While chipping away on stones going into the making of a cairn last week, my client’s daughter came into the backyard and asked where I get my ideas. My answer was scarcely informative, as I couldn’t think of anything specific I’d referenced when designing the shape in front of us. I did say that one thing leads to another in my practice and that the last thing I did sometimes gives me an idea for the next thing to try. She said that the shape reminded her of the towers of Angkor Wat, a temple complex in Cambodia she’d visited.
As solid as land art is, it’s capable of absorbing an unlimited amount of meaning. Each viewer brings a unique perspective and adds a bit of their own story to the experience of the work. The memory of the work that they go away with is a blend of what they brought and what they discovered while there. The meaning of the work is modified by every viewer. Over time, with many viewings, that adds up to a hefty load of ephemeral meanings, none of which physically impact the land art. It stays the same as its meaning changes.
Now that the cairn is finished I’m compelled to seek out its meaning for myself. While picking and adding stone, I sometimes stepped up on the spiral ledge, using the cantilevered stones as scaffolding. Balancing on the narrow, inclined plane with a hand full of stone was a dizzying affair. The experience was something like what I’d had while scaling the Round Tower in Copenhagen six years ago. Centrifugal force threw me to the outside as I walked up the 650’ long, spiral ramp. I definitely associate the cairn with the sensation of vertigo. The meaning of the piece relates to opposite ends of the elemental spectrum; offering me both aerial unease and earthly surety.