A Reflection and Vision, September 2012
20 Suicides, x00 hostages, 3000 dead, 2 wars: are we all really so different? Isn’t there anything we have in common that I could realize in an art project and make us all think about that instead? The answer was clear: soil.
We build our homes on it (and of it), grow our food in it, spill our blood over it. We parcel it out to nations and individuals, but the geologic forces of the earth redistribute it without regard for our boundaries. The United Nations was also conceived to get the peoples of the world to act on the common ground of all our interest…What could the united member states contribute to my artistic concept?
So, I asked myself, “how could I incorporate the soil into an art piece”. My artistic process uses cement along with an aggregate or sand and the addition of soil was logical. This step was easy because of a formulation I developed over 20 years.
Size and configuration became the next question. In 2002 there were 191 member states in the United Nations. Squaring the number 14 results in 196 and each panel at 42” by 42” would bring entire presentation to 50 feet by 50 feet. This would be quite large but manageable.
In 2002, I didn’t realize how many regulations can govern the export or import of dirt, how many permits would be required, how much money it would take, and how many volunteer collectors around the globe would be needed.
The very first requirement was for a permit from the USDA so that the soil could even be admitted into the U.S. Every sample collected had to be sent first to the USDA facility in Los Angeles and sterilized. Even getting this permit was not a simple, everyday request. How long it might have taken without the help of my Congressman, who took an interest in the project, I don’t know. Gaining permission to receive soil from sanctioned countries like Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Burma and North Korea became another challenge---solved with a license given to me from the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
The collection package was sent in a 7” square box. The return 6” square box contained the empty jar, full documentation and the prepaid DHL waybill for return passage to the U.S. All of this had to be tracked and documented. Freight costs alone have exceeded $26,000.
I received soil from the first country in 2003. On September 3rd 2011, I personally collected soil from the last one, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In all, it has taken 11 years of effort at a cost of $250,000 and 13,000 hours of my time along with many contributions of time and money.
As each soil sample was collected, it became clear that the location of the collection site added its own special significance to the piece. Wherever the volunteer collectors went, they managed to find a place with some special meaning for history or civilization and culture. Some notable sites include Robben Island in South Africa where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned--discussions of division and reconciliation can appear to the viewers. Another site is the home of Chile’s Pablo Neruda, bringing discussion of freedom of expression in a turbulent country. Still another is the soil of Auschwitz in Poland, and the questions of how such genocide could occur. All of these stories are found at the project’s website.
Work has begun on a model at a one to fourteen scale--each of the 196 pieces measure three inches. The motif will include the continents with tectonics plates. Topics will focus on a 5 million year timeline, the periodic table, country statistics such as life expectancy and GDP per capita, list of religions and the word for peace in many languages.
The timeline will list the Hominid evolution back 5 million years beginning with Ardipithecus ramidus (Ardi), each panel covering 25,500 years. Taken from natural history museums publications the 22 species will wind through the panels as they originated and faded into time. Humans are registered only within the last 6 panels or 150,000 years of five million--such a short time but with such profound impact. The panels can be placed side by side at eye level in a configuration that would stretch 700 feet. The viewer could then have direct access to the panels in this arrangement.
Discussion of the current human conditions is important in the conceptual art. This will be expressed through statistics gathered from the United Nations and include gross domestic product per capita (wealth of the population) and life expectancy at birth. Over the last several years I have studied and produced pieces that incorporate this information in my Disparity Series. The visual display of information is quite dramatic. The imprint to the mind is rapid. Many countries have populations whose life expectancy is less than half of the western world. Over 2.7 billion people subsist on less than $2,000 per year, another 1.7 billion on less that $6,000 per year---while other countries’ populations live on an average $73,000 yearly. The information will be shown in bar graphs form.
Religion should not be forgotten in this exploration of humanity. As with other demographics, numbers for Christianity, Islam, Secularism, Hinduism, Buddhism and other will be accessible to the observer. The totals will be shades of colors in panel groupings. Another topic---religion’s impact on populations.
The first panel arrangement is 14 by 14 square that will total 50 feet by 50 feet that will clearly show the continents and tectonic plates. The second arrangement can consist of each panel side by side (700 feet) more clearly demonstrating the 5 million year timeline. The third configuration will be two panels vertically, unraveling the word for peace in many languages at 350 feet. The text will be abstract in the first large arrangement but will become clear when placed in this fashion. Perhaps this will be called “a peace of the puzzle”.