Art Basel: Troublemakers Who Shaped The Land into Art

Art Basel Miami will this year be hosting a special screening of filmmaker James Crump’s documentary Troublemakers – The Story of Land Art (trailer below). This highly acclaimed film focuses on a group of groundbreaking artists (sometimes in the literal sense) whose visions led them across the South West of America to create their own visual landmarks in the late 60s and early 70s.

These were monumental works of art, experimental and often shrouded in mystery – an anti-gallery revolution, albeit a peaceful and labour intensive one.

One – if not the – most iconic installations in American art history is Walter de Maria’s The Lightning Field from 1977 which can still be visited today in Western New Mexico, but only by six people each a day, six months of the year. There is a strict preservation and security policy held over this work which comprises 400 towering stainless steel lightening rods, all strategically embedded into the earth at equidistance and at equal height in flat terrain, They reflect the light at sunrise and sunset, create a sense of otherworldliness against the backdrop of an otherwise desolate landscape, and, if you are lucky enough to see it, thrash about lightening bolts during an electric skylit storm.

The cultural and political context of land art at this time is laden with significance: astronauts had landed on the moon and pictures from NASA only compounded the insignificance of man against the grandeur of nature and the cosmos. The world was in conflict: the Vietnam War had polarised people’s opinion about the necessity of violence and political intervention, the Cold War was gaining momentum and technology and consumerism were at odds with the ‘peace and love’ culture of the era. In a bid to redefine man’s mark on the world and to externalise a new sense of simply ‘being’, the land artists recreated their own mythologies, some of which were almost immediately reclaimed by the earth (by tide or wind). Some have lasted the test of time but can only be viewed from above, many have never been uncovered.

This thrilling documentary which uses imagery shot from helicopters sheds light on the convictions and motivations behind one of the most radical and visually moving forms of artistic expression of the past century. Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, James Crump said the impetus to make the film was “to create something immersive and experiential, because it’s important to raise awareness of the subject. A generation of young artists needs to know.”

Sadly the film has no screening planned in London as yet but it will show at the Louvres in Paris in January 2016. A DVD release is on the cards.

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Troublemakers: The Trailer from Summitridge Pictures on Vimeo.