Notes on the Objectives of the Sky/Ground Works Home

These works comprise organized, deliberate, dynamic mark making in the environment on a very large scale. The renderings are to be made by manipulating environmental processes or artificial structures which are not commonly used for the proactive production of artworks but have been the mechanism of accidental or inadvertent markings as the result of human activity. Vast, prototypical, environmental renderings resulting from these media have occurred as an unconscious consequence of human activity and are increasingly routine. The Sky/Ground Works engage these media with conscious, aesthetic objectives.

Examples of Prototypical Environmental Renderings

Studies for Synthetic Meteors, Albuquerque, 2005
still from HD video animation
Since the beginning of space exploration the atmospheric reentry of man-made artifacts has created what could be seen as synthetic meteors. The pattern and timing of these synthetic meteors has been a side effect of other technical or scientific objectives or as the result of accidents.

Many cities now routinely produce artificial clouds in the skies above them, a micrometeorological result of the localized heating and increased humidity of the urban environment. The visible structure of these cloud formations is accidental rather than deliberately composed. Few people seeing them realize they are artificially produced.

Artificial dust storms can be produced by large movements of human populations, disasterous agricultural practices which produce desertification, or the progress of large numbers of vehicles across undeveloped terrain. The latter could be as a result of large motorsport competitions or military invasion by motorized columns. These artificial dust storms can rival the scale of such naturally ocurring events.

The widespread setting of prescribed burns as a modern tool for land management has resulted in vast fires set in deliberate patterns, but these patterns have been governed strictly by the technical objectives of fuel reduction in order to ameliorate the effects of prior ineffective forest management.

Viewed from space there is very little evidence of visible human activity. Perhaps the most dominant visible artifact of human habitation of the planet is the lights of cities at night. The pattern of these lights has been an accident of urban development. Their variation has been strictly as the result of catastrophic failures of the power grid. This can be due to accidental blackouts or as planned rolling blackouts in developing countries.

Aestheticizing Large Scale Environmental Rendering

We are now at a point in our relationship to the environment where we are making inadvertent markings at a hitherto unimagined scale. These works seek to impose a consciousness and rigor to these markings, thus enhancing awareness of them. All five of these visual phenomena are to be manipulated aesthetically in these works. We are at a point similar to that of a prehistoric man who having noticed the inadvertent markings on the physical world around him occurring as the result of his basic survival activities, began to make markings deliberately, perhaps for the fascination and pleasure in doing so. Due to our increased impact on the environment, these inadvertent markings are now on a vast scale, and attempts to make them deliberately will of necessity be on a similar scale.

False Color Satellite Image of the Nazca Lines, Peru
early large scale environmental mark making

and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team
Quite appropriately, if not inevitably, the forms of markings we can initially make at these large scales are closely related to the first forms of mark making by prehistoric man, simple geometric patterns describing basic relationships such as parallel, radiating, or intersecting lines, and simple grids. Due to the difficulties faced in manipulating these large scale phenomena, the markings we are capable of making are as basic as those of very early man, engaged for the first time in making marks.

Mankind is already creating markings on the environment on a massive scale. It would not be surprising to discover that the effects of global warming are subtly changing the color of the entire planet. Many of these types of markings, such as those created by cities, are a fundamental consequence of the ever encroaching human presence. These inadvertent alterations are usually similar in form to their naturally occurring counterparts and therefore do not attract notice. By modulating the forces which constitute these markings and treating the mark making process as metier we can create forms which are unmistakably deliberate. Perhaps that will cause sufficient awareness of our impact upon the environment to elicit some heightened awareness and response. If not, we will at least have exerted conscious aesthetic (or anti-aesthetic) control over the visual appurtenances of our potential extinction.

