Women, Land Art and the Social (1978-83)
- Author(s): Timken, Kris
- Advisor(s): Berger, Martin
- et al.
This dissertation analyzes three large-scale, land-based, socially engaged artworks by Betty Beaumont, Patricia Johanson, and Beverly Buchanan that manifested at a time when interconnections among art, feminism and the environmental movement were establishing new lines of communication and creativity in the United States. During the late 1970s female artists led a transformation in land art from its roots in isolationism and minimalism to a vision that was activist, connected, and social. This dissertation explores the emergence, intersection, and divergence of the categories of land art and public art during the 1970s and early 1980s, showing how they evolved from monumentality toward an interconnected, relational approach to public artmaking. These three case studies assess the projects’ aesthetic worth and also their functionality, whether as social reclamation, a source of food, a strategy for drawing people closer to the natural world, or a marker for lost social histories and economies. Beginning with an analysis of historical conditions that finally enabled women artists to receive funding for large-scale land art projects, the dissertation then considers how funding influenced the work; the distinctions in foundational practices that women artists brought to this second phase of land art; and why the art world continues to separate out progenitor land art projects made by women artists from the broader field. The artists in this study worked abstractly; however, each woman maintained a complicated relationship with feminism as a political or artistic imperative. Supported by feminism and greater political awareness, female artists pushed the limits of land art to create public artworks that addressed the era’s pressing social and ecological issues. The site-based projects open up into multiple categories, among them public art, landscape design, activist art, and ecological art. Rather than aestheticizing biota, the featured women artists are unified by the desire to integrate art and biota. The dissertation, calling upon the scientific theory of open systems to provide a conceptual bridge between art and science, demonstrates that these artworks are complex ecosystems—social ecologies—through which land artists become understood as engaged citizens.