The Shadow Hill Concept

With a strong northwesterly wind whipping “snownados” up from the frosty ground outside, I’m in the studio devising hypotheticals for an unfrozen future. There’s time enough for a wonderland of “what ifs” to decorate the internal landscape when the porch thermometer reads 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Most are just a smokeless pipe dream, but sometimes an idea takes hold and won’t let go until it attains some semblance of reality. Nothing is real to me unless it achieves three-dimensionality. Even at ¼”-1’ scale, a concept materialized in modeling clay is enough to make me a believer.

For five summers, E and I trekked to Newfoundland to instruct a “stone-in-the-environment” art course. Two questions burned in the weeks before arrival; what would the students build, and where would they find the stone to build with. Improvisation generally ruled the day, and that was ok, but it left me wondering what it would be like to have a long-term venue where the stone supply was abundantly available and the production direction predetermined.

Individuals brought together for a special task become a team before they know it. Labor shared for a common goal has an extra spice mixed in because personal gratification gets an added kick from the collective accomplishment. With that in mind, I’ve conceived of a project that could be accomplished by a number of teams over a five-year timespan. Unique to the program is the idea that the work disappears as it evolves, only to reappear upon completion.

“Shadow Hill” is a co-authored art piece with participants needing only basic, dry stone walling skills. The bulk of the work is a repeating component in the form of a 5’ high, freestanding wall. Added to that are 5’ long, walltop-spanning lintels. After the first five walls are built, the work is buried in sand up to the lintels. The newly raised ground plane becomes the work space to begin the second layer, comprising four walls and lintels. The process is repeated until a single wall, resting atop four layers of walls below it, protrudes from the temporarily raised grade. The more work that’s added to the construction, the less there is that’s visible, until the day that the finished piece is unveiled by excavating it out of its earthen envelope.

Whether or not “Shadow Hill” is ever built in the real world, it stands 25’ tall in the world of my imagination. Snow days are for dreaming. I’ll have to wait for summer days to see if dreams come true.