond the norm to present a weird brand new world of wonder for we admirers to sensually and mentally take in. They perform these works selflessly and most often wordlessly.

Enjoy.

My good fellow blogger Frances the other day lamented the curse of “trends” in gardening, speaking to an irritation I can cop to as well. Here is her rant – fairegarden -and I sincerely implore people to check it out – for the colorful explanations of her angst as well as her usual stunning pictorial abuse of her very own garden. It made me consider the qualities of art and, really, everything – and it also made me consider those things which move me most.

I have a very real fascination with what I consider to be current  ‘Avant Garde’ artists. I also like the connoisseurs of those artists who blog, review and attempt to describe their heartfelt relationships with wild ideas. A restless pursuit of new things can be an addiction – at its worst we become unseated from our table, off chasing the current butterfly. At best – and these are the moments we cherish – we discover something new, uplifting and which cracks open a window into another world entirely. The sheer differentness of utilizing normality to express meaningful connections in new and unique ways shows us our own potentials in their amazing variety. It reveals, too, a depth which is so fortunately unfathomable at its highest expression.

Here is Ernst Reijsiger and Mole Sylla last Summer at a workshop in Amsterdam using classical elements of beat, instruments and the rest but putting it into a stew of cross cultural and uniquely human celebration:

Nor does the stark ability of an artist in his or her moments of great achievement mean any less simply because of the era. Our discovery makes it contemporary in all the important ways, be it the Avant Garde qualities of Antonio Gaudi or the painted styling of Hieronymus Bosch. The unattributed photo below illustrates an incredibly stark imprint of time and place on the part of the artist. In its enlarged state, perhaps you too can find why and how I found myself utterly riveted by it.

A partially-excavated Sphinx looms in its unfinished excavated form and quite broken splendor over the relatively tiny bodies of workmen or perhaps passing Bedouins who had used it as a shady rest stop for Centuries. The contrast of modernity – which is the picture itself – mix with the grandness of scale and the breath of living subjects amid the ruinous nature of Time.

Clicking to enlarge this picture reveals far more than the compressed visual here. Indeed, all of these are prone to enlargement, although I have scaled back the monster shots which take up so much bandwidth, to Annette’s relief.

Less than a pursuit of genius – which is another level of inquiry and surprise – I glory in little discoveries of felt presentation which move me in mysterious ways. Needless to say, among the Avant Garde of modernity, architects and builders tend to rule over a region of art and accomplishment like few others – and I include landscape design artists such as Isamu Noguchi who make indescribably evocative and massive sculptures out of land and the products of Earth itself.:

Below is what was a landfill in Sapporo, Japan before Noguchi changed things:

More Personal – My Private Enthusiasms:

An absolute favorite artist of mine is a lady named Helen Nock – website here – who plies at garden furniture construction, sculpture, iron work, roofing tile salvage and who puts together gloriously beautiful and impractical pieces over in merry Olde England and with whom I share yuks on Facebook. Her overall body of work is absolutely and utterly unique:

Michael Eckerman of Santa Cruz, California is an artist in stone – among other mediums – website here – who constructs structural landscape elements using a bizarre variety of forms and materials. In the case of this landscape retaining wall, hard by a driveway, his love of surfing and the ocean display an uncanny sense of motion and force. Nor is this the only case where Michael works with nature to provide breathtaking works of landscape and interior home art.  His work has to be seen to be believed:

In closing, I can hardly think of a more interesting sampler of sound and depth than Joe Zawinul and his usual collections of the best musicians on the planet:

The Nature Of Genius – Werner Herzog & Ernst Reijseger

Once again I have opened up the archival Vault of Uselessness in this blog to give another look at some of the things I like most. As is the case in any blog, the selfish interest of the author is thematic – and, in this case, plain fun. I watched this movie again the other night just for giggles and it amazed me for a second time. The carcasses of ancient animals which had become glazed with stalagmite juice, basically “Quartzified” into stone, reminded again me of the sheer scope of this discovery.

Human art dating from over 20,000 – 30,000 years ago and just as subtle and beautiful as if it been accomplished by talented modern hands, displayed gallery-like on the walls of ancient caves, is only one of the fascinating wonders which Werner Herzog takes us through. His mix of music throughout the film is another glory of novelty. The best browsing of this post would be to begin the music video below and then read the text. Try that.

Reading Henry Miller some years ago, I never forgot his delighted discovery and his fascination with the term “Chthonic” – as if it had appeared to him as a magical key to describing ineffable events. This film and even its sounds are completely “Chthonic” and of a piece. It reminds me of nothing – they both stand on their own.

chthon·ic
ˈTHänik/
adjective
  1. concerning, belonging to, or inhabiting the underworld.
    “a chthonic deity”

To the archives, then……….(pictures enlarge by clicking).

