Fig. 1. Jim Denevan's drawing on sand


From the bird’s eye perspective, enabled by a complex techno-scientific machinery, the sand drawings produced by Jim Denevan form a gigantic and rhythmic images merging with the surrounding landscape, as if they naturally belonged there. They seem to be integrated with the environment, constituting a harmonious part of their natural settings, smoothly cooperating with the forces and movements present in the landscape—slightly changing them and being changed in return. The artistic production by Denevan seems to be an open invitation to the natural and cultural processes to participate in the emerging product, which in fact is never finished, until it eventually fades away and vanishes. Soon, no longer can any trace of the artistic intervention be actually found on site. The work of art gets erased by natural and cultural forces present there—sometimes it happens very quickly but occasionally it takes several months. The work of art—as long as it lasts—remains in continuous movement, there is no stasis, no single moment when you can say “it’s ready, it’s finished!” As constantly unfolding, most of Denevan’s artistic interventions are about perpetual metamorphosis, or relentless becoming.

Even though ephemeral and seemingly non-invasive in their construction, these works are far from being completely unproblematic as far as questions of environment and ecology are concerned. Often, they emerge from the complex operations of natural-cultural assemblages, including the products of the capitalist petro-fuel industry, invasive technological equipments, and digital photographic viewing made possible by complicated visual(izing) apparatuses invented and naturalized by Western science. The appeal and persuasiveness of these works of art partly stem from this dynamic complexity, testifying to the uneasy entanglement of natural resources and technological advances. This tangled relationality poses an important challenge for artists and critics, fuelling reflection on the peculiarity of the geological epoch constituting our most immediate historicity.

Fig. 3. 2009 Black Rock Desert, NV


I was introduced to Denevan’s works a couple of months ago by a friend of mine and a colleague with whom I worked on an article. We were searching for case studies for our analysis to illustrate how art can be productively used for raising knowledge about eco-sensitivity, ecology, and protection of the natural environment. When she showed me his projects I got immediately fascinated by them--by both their great scale and their ephemeral character. Most alluring were their cooperative, material-semiotic, human-nonhuman nature and their fragile, vulnerable, and necessarily temporary existence. I encountered the works via high quality digital photographs taken by the artist’s team, usually from a helicopter hovering over the ephemeral constructions. This perspective, obviously, is not innocent or unmediated. Conversely, it demands engagement of a whole (often invisible) apparatus enabling viewing from high altitudes, which makes possible admiring the works in their spatial immensity. I have never met or talked to the artist in person. Neither have I seen his works unmediated by different means of communication. Therefore, my knowledge and experience of them is interceded with different textual/visual (that is, also material-semiotic) factors and circumstances. Interestingly, such a perspective allows for encountering the works in full size, in form of high quality photographs taken both in the moment of their production by the artist and afterwards, when they are in the processes of their further becomings or, in fact, systematic vanishing. This, possibly, makes the viewer more aware of the entangled nature of these ephemeral artistic constructions, relying on the complex set of relations between the natural and technological forces. Certainly, encountering these works as a part of an audience present on site creates a different knowledge and a different experience. This, however, has not yet been possible for me. My analysis, therefore, focuses on the beautiful documentary pictures produced by the artist’s team and is based on my readings of interviews with Denevan as well as on viewing short documentaries on him and his geoartistic interventions. Nevertheless, even though I remain completely chuffed by the relational, cooperative, and connective character of Denevan’s artistic practices, I also stay alert to the technological (often invasive) circumstances of their production as well as to the risks such aesthetizing movements might possibly entail.

From geoart to reflection on knowledge production

In this exposition I briefly look at Jim Denevan’s artistic practice through new materialist lenses, adopting this philosophical ferment’s posthumanistic, postdualistic, and affirmative orientation. I approach these instances of geoart in terms of intra-active (knowledge) production processes, or intra-active becomings, revealing different tangled relationalities involved in any procedure of production--of both art and knowledge. In what follows I will outline a new materialist approach to the art and succinctly comment on the geo-politico-cultural circumstances of the emergence of new materialist ideas, relating them, later on, to the complex nature of Denevan’s art and situating them in the broader context of environmental humanities. In the concluding part of the text I want to signal that the realization and detailed inspection of the processes involved in the (geo)artistic activity sheds an altogether different light on the nature of all practices connected to generating knowledge, highlighting their entangled dynamic material-semiotic character. An inquiry of these complex relationalities enables a more profound study of the intra-active procedures of producing knowledge, exposing the importance of practices and revealing the dispersed and diversified character of agency involved in the process of material-semiotic becomings. As I want to underline, this makes us think more carefully about all practices of generating knowledge, so often considered by the dominant scientific accounts as solely auxiliary, or unimportant, aspects of knowledge production.

Fig. 4. 2010 Vancouver, BC

Fig. 2. Jim Denevan's drawing on sand

Fig. 5. 2011 Australia

Fig. 6. 2010 Lake Baikal, Russia

I would like to thank Jim Denevan for allowing me, for the purpose of this exposition, to use the pictures documenting his projects and availabe at his website ( I also thank Edward Ramirez and Seth Heitzenrater (Jim Denevan's assistants) for their help in delivering the pictures. 

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