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Land Arts of the American West

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Land Arts of the American West is a semester long transdisciplinary field program expanding the definition of land art through direct experience with the full range of human interventions in the landscape, from the inscriptions of pictographs and petrogylphs to the construction of roads, dwellings, and monuments, as well as traces of those actions. Land Arts investigates the intersection of geomorphology and human construction beginning with the land and extending through the complex social and ecological processes that produce contemporary landscapes.

Land Arts of the American West at Texas Tech is a transdisciplinary field program investigating the intersection of geomorphology and human construction. It is a semester abroad in our own back yard. Each fall students venture across the American southwest camping for a two months while traveling six-thousand miles overland to explore natural and human forces that shape contemporary landscapes—ranging from geology and weather to cigarette butts and hydroelectric dams.


Sites visited include Chaco Canyon, Roden Crater, and the Very Large Array, and along the way the program meets field guests such as art historian Ann Reynolds and the Center for Land Use Interpretation director Matt Coolidge. In the landscape students produce ephemeral site specific work, which is synthesized and completed in the studio on campus and then presented in an exhibition.


Land Arts situates our work within a continuous tradition of land-based operations that is thousands of years old. Analysis of sites visited provides a basis for dialog and invention. Issues of spatial and material vocabulary, constructional logics, and inhabitation serve as the foundation for an investigation through making. Students construct, detail, and document a series of site-base interventions in a context that places emphasis on processes of making, experiential forms of knowing, and transdisciplinary modes of practice. The immersive nature of how we experience the landscape triggers an amalgamated body of inquiry where students have the opportunity of time and space to develop authority in their work through direct action and reflection. Land Arts hinges on the primacy of first person experience and the realization that human-land relationships are rarely singular.


Over the program history visited sites include: in ARIZONA Chiricahua Mountains, Coconino Forest, Coolidge Dam, San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, Roden Crater by James Turrell, north rim of the Grand Canyon, and Wupatki. In MEXICO Juan Mata Ortiz in Chihuahua. In NEW MEXICO Bisti Badlands, Bosque del Apache, Cabinetlandia near Deming, Cebolla Canyon, Chaco Canyon, Gila Cliff Dwellings, Jackpile Mine at Laguna Pueblo, The Lightning Field by Walter di Maria, Mimbres River, New Mexico Mining Museum in Grants, Otero Mesa, Plains of San Agustin, Sawtooth Mountains, Turkey Creek and Very Large Array. In NEVADA Double Negative by Michael Heizer, Goshute Canyon, Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, and Las Vegas Piece by Walter di Maria. In UTAH Bingham Canyon Mine, Goblin Valley, Moon House, Muley Point, San Rafael Swell, Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson, Sun Tunnels by Nancy Holt, and the Wendover Complex of the Center for Land Use Interpretation. In TEXAS Boquillas Canyon, Adobe Alliance in Presidio, Judd Foundation, Chinati Foundation and El Cosmico in Marfa, Land Heritage Institute in San Antonio and the Rio Grande.


Over the program history field guests have included: artist Tori Arpad, artist Steve Badgett, writer Charles Bowden, Land Heritage Institute member Penelope Boyer, art historian and archeologist Jerry Brody, architect Chris Calott, Center for Land Use Interpretation director Matthew Coolidge, artist Rick Dingus, Intrepid plant manager Russ Draper, filmmaker Sam Douglas, artist Boyd Elder, architectural historian Clifton Ellis, architect Upe Flueckiger, author William L. Fox, geologist and Laguna Pueblo member Curtis Francisco, Acoma Pueblo member Mary Lewis Garcia, permaculturalist Joel Glanzberg, designer and builder David Gregor, artist Amy Hauft, artist Joan Jonas, Center for Land Use Interpretant member and author Erik Knutzen, artist Eve Andree Laramee, designer and builder Adrian Larriva, cultural critic and author Lucy Lippard, writer Barry Lopez, potter Graciela Martinez and Hector Gallegos, artist Susannah Mira, architect Onézieme Mouton, change agent Andrea Nasher, artist Erika Osborne, poet John Poch, artist Rob Ray, artist and curator Lea Rekow, art historian Ann Reynolds, artist Jack Risley, architect Lori Ryker, architect and builder Jack Sanders, wilderness advocate Michael Scialdone, Dia Foundation manager and author Kathleen Shields, laser scanning technician Chris Snowden, Chinati Foundation director Marianne Stockebrand, tracker John Stokes, artist and filmmaker Deborah Stratman, Adobe Alliance director Simone Swan, artist and gallery director Richard Torchia, artist Mary Tsiongas, designer and builder Jose Villanueva, archeologist Henry Walt, architect and river guide Blaine Young, and Isleta Pueblo member Joe Zuni.


Land Arts was founded in 2000 at the University of New Mexico by Bill Gilbert with the assistance of John Wenger. From 2001 to 2007 the program developed as a collaboration between Bill Gilbert and Chris Taylor, then at the University of Texas at Austin. Now Gilbert and Taylor operate the program autonomously at the University of New Mexico and Texas Tech University. In January of 2009 the Nevada Museum of Art announced the creation of the new Center for Art + Environment and the acquisition of the archive of Land Arts of the American West.


Operational and curricular material about Land Arts at Texas Tech can be found on this site with the program links below. The program archive and additional material can be found at http://landarts.org. Please contact Chris Taylor for any additional information.


In May 2011 a feature article was published in the New York Times about the program. Read it here: Land Arts of the American West, a Texas Tech Program.

In the fall of 2011 Sam Douglas began work on a new documentary film about Land Arts. Read more here: Moving Mountains (working title).

In February 2014 Chris Taylor talked about Land Arts at TEDxTexasTechUniversity. See video of the presentation on YouTube.


Texas Tech program links