Project Space: The Third Site of Land Art: Modes of Site
by Jennie Lamensdorf
Land art comprises more than the emblematic works of the late 1960s and 1970s. Several already-canonical works, such as Michael Heizer’s City, James Turrell’s Roden Crater and Charles Ross’ Star Axis, are still in progress. But there are also projects that deal with the land in a mode beyond the established re-shaping by any means necessary. Today’s land art is conscious of the no-trace ethic that exists amongst the environmentally sensitive: you pack out whatever you brought in. In keeping with contemporary ideas about sustainable land use, Cabinetlandia is a prime example of twenty-first century land art.
Created by New York-based magazine Cabinet for its Property Issue in spring 2003, Cabinetlandia is an imaginary utopia that is physically manifest on a half-acre of desert scrubland ten miles outside of Deming, New Mexico. Cabinet offered readers the opportunity to purchase their very own piece of Cabinetlandia, dubbed Readerlandia. Readerlandia consisted of 6,700 individual parcels the exact same size as the magazine, priced at just one cent. When Cabinet announced the sale of Readerlandia plots it cautioned, “With your long-term control of a portion of our shared planet comes great responsibility. We encourage readers to meditate on this responsibility before sending in their contract and penny. If you fail in this most fundamental of relationships, the Land will reach up to you, no matter where you are, and exact its revenge. OK? OK.” While cheeky and funny, this disclaimer reveals a paradigm shift in the relationship between art and the land. No longer concerned with domination, the work is now trying to make visible otherwise invisible landscapes.
Since Cabinetlandia is susceptible to the same conditions as any work of land art, it is not the same as when it was established in 2003. In addition to the effects of the elements, you will find a filing cabinet-sized library, mailbox and any number of non-magazine-sanctioned “projects” left by inspired visitors. These projects raise questions about private property, as well as the very human urge to leave a mark, to say, “Jack wuz here!” While Cabinet did nothing to manipulate the land, no trenches dug or rocks moved, Cabinetlandia compelled some visitors to make rock circles, arrange false gravestones and install signposts. When faced with the fulcrum of our culture of movement and transportation (the plot is spitting distance from the Union Pacific Railroad and trans-national Interstate-10), someone was moved to shape rocks into a faux “biodegradable toilet.” Cabinetlandia reveals that when confronted with issues of industry, environmentalism and the very structure of our civilization, we will turn to the basics: death and defecation.
Typically, magazines function as mediated experience, providing the reader with interpretation, criticism and photographic reproductions. However, the pages of Cabinet’s Property Issue devoted to Cabinetlandia are as much a part of Cabinetlandia as the physical half-acre of land. Therefore, Cabinetlandia questions the very notion of site as a physical place.
Magazine interventions are not new. Following the precedent of Dada and Marcel Duchamp, who used the magazine as form, Robert Smithson and Mel Bochner collaborated on an intervention, “The Domain of the Great Bear,” in Art Voices magazine in September 1966. At that time, both young artists were frustrated that gallery dealers merely requested slides instead of visiting their studios. Smithson and Bochner questioned the very need for an original work of art if all anyone ever wanted to see were reproductions. Thus, they co-opted the magazine as a literary hoax, using it as a means to bypass the gallery system. There was no need for an original, as the reproduction became the primary material.
This project was a precursor to the wholesale rejection of the New York gallery system that is a hallmark of historical land arts. While Cabinetlandia is perhaps a bit self-congratulating (it is a project performed by a magazine that puts a high value on its own cleverness) it is a successful instrument of contemporary land art. The magazine is more than the vehicle of Cabinetlandia’s dispersal; Cabinetlandia is manifest in its pages. Like Smithson and Bochner, Cabinet succeeded in subverting the typical avenues of art dispersal. But as both the artist and the publisher, Cabinet knowingly winks at the reader—we are in on the game.
Jennie Lamensdorf is a graduate student in Art History at the University of Texas and a 2010 participant in the Land Arts of the American West Program.