The Relationship to Land Art

These works continue the tradition of the early large scale land art first produced in the 70s by such innovators as Heizer, Smithson, Morris, and de Maria. One intent of these works is to evoke the same sense of daring, boldness, and heightened awareness which these seminal works produced. Much subsequent land art has been a reaction to initial criticism, on environmental or cultural grounds, of the scale of this early work and its relationship to the land. The monumental gesture, the use of the land as raw material for the work "without any sense of respect for it", accusations of continuing the "heroic conquering of nature", "a continuation of Manifest Destiny" were all responses to this first wave of land art. These criticisms caused some subsequent land art to adopt an apologetic posture for those elements of the original works. This dilution of some of the major features of early land art have caused it to gradually loose its original impact and to become incorporated into the vernacular of landscape architecture, another tool in the designer's sourcebook for the beautification of public spaces, downsized and eco-friendly. The works presented here are an attempt to reemploy these suppressed or deemphasized elements of early American land art, elements which provided much of it's impact, uniqueness, and strength. These "taboo" elements are used positively in this work to amplify awareness of the scale of our impact on the environment.

These works avoid the permanent monumentalism of the early land art by being dynamic and ephemeral, moderating their vast scale. The idea of a permanent artwork stretching for hundreds of miles is not currently acceptable which is why these works exist unmediated on a temporary basis and permanently only in the form of evidentiary media. Why so little art exists at this scale should be a cause for concern and reflection on the part of artists at a time when transportation and distribution networks like roads and electrical grids are routinely being built across continents. Perhaps in the future an extent of hundreds of miles for an artistic gesture will be acceptable and commonplace.

The magnitude of these work's environmental impact is infinitesimal compared to an activity like erecting a high-rise building. Some, like the Fire Line Series, are actually involved with a reclamation process which seeks to correct prior mismanagement of the environment. This is also a possibility with the Reentry Series which could assist with the "demise" of orbital debris. This remediation function of land art was championed by Smithson in his late work but has proven problematic to other practitioners. Environmental remediaton may be involved with some of the works, but it is neither a determinant of form nor a major aesthetic aspect.

The Relationship to Environmental Art and Environmentalism

Studies for Synthetic Meteors, San Diego, 2005
still from HD video animation
Most environmentally focused art which attempts some form of remediation of the environment operates on such a diminutive scale as to be completely ineffectual on any sort of global level. Environmentally sympathetic art which embraces "oneness" with the "natural world" is perhaps even worse, functioning primarily as a balm, creating a tranquilizing sense of false harmony, while massive disruption of the environment orchestrated by governments and multinational corporations continues unabated. The industrialization of the major underdeveloped countries like China and India will continue this process well into this century and attempts to moderate this industrialization can be seen as an extension of colonialism. Ecologically or environmentally sensitive art and landscape architecture acts as a sort of conceptual prozac, creating a false sense of union with a long-vanished natural world. There has been no natural world since the the advent of human hegemony. Believing in one is the equivalent of sitting in a beautiful park surrounded by an industrial wasteland. Out of sight calamity is in progress. The ticking of the population bomb is proceeding inexorably. Art which espouses an empathy and unity with an imaginary nature is in fact lulling the viewer into a false sense of security, the canard that we are successfully moderating our behavior. This could not be further from the truth and it is in fact irresponsible, the exact opposite is true.

Dedicated, responsible environmental art employs environmental processes or structures already modified by humans and manipulates those processes or structures in a fashion which makes recognition of our impact unmistakable. If we are to gain any sense or understanding of the true level of our impact on the world we must engage in the production of art on a scale consistent with the rest of human endeavor. We must become involved with and explore deliberate large scale interaction with the environment in an aesthetic (or anti-aesthetic) context, otherwise we will concede the ability to visually impact the world around us on a meaningful scale to multi-national commercial interests and the governments of nation-states whose actions are frequently marked by cupidity, rapaciousness, capriciousness and irresponsibility. If we do not begin to understand the magnitude of our impact on an immediate experiential level we will never be able to consider the possibility of moderating our collective behavior. If we shrink from making art at the largest scales of human activity we will have surrendered the control of the very appearance of the world around us to organizations whose agendas are self serving, surreptitous, and not at all in our best interests.


These works were not conceived as environmental polemic and that may have little to do with their function. The ideas for all of these works took shape in the space of a week or so in May, 2004. They originated from ideas long considered and recently envisioned. They emerged from staring at the night sky and spending time alone in the desert.

5/29/04-6/8/04, 3/1/05, 7/21/05
Estancia, New Mexico