Symposium to Mark 50th Anniversary of Earth Art

a group of men in 60s-era clothing seated under a sign that says Earth, captured in a fish-eye view.
The artists from the 1969 Earth Art exhibition at Cornell. photo / Cornell University Library, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections
a man leans over a lit table surface in a large exhibition space
Artist and designer Jorge Otero-Pailos (B.Arch. ’94, M.Arch. ’95) with work from an Ethics of Dust project, preserving material removed from historic monuments. photo / Paula Lobo
The artists from the 1969 Earth Art exhibition at Cornell. photo / Cornell University Library, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections Artist and designer Jorge Otero-Pailos (B.Arch. ’94, M.Arch. ’95) with work from an Ethics of Dust project, preserving material removed from historic monuments. photo / Paula Lobo
News
November 1, 2019

Designers, artists, and scholars will reflect on the legacy of the landmark 1969 Earth Art exhibition at Cornell in "Earth: Projections 50 Years After Earth Art," November 7–8 in the Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium.

Presented by the Department of Architecture, the Preston H. Thomas Memorial Lecture Series symposium will mark the 50th anniversary of the exhibition of in situ works at the Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art, now the A.D. White House. Symposium events are free and open to the public.

Participants will discuss the original event's significance for art, architecture, and design in the contemporary context, defined by planetary environmental crises. The symposium will encompass perspectives of sustainability, climate change, land art, architectural history and historic preservation, anthropology, and philosophy.

Curated in 1969 by museum director Thomas Leavitt, professor of the history of art, and guest curator Willoughby Sharp, Earth Art featured land and environmental art by Jan Dibbets, Hans Haacke, Michael Heizer, Neil Jenney, Richard Long, David Medalla, Robert Morris, Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Smithson, and Günther Uecker. The exhibition was a profound provocation for an ethical and political reorientation toward Earth, according to symposium organizers.

The symposium will open with an introduction and film screening by Marilyn Rivchin (M.F.A. '91) of her original film footage for Earth, documenting the artists at work in 1969; and feature four lectures from design practitioners and prominent scholars in art, architectural history, and philosophy, each approaching the legacy of the Earth Art exhibition from different but related perspectives.

The scholars are Peg Rawes, professor of architecture and philosophy at the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College, London; and James Nisbet, associate professor of art history and visual studies at the University of California–Irvine.

Designer Rania Ghosn, principal of Design Earth and associate professor of architecture and urbanism at MIT, and artist Jorge Otero-Pailos (B.Arch. '94, M.Arch. '95) of Otero-Pailos Studio and professor and director of historic preservation at Columbia University, will also exhibit work specifically commissioned for the symposium.

Ghosn's entry, Flag the Earth, stages the Climate Emergency flag that was raised on the roof of Rand Hall during the Global Climate Strike on September 20.

"This installation is an ethical plea to keep fossil fuels in the ground and for cultural institutions to act now in responding to the climate crisis," Ghosn said in an artist statement.

"The flag appropriates Flag of the Earth to visualize the planet's carbon budget in a series of three concentric circles. The thickness of each is proportional to CO2 emissions — CO2 already released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels between 1850 and 2018; the allowance before the two degrees Centigrade benchmark; and the 'business as usual' scenario should fossil fuel corporations burn all that they currently hold in their reserves," she said.

Otero-Pailos's installation, Far Above, relates to the iconic view associated with Cornell, from the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art down to Cayuga Lake.

"Our ability to see the lake depends on the quality of the air," he said. "Dust particles in the air can actually affect our visibility and the way that we perceive the world."

The view also includes a coal-fired power plant on the lake, "one of the biggest polluters," Otero-Pailos said.

"To reduce emissions, sulfur dioxide is made to react with the limestone in the smokestack and makes gypsum," he said. "That gypsum is sold to make drywall, so we are in a way surrounded by the byproduct of this process of using stones to clean the sky."

The installation, on display November 5–9 in the Milstein Hall dome, represents this relationship between the earth and the sky, and "focuses on the pollution suspended in the air and its enormous effect on our aesthetic appreciation and on the climate," he said. It incorporates local limestone and features six videos of the sky above the sightline of the view, projected onto painted gypsum panels.

Otero-Pailos painted circles on each of the panels, forming what he calls "an imaginary cone of dust" in the view to Cayuga Lake, using ink Otero-Pailos made from dust he collected from the windows of buildings overlooking the lake.

"I thought it was important to see the actual medium of the view," he said. "In these videos, the sky is just totally active. There are clouds moving left and right, there are birds and airplanes, you can sense the wind, you can sense the density of the sky."

The symposium is organized by Assistant Professor Tao DuFour, architecture.

By Dan Aloi, Cornell Chronicle