Dear Marika and Brendan,
I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the relationship I have with caring, motivation and my work. Questioning—do I care about my work, do I only care about the process of making of the work, can I care about—still be engaged when a work is finished, does anyone else care about the work and do I care if they don’t, or if no one does.
This letter writing assignment led me to a work that keeps me engaged and questioning—“When Faith Moves Mountains” by Francis Alÿs, Lima Peru, 2002. I only know of this work from it’s documentation—along with everyone else except the artist and 500 participants from the area. These participants cared enough about an artist they had not heard of, to perform hard physical labor under a blistering hot sun, while the wind blew sand in their eyes and scraped against their skin—work that was not visible and literally changed nothing. Laborious and futile like sisyphus’ bolder.
All 500 participants formed a straight line on one side of a mountainous sand dune and shoveled in unison, one scoop of sand at a time, up the mountain, over it’s plateau and down the other side. At the peak of it's plateau, they could see the entire city below. I wish I could know the motivation of each participant. Unfortunately, I can only assume all of them had faith in the importance of the work.
This work surfaces thoughts of my own concerns with earths spiral downward. Most of the “earthworks” I am familiar with—alter the earth to conform to the artists vision—contrast earths natural hues with highly saturated monumental swatches of intense color or—create a physical object from the earth that is here and gone with time. These artists earthly creations become photographic archival objects. This work goes beyond leaving no mark on the earth because it was never here. No finished image or even a temporary visual outcome. Its’ selfless nature, one that leaves no visible trace of itself or of the artist, supports my opposition to Kant’s anthropocene—and the power of invisibility feels akin to my birth order as middle child.
Alÿs’ democratic use of creating with only a shovel and sand reminds me Joseph Beuy’s elevating statement “everyone is an artist,” and my optimistic idea that this could elicit feelings of social empowerment. It also validates the ability of a community to accomplish what would be impossible for one—simultaneously contrasting the overarching uselessness of the effort—perhaps a metaphor for life.
Occasionally, I am caught off guard admiring an artists mastery over materials or a technique—almost always followed by boredom with the actual work. In comparison to "When Faith Moves Mountains," I think of Sisyphus’ punishment for his self-aggrandizing craftiness. I need personal intanglement with philosopihical concepts to sustain my attention.
Writing to you, I realize this work sounds magical—it actually never materially existed. It doesn’t proclaim questions or announce solutions—speak of color, objects, context or perception—and yet it stirs universal and timeless thoughts without speaking a single word or leaving a trace.
With all my adulation, I can only have faith, the passion it triggers will percolate into my own work—visibly or invisibly.
I wonder if stories surrounding the artist and the 500 participants who moved the earth have evolved over the past 15 years in Lima—and what memories are left in its wake.