November 8, 2021
This week we recognize the work of artist Mark Brest van Kempen.
Brest van Kempen has created a variety of artworks using the landscape itself as sculptural material. From the Free Speech Monument on the UC Berkeley campus to Land Exchange at the National Academy of Art in China, his work explores the range of emotions and issues that are embodied in our complex relationship to the environment. He has spoken around the country and abroad on the possibilities of creating artwork that functions outside the museum /gallery context and that bring aesthetic and symbolic meaning to everyday situations.
Living From Land
"This thirty day performance consisted of living within a five square mile area of wilderness and bringing no food with me. I ate only the plants and animals from the site. The project was an inversion of landscape painting that reoriented the artist’s relationship with land. Instead of standing outside of the landscape and taking it in with my eyes, I stood inside it and took it in with my mouth. The performance was documented in a video installation that was exhibited at the Richmond Art Center and the Armory Center for the Arts in California and Exit Art in New York."
Ravenna Creek Drop
"This project sculpts the land and city infrastructure itself in a mile-long artwork that traces Ravenna Creek as it flows under the streets and sidewalks of Seattle. The project has a number of components along the corridor that includes a blue line that traces where the creek flows in a pipe under the city. Text of cast aluminum spelling out “Ravenna Creek” is embedded in the sidewalk along the line, creating a life-sized map embedded in the landscape itself. This maps traces where the creek flows underground. Pedestrians can follow the path of the creek from Ravenna Park to Lake Washington.
The daylighted section of Ravenna Creek ends in a small pond before flowing to a pipe under the city. I designed a steel and glass sculptural outfall that creates an 11 foot long wedge-shaped void in the water as the creek disappears into the city’s infrastructure. Two sides are blue, visually connecting the water with the blue line described above. The other two sides are glass and reveal a cross section of the pond bed.
Three Viewing vaults located along the pipeline allow pedestrians to see the creek flowing eight feet beneath the city. This subterranean creek is lit and complete with boulders and ferns.
Fifteen plaques mark the locations of glass capsules buried beneath the sidewalk. Each capsule contains seeds of a plant found on the site before the city was built. The capsules are designed to break and scatter the seeds during any future construction projects."
Leona Quarry Earthwork
"This large scale, multi-faceted project brings together land art with community activism, environmental art and land use on a one hundred fifty-acre urban riparian site. After documenting numerous violations of local and federal clean water laws on the site of a large new development, I worked with a small group of community activists to sue the developer and the city in federal court. This lawsuit resulted in altering the design of their developments to protect the watershed. I see this endeavor as a large-scale earthwork that was the result of a political struggle played out on the landscape.
Several interventions in the landscape frame the site as a large-scale artwork including legal text from the lawsuit stenciled onto drainage channels. The text continues in pipes underground and extends beneath the development itself. Several sites have become habitat for animals such as Pacific Tree Frogs, Western Fence Lizards and the endangered Alameda Whipsnake. Also, the creek itself was temporarily sculpted into a large inverted fountain that alters its legal standing from 'groundwater' to 'creek'."
Mark Brest van Kempen has received numerous commissions for public art projects including the San Francisco Art Commission, the City of San Jose, the City of Seattle and the Haas Foundation. His work has been presented in several books including Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local and Peter Selz’s Art of Engagement as well as Time Magazine, The New York Times, Art in America, and the LA Times. He has received a California Arts Council Fellowship and has taught at the San Francisco Art Institute, Stanford University and California College of the Arts. mbvkstudio.com
Featured Images: ©Mark Brest van Kempen, Living From Land; Ravenna Creek Drop; Leona Quarry Earthwork
Above: Mark Brest van Kempen, image courtesy of San Francisco Art Institute