Genres of Stewardship is a curatorial project that spotlights art projects and practices with intimate connections to land, often using ecological processes and infrastructures as form through sustained involvement over longer time spans. Such works tend to share these characteristics: they are localized but “site-generic,” attending to issues of scale and replicability; they engage collaborative and multi-stakeholder models of creation, ownership, and management; and they embody the intrinsic intersectionality or “confluence” of ecological and social concerns.
The diverse collection of work these considerations bring into view contrasts sharply with canonical Land Art, and though it bears superficial similarities and shares tendencies with some Ecological or Environmental Art is also distinct from these, resembling traditions of ecosocial stewardship that are both older and utterly contemporary.
Land-based practices are rapidly emerging yet under-recognized—partly by design, as many such projects occur informally alongside more conventional work, not oriented toward art markets or never positioned as art in the first place. Even a single project may be amorphous or shape-shifting, featuring a broad set of practices not readily legible as art. Often it looks more like ago-forestry, ecology, landscape architecture and design, planning and policy, education and activism, or conservation and other forms of land management. This presents difficulties for institutions to support, for galleries to show, for patrons to collect, for audiences to visit, and for conservators to maintain and repair. We might begin to see such diverse, hybrid practices as coalescing into genres of stewardship, which despite their different forms, scales, and temporalities, share a politics of place, an ethics of care, and an emphasis on the cultural dimensions of land-based work.
Viewing the history of visual art as one of continuous excursions and expansions of the locus of the artistic act across boundaries like the frame of a painting, the walls of a gallery, or the purview of one medium, discipline, school, or tradition, with a concurrent cycle of renewal and reappraisal of what is made visible within those boundaries, we can see more recent land-based practices as of a part of this rich history.
This kind of work will continue to proliferate as climate-induced multispecies migrations inspire local adaptations and changes in land use on a massive scale. Land will increasingly become both form and content. Artwork will not simply be “about” land; it will act not only upon it or with it but through it. Our approaches to curating and the infrastructures of exhibition-making, to facilitate this kind of work, and to translate it, share it, and honor it—must also be transformed.
The work that many institutions are now doing to address their own impacts and mitigate climate change is necessary, but too often it takes a carbon-centric approach at the expense of a more holistic ecological understanding, and sidesteps questions of biodiversity, sovereignty, and other impacts which connect more directly to lands and their historical stewards. Our research seeks also to reimagine the site of production, distribution, and consumption of the work of artists, in recognition that the walls of the exhibition space have always been porous, temporary, and contingent. From the wealth made through extraction and speculation that finances it, to the mixtures of gypsum, lime, and sand that physically comprise its gallery walls, the so-called Art World is always already made of land.
We are conducting curatorial research and drafting a prospectus around these themes, and seeking funding for this work. The bulk of on-the-ground research at geographically dispersed sites will be conducted through the commissioning of project participants and intra-community researchers to gather documentation tailored to specific projects and their needs. Besides avoiding expensive and wasteful travel, this research strategy is intended to address common needs of land-based practices to arrange their own documentation, archiving, and long-term maintenance, by helping to cultivate existing interest and personnel to fulfill such roles unobtrusively. Through formal agreements, this research will follow a model of knowledge sovereignty promoted by many Indigenous organizations, giving local control over how data is collected, managed, displayed, accessed, and used. Periodic convenings will be planned with a hybrid modality, based at our newly launched upstate New York residency venue, with thoughtfully organized contributions from remote participants, and in partnership with relevant regional organizations to ensure broad reach and accessibility. We will develop an accessible online platform and publication for ongoing dissemination and archiving of research and convenings. Throughout the process, we will leverage our decades of experience in professional environmental impact assessment, life cycle assessment, and land remediation and stewardship, to share knowledge, methods, and best practices.