Mags Harries and Lajos Héder
Lajos Héder, my partner, was hired by the Department of Transportation to write a book Aesthetics in Transportation 1 that would give examples and become the inspirational guidelines for incorporating good design and art into transportation facilities. While researching this book in 1979 we became aware of the plan of the Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks by Herb Bayer. The controversy that Robert Morris faced by tarring trees brought the issue of the role of the artist in reclaiming land that had already been abused.
Although Bayer’s work had not been realized at this time, we included it in the book as an important aspect that artists and designers could deal with the particular issues of the land and shape it to deal with particular problems. This program was an important transition from earth art into art that took responsibility for real problems and resolved them in an aesthetic way.
My first encounter with dealing with the land I was commissioned to do a temporary project in a park in Newton MA. I chose a site that I assumed was an old railway line, it was raised, straight and the path was lined with woods. On looking at old maps I found that this was the site of the Cochituate Aqueduct, built in the 1850’s that brought 18 million gallons of water a day to the City of Boston. The Great Fire of 1890’s proved this source to be inadequate for the needs of the city so this aqueduct was replaced and became the receptacle for the sewage of Newton to be treated in Boston. The fire and the issues around water and the eventual metering of usage became an important factor in my final installation.
My second encounter with a known contaminated site was when I was invited to create a project for Art Park in Lewiston NY. in 1989. The most important reason to do this residency was that it was an experimental venue and that one could take chances and could afford to fail. I flew into Lewiston in the winter, it was very cold, the trees were bare of foliage, so the site was spectacular, it’s adjacency to the Niagara river was compelling. Art Park was a venue where thousands of students would come and get exposure to the arts through observing the artist while making their pieces, there were experimental stages, and workshops and this, in addition to the quality of the site seemed ideal. I walked along the river talked to the many fisherman, who caught and released the fish due to the high contaminates in the water.
That was the beginning of the idea. The river was so dominant that water was to be my theme. The content of the idea was formed by doing research of the history of the site, reading about the great lakes and reading about the canyons that were filled with chemicals. Art Park was one of these sites; ‘Love Canal‘ was another. It was ironic that this contaminated capped site hosted thousands of children every summer.
The viewing stations seemed a natural way to engage the viewer and become part of the Niagara tourist experience. There were 10 viewing stations and nine underground sculptural pieces. Each sculpture had a different relationship to water and all the viewers had different quotes inscribed on them ranging from Thoreau, Shakespeare, Bachelard, Lewis Carol among others. These viewers gave poignant vignettes of different perspectives of water.
Both these projects evolved from what was hidden underground really framing the concept of the work. All land has a history and is framed by that, it is the most site-specific aspect to any work.
The work that we wish to submit in honor of Herb Bayer’s influence on the next generation of artists, is “Terra Fugit” (Land Flies) 1996-2006 in Broward County FL. adjacent to the Everglades. This piece is about the land as it is related to in both geologic and present time The project was 10 years in its evolution, it went through three different clients and three different redesigns, eventually it was taken over by the City of Miramar that gave us a contract to totally form the land and design all elements within the boundary of our site. As is the practice in South Florida, they raise the land by blasting new waterways and using the excavated fill to raise the level. In this process of blasting, large boulders that were rich in ancient fossil life were excavated and usually dumped back into the water because they could not be used as fill. These boulders were formed under the sea 150,000 years ago. At the time we were working there Miramar was one of the fastest growing towns in the US, developing land by the mile square. We realized that the nature of the land was being totally changed by human development. We set out to re-use the coral rock boulders as records of geological history. We would also create the “Preserve”, an 80-foot circle of land, surrounded by a protective moat, to remain untouched – the only part of the 200-acre site that maintained its pre-construction character when the park was finished.
A biologist identified all the indigenous species which we identified by drawings and texts placed on a rail around the ‘Preserve’. These plaques show the uses of the plants in indigenous and contemporary cultures. Seating was carved from the boulders on site to show the fantastic range of fossils. A Pathway, connecting the parts of the projects along the water, has some contemporary fossils and grass from the site embedded into the concrete with sandblasted text with life spans measured in days. The Earth Bowl, an amphitheater that is 18 feet high, built from the boulders, creates the highest point for miles around. At the base of this bowl is a Floating Gazebo in the circular bay, which is the central focus of Terra Fugit. A ‘Burper’ at the center of this bay is activated from a pump in the float. The annular rings that expand from the center of the Lagoon are also measured as time within the Pathway text. This totally artificial landscape gets the user to reflect on the land, life and time.
As all artists are, we are shaped by our artist peers, circumstance and opportunity. The opportunity that was given to Herb Bayer through the Mill Creek Project was a very insightful program that understood how the creativity of an artist could be brought in to respond to a given problem, imagine a different landscape and bring important discourse focused on the land.
1. Aesthetics in Transportation (1980) authored by Lajos Héder published by The US Dept of Transportation.
Mags Harries and Lajos Héder formed Harries/Héder Collaborative in Cambridge, MA in 1990 and have worked together on all major public commissions since then. Mags Harries brings to the collaboration her training in sculpture, teaching and 20 years of work in public art. Lajos Héder, in addition to working as an artist, is experienced in community projects, urban design, site planing, architecture and construction. They regularly collaborate with other designers, landscape architects, engineers and fabricators to realize large-scale, complex projects.
Terra Fugit (Land Flies), 1996-2006 in Broward County Florida, adjacent to the Everglades.