For further investigation, here is the delightful Wiki entry for these incredible caves:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chauvet_Cave

OK, this is a stretch for a simple landscaping blog. Just know this: I know that and let me say my piece. 😉  It’s never stopped me before, has it? This one deals with the Earth, having said that, and that’s my own area. Dirt rocks and so do rocks.

I recently went to the movies, chucked on my 3D glasses and watched one of the most stunning movie events I have ever seen. The film is called “The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams” and I cannot possibly recommend it high enough. It was directed by Werner Herzog and deals with an inside look at the astonishing Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc, where artists as long ago as 32,000 years plied their art of cave-paintings, using the walls of this gorgeous, previously-hidden cave as their canvas and using the folds and 3 dimensional aspect of the terrain itself to provide depth, apparent motion and breathtaking artistic ability.

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The extremely cautious French Government goes overboard in scrupulous preservation paranoia, and the film mentions this. Protecting the inside treasure is testified to when references to them shutting the cave off to visitors for a few months was felt necessary owing to “The breath of visitors is causing a mold to adhere to the walls.” This is a look inside – a rare moment in time and one which may or may not ever be replicated.

The cave simply reveals life at that time in a manner which nothing else possibly could. The genius is inside the art itself, of course, but the creative genius of Werner Herzog amplifies it, juxtaposing all this with modern perceptions of an era, seen from the best anthropological, psychological and paleantological minds of our generation.

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Borrowing this piece of breathless excitement emitted by  a movie review in the New York Times:

“The cave was discovered in December 1994 by three French cavers, Jean-Marie Chauvet, Éliette Brunel Deschamps and Christian Hillaire. Following an air current coming from the cliff, they dug and crawled their way into the cave, which had been sealed tight for some 20,000 years. After finally making their way to an enormous chamber, Ms. Deschamps held up her lamp and, seeing an image of a mammoth, cried out, “They were here,” a glorious moment of discovery that closed the distance between our lost human past and our present.”

How cool is that?

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The movie possesses so much depth and range of emotion and the hidden tension of discovery, that it nearly stands alone as an experience of brotherliness linking ourselves with our incredibly ancient past. I have to suspect this is an instant classic, no matter how uneven it might seem at its start. The punch is delivered as we advance, revealing all the incredible wonders this cave has to offer. Bear skulls, complete vertebrae of gigantic land animals, pictures of the rhinos, the Ibex, horses, lions, bison adorn these walls in graduated impact as the camera gets released later to fully explore.

Anyway – I guess you can tell I enjoyed the film!  😉

And here is where we return to the premise of this post. That Herzog has created a masterpiece I have little doubt. When you feel literally blessed and extremely fortunate to view a film, then these emotions tell us something very important: either we are nuts, or else this guy put together a magnificent piece of pure genius. I naturally choose the latter. As I said, the uneven beginning to the film requires a bit of patience. There is information coming in rather placid and somewhat pedantic ways, although there are indeed gorgeous pictures of the paintings and the access to them at the same time. The geological wonders alone are fantastic and impossible. Calcite galore, stalactites and stalagmites adorn the view – some literally impacting the paintings as well as such things as footprints of a bear as well as that of a child. The protective measures taken by the French is also droned on about at length – but – and here’s the thing:

It all makes sense and comes together incredibly effectively as we witness what a treasure this is. The drama of this discovery is served well by Herzog and the ineffable music streaming from the cello of the master cellist, Ernst Reijseger, which takes on an increasing urgency and even pathos as we discover this enormously ancient past of all of ours. The musical work of Reijseger is of a quality I have rarely seen before – it is clearly evocative and it seems utterly spontaneous as it impacts us concurrently with the images we behold and the verbalized statements from the long list of exceptional people. It courses through the film in a sensuous, even mysteriously sinewy way – somehow absolutely perfectly emotive and even responsible as we peer into who we once were. It is somehow totally fitting that we should answer the very height of their art with some of our own.

There is humanity here and a respect for our past. I mean a deep respect for our past. Oddities galore – it appears Neanderthal man was around as well as our own Homo Sapiens species evolved in the same neighborhood. Entire skeletons of the animals of the day appear, close up and personal.

I’m including aspect of Herzog and Reijseger’s traveling “Cine-Concert” which is entitled “Requiem For A Dying Planet” which toured to rave reviews globally. The reason I include this apparently non-related and somewhat disjointed piece is merely to illustrate the level of artistic genius this group operates at. Obviously, their goals are as high in terms of the stewardship of our planet – a message it would seem we could use ample measure of. I give you the “Requiem”:

Details And Their Importance

As I progressed in landscaping as a career – and especially in my own projects – I came to realize how vital “finishing” can be. As the business owner who had a “speak freely” attitude I promoted among my crews, I learned many things I would otherwise not have attempted or known without their input. Nor is this some false modesty – it is simply truth. The only thing I did right was listen.

