My artistic work has been continuously involved in an examination of land, landscape, environment, and the multitude of manifestations of these concepts. Drawn to certain places and the power they exert, I am also driven by the need to explore the paradoxical ways in which humans relate to their environment. While in some cases my work acts as environmental activism, in more cases the work looks at the big picture, drawing metaphoric connections and suggesting new ways of relating through actions, objects and spaces.
Land art, earthworks and the history of art as environmental reclamation are constant inspiration. Canonical works from an earlier generation provide the background, the tether that often connects my current work to the ongoing flow of art and cultural ideas. I look at Herbert Bayer’s earthworks and others in this vein, and am struck by the fusion that happens here – modernist design functionality and a sculptural sense of the land itself become part of an overall environment. Works such as this give the opportunity to see all human intervention on the land as acts of sculpture, albeit with varying degrees of attentiveness to site, context, ecological and aesthetic well being.
If the Earthworks give us one model for art as human interaction with the landscape, my project Cultivation Utility Vehicle: Land For Adoption, takes this premise yet further. Incorporating Joseph Beuys’ ideas of social sculpture and the creative force of action and interaction, Land For Adoption makes each participant in the project a land artist. I push a vending cart (the Cultivation Utility Vehicle, or CUV) around the city, offering small pieces of “land” for adoption. Each one is a small bit of earth with a native plant growing in it. Participants can receive a piece of “land” as a gift – if they sign the adoption form stating that they will take care of the “land.” As a microcosm, the work establishes a direct relationship between artist, participant and “land.” On the larger scale, the work points to the reality that we are each, in our daily actions, caretakers and creators of our own landscapes.
Vaughn Bell was born in New York. She has exhibited her artwork – including sculpture, installation video and public projects – in venues across the United States including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Seattle, Chicago and Portland, OR, and also in the UK. She has taught or been at visiting artist at Massachusetts College of Art, Montserrat College of Art, Syracuse University, and Ursinus College, most recently teaching at Fairhaven College at Western Washington University. Vaughn received her MFA from the Studio for Inter-related Media at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, MA and her undergraduate degree from Brown University. She currently is based in Seattle.
Cultivation Utility Vehicle: Land For Adoption, 2007, public performance