Making Room for Earth in Hawaiʻi: Sean Connelly’s A Small Area of Land
- Author(s): Katzeman, Aaron
- et al.
In 2013, Pacific Islander American artist and architect Sean Connelly formed a geometric sculpture with 32,000 pounds of earthen matter at the now-closed ii Gallery in the Kakaʻako neighborhood of Honolulu. Titled A Small Area of Land (Kakaʻako Earth Room), the work was composed of volcanic soil and coral sand—deemed by Connelly as “two of Hawaiʻi’s most politically charged materials and highly valued commodities”—sourced from various locations on the island of Oʻahu. Connelly allowed his sculpture to slowly erode in the gallery over the course of its installation, a non-gesture toward what might seem to be uncontrollable disintegration. A Small Area of Land adds a divergent dimension to Euro-American art movements, pushing back against the rigidity and firmness of minimalism and the grand impositions of land art that initially inspired him. In doing so, Connelly expands the notion of “land” beyond a material or merely site-specific interest for artists into something that additionally includes more explicit references to structural systems of dispossession, exploitation, theft, and lasting injustices. Connelly’s work amplifies relationships to land that do not rely on economic value in the extractive, capitalist sense so much as values that link Indigenous onto-epistemologies with ecological flourishing, providing an avenue through which we can think about histories of land, labor, and the increasing disassociation between the two, as well as how material choices are imbricated with personal and political complexity in Hawaiʻi.