Finishing A Project

Well, it came to pass that my crews could get pretty upset with my behavior during finishing – the last day or two on a project where the time seems to slow down and a business begins chewing into profit lines. As well as I may have insisted we perform installing things, my frustration always seemed to emerge just about now.

We’ve used fire hoses tied directly into fire hydrants, using 2-3″ hoses to blast large projects into cleanliness. Needless to say, the need for an excellent pressure washer is must-have for projects where brick dust, soil amendments, bark mulches, street dust and – Heaven forbid – oil stains from standing, dripping vehicles (including the machines used for the work, like Bobcats) -can produce stains of potentially disastrous impact. Brooms, fine rakes for bark mulch, snippers for the tags which always accompany plants and which – if left – reduce the entirety to a more amateur status, blowers, you name it, all of which seemed diabolical to someone with my level of ADD, ha ha.

But the real fact was, they were prescient. They were totally capable of leaving a project looking as perfect as it could look. Plus, I would get the call when we were done and drive over to assess it all. I could still set standards, even if I was awful at the work. So they basically kicked me off the jobs. And I’m serious. I was hard to live with. The reason I say it was a factor is because crews from 2 different eras and 2 different countries did the same thing. I am a mess at the end. Luckily for the crew, it was so obviously unsatisfying to me, they both recommended that I go to the next project and begin. The truth is, I am, having said all the above, a monster at starting things. This was pretty much always where I saved and made money. I could destroy stuff at a dizzying pace!!  😉

Add that I was a sole proprietor in effect, we then saw how the wisdom of moving along rapidly and seamlessly became a truism in how to handle the work. An early or prompt arrival gave me time for the ‘soul-to-souls’ I could have with clients, as well as ascertaining potential changes they may have conceived and wanted to talk over. It also allowed me to arrange deliveries for the future, from machinery to sub trade scheduling.

The picture below is somewhat typical of the crude beginnings of a project. This is about the third day of work on a large residential project in Reno. I have spirited away one guy to run the larger machine, separating out boulders by size as I played around with actually setting the rocks into soil. Meanwhile, the other guys were finishing a project elsewhere.

(click any image to enlarge)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   Eventually of course, the entire crew showed up and we were wholly underway, a glorious sensation to me as our attentions bent to newer projects. Soon, we would be doing the “mid project” Phase 2-3 work of final rock placement, irrigation and planting. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I would always collect the final check on a walk-through with owners, listening to any corrections they may have had from punch lists we both created and/or listening to them rave. The latter was always my favorite. 😉

Detail In The Work Itself

“The devil is in the details……..” .but so are some excellent angels.

Eventually, what I found was a profound sense of feeling well-served on the parts of clients who almost daily checked out our progress and who expressed the severest appreciation for how we handled details. I learned, for example, to actually work to produce details someone would admire. Rather than shy away from difficult aspects of projects, I learned to embrace them instead. For example, this rock grouping clustered around a gas-fed fire pit we designed and installed was never even spoken of during the original design consultation. I just went and thought it was too cool not to try.001 The “trick” here is the absolute snugness of the bricks which were custom cut to nestle in next to these boulders with zero tolerance for clearance. It made them look far more natural. (double click to get a better idea of how perfect I required the fit.) SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA The owner later lamented he overspent on chaise lounges and bar seating in his back patio “because everyone wants to go sit on the dam rocks!” 😉 (He said it with a smile, let me add, lol).

Below is a picture 20 feet away from the fire pit, illustrating how I would use the same “snug” technique with boulders I would insert to break up boring and predictable lines on the outer edge of the patio. I always thought it gave a far more “lived-in” look and seemed incredibly more interesting if not natural. 001

Here is the same patio, looking out at a small hill we created in order to supply the owner’s requested waterfall, creek and fish pond.

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A view of the same project from a different angle, looking back………..

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More detail, this time merely providing an interesting edge, snugging up nicely to the concrete border.

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This entryway to a home – below – was a process of gluing bricks onto the existing very bare concrete left by the builders. Note, on enlargement, the circle pattern we cut and forced into the mix right at the door way itself. I wasn’t asked for this, either, but this detail proved a winning formula and honestly didn’t take too long to manufacture.

From the very front:

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A better look, when enlarged, from the side.

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“Detail” also took place at the very end of jobs, during the cleanup I mentioned I was forced to avoid. 😉  (kicking and screaming………not). Below is the day of completion at the finishing touches around a small pond in the woods we created by falling trees, digging a hole, and trying to make it look as natural as possible. In the end, this is probably the best detailed finishing I ever saw. It looks like it’s been there forever.

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Inasmuch as most of our larger work looked something like the below about mid-way through, the “End” so often seemed so remote. Imagine all the work involved and then imagine not attending to the small stuff.

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But rescue is at hand by some willing labor and the good vibes we always tried to support.

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