Land Art is, historically, HUGE. Ginormous. It is art that is heaved and coughed and carved into the hardest and bitterest corners of the suffering planet, art that says “humans were here.” Artist Chris Drury knows — he came of age in a generation of land art giants: Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, guys who made their art with dump trucks and backhoes. A few years ago Drury found himself working in the middle of a desert — not because he had an itchy bulldozer butt — because the Center for Art and the Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art exhibited a collection of his works: Mushrooms|Clouds. What’s important about this exhibit? Drury doesn’t make “Land Art”. He makes something of a more collaborative spirit.
Now, to be fair, Drury does make big art. His Winnemucca Whirlwind was 300 feet across. But unlike, say, Double Negative, which Heizer made by digging trenches with a backhoe, the Whirlwind disappeared into the dusty desert air, leaving nothing behind but a google image search. The Whirlwind was also inspired by a local tribal pattern, and raked into a dry lakebed on federal land. And while a pretty carved symbol does not make for legal land reparations, the acknowledgment, at least, was there. Drury is aware of both the modern industrial and the ecological context of his art.
For instance: he builds shelters. He makes spore prints. He draws striking visual parallels between mushrooms (decomposers, remediators, life-renewers) and bomb clouds (beyond the obvious, ya smarty pants). He even went as far as to work together with a team of scientists to examine the microbial life of the Nevada Test Site. He makes places to contemplate nature, installations to visualize science, dust and stone structures for shifting our understanding.
The book Mushrooms|Clouds examines these works — many of which were created for the exhibition — in the context of Land Art, in the context of our ecologically muddled present, in the context of modern galleries and the stolen land we live on. Author Ann M. Wolfe tells us what this man has been doing, and why it is important. We get a few essays from other collaborators, as well, along with huge photos of the man and his works. Chris Drury heaving rocks. Chris Drury gathering twigs with volunteers. Chris Drury standing in the middle of a dry lakebed with a floppy hat and a rake, looking not like a man who is trying to make his mark — no, just a white, British guy in a goofy hat, trying to do some good by the planet.