The invitation to write this short piece about Earthworks at Mill Creek Canyon came as a surprise out of the blue. Having never actually visited the work in person, and not being one who creates earth works or “reclamation art”, I had to wonder why my name was on the list. So I read up. The fact that Bayer’s work dating back to the 1950s and his experience at the Bauhaus are well documented place him as a central and early figure among those who desired to work with site as a medium. Those of us who have continued to do so in a variety of capacities in the decades since have antecedents, whether we recognize them or not. It is interesting to me that this invitation came a couple of years after being asked to create a piece for Kent State University - the name could be mere coincidence - in conjunction with a Smithson conference being held there on the 25th anniversary of his Partially Buried Woodshed. I had to confess that I had not thought about Smithson in over 20 years.
The point is, I think, that artists come to similar conclusions at similar times without necessarily being aware of each other, and certainly without building on each other’s work. A sensitivity to the zeitgeist is perhaps the highest expression of what we do. This flies in the face of much writing by historians and critics who assume that there is a direct cause and effect, influence, or lineage between artists. I would suggest that rather than a sequence, history suggests a web, with some of the individual points being more prominent than others. Upon reflection, this would be my relationship with Herbert Bayer.
Steven Siegel builds on the rich tradition of using recycled materials and found objects to create art. Large boulders of compressed cans and plastic bottles and multilayered newspaper ridges call attention to the abundant source material, yet stand on their own as sculptural forms in the landscape. We are reminded of the new human geology of landfills, a type of sedimentary deposition of waste transformed by the artist into temporary pods and monoliths. Siegel's minimalist forms are richly nuanced with the weight of thousands of experiences massed into bundles. What is our aggregate impact on the earth? How can something as common and unconscious as drinking bottled beverages and using cardboard packaging generate something as massive as a public sculpture?
“In his enormous paper works, he layers and stacks tons of newspapers over large wooden armatures. These works result in densely striated structures that reflect the artist’s long time interest in the landscape, particularly in geological formations, and the processes through which discarded materials are transformed over time. His fascination for evolutionary or geological “deep time” has led to him to emulate the natural layering cycles of sedimentation, compression, deposit and decay underlying the configurations of the earth. The artist’s intention is ‘to try to act as nature rather than interpret it.’"
— Michele Rowe-Shields, Visual Arts Director, Montalvo Arts Center
Over the past twenty years, Steven Siegel’s works have been placed in museums, sculpture parks, corporate lobbies, nature conservancies, and universities all around the world. His most recent public commissions include the Rinker Hall School of Construction at the University of Florida in Gainesville, design team work for Thornton Creek Environmental Learning Center in Seattle, and Jory, a commission for the Forest Ecosystem Research Laboratory at Oregon State University in Corvallis. In addition to his outdoor commissions around the world, he also exhibits smaller works of similar construction, and is the recipient of numerous artist grants and awards, including artist residencies in Denmark, the UK and throughout the United States. Siegel has lectured and taught in these same locations, as well as in Russia. His work was featured on the cover of Sculpture magazine in October 2003. Siegel is based in Red Hook, New York.
To see Jennie smile, 23'x10'x12', paper/wood, North Carolina Museum of Art, 2006