Similar project, commissioned in 2010 by the artistic platform The Anthropologist, was created by Denevan’s team on the frozen surface of the Siberian Lake Baikal in Russia (see the project here). Based on a Fibonacci curve (where each number is a sum of the previous two; the pattern is present in many nature forms), the drawing spanned 31 kilometers square and was created under severe conditions of Siberian winter including extremely low temperatures and blistering winds. The execution of the work was a challenge--in terms of both its scale and the harsh, ruthless circumstances in which it was produced. As Denevan’s other projects, this drawing was executed on an ephemeral canvas, yet lasted a bit longer than others. The massive Lake Baikal drawing dissolved after a few months, due to weather conditions present on site. The surface of the lake melted, the rhythmic circles had to gradually disappear, returning the site to its regular becoming connected to the changes of seasons in Siberia, with its recurring movements and metamorphoses, always different and always new.

Fig. 7. Jim Denevan working on his drawings on sand

Human-nonhuman becoming--Jim Denevan’s sand drawings

Ranging in scale from a couple of meters square to the size of cities, the drawings produced by Jim Denevan on sand, soil, ice, or--occasionally--other materials seem to smoothly merge with the setting in which they are created. The artist uses his own body as both a tool and an active corporeal entity cooperating responsively with the surrounding landscape. For smaller projects Denevan uses brooms, sticks, and his own feet and fingers to draw on the surface of the terrain. For bigger projects his artistic activity is aided with a number of technological devices, such as cars, trucks, or even bulldozers. In his recent projects (like those effectuated in 2015 Miami Beach, FL, USA [see the project here] and Sharjah, United Arab Emirates [see the project here]) he also made use of solar lights, so that the projects were more responsive to the landscape (or rather capitalist cityscape) in which they emerged.


The gigantic drawings, made rhythmically by Denevan using his own body and tools come into being in the process of “intra-acting” with the local geophysical situation and a variety of natural-cultural forces present on site. There is a diversity of different material phenomena involved in the creative activity. The environment--whether a dessert, or a frozen lake, or a noisy city, or a seashore--operates as an agent dynamically involved in the practices of artistic creation. It contributes to the emergence of the drawings/installations as well as to their gradual (sometimes violent) vanishing. The process of creating the works of art is therefore simultaneously about making and unmaking of the drawings. They appear and disappear at the same time, there is no stasis, no moment of them being frozen in nonactivity. In concord with the principles of geoart, even when Denevan finishes his intervention, his works of art remain dynamically active--gradually modified by the surrounding environment, they get eventually erased as a result of the gusts of wind, the workings of weathering, the undulating waves and tides, the processes of melting, erosion, etc. Even though stamped on the surface and visible from great altitudes, the drawings are ephemeral and delicate, vulnerable to the operating forces and movements, and susceptible to changes and modifications. They are always responsive to the setting in which they emerged and in which they become, inviting responses from the processes and movements that surround them.


Based in Santa Cruz, CA (United States), Denevan is a former surfer. Worth noticing, surfing is an activity demanding a harmonious cooperation with the natural environment, the ability to flexibly respond to the movements of the waves and wind, to merge with the natural forces. A successful surfer becomes a part of the surfing setting, getting merged with the waving circumstances. These archives of experience seem to be important for Denevan’s artistic creation wherein he attempts at synchronizing his moving body and his tools with the sometimes-imperceptible movements of the landscape. The idea is to artistically respond to the rhythm of a particular site, to listen to its dynamism and specificity, to feel the natural-cultural forces indigenous for the place and trigger artistic becomings of the artist-site assemblage. The work of art emerges (and vanishes) in this complexity of movements--both the wind or the waving sea in the natural settings and the noises or lights of the busy cities and agglomerations. It seems that in a material-semiotic merger with these settings the artist rehearses the site’s sensations and turn them into inventive creation. The movements of the artist’s body, often enhanced with advanced technological equipment (enabled by complex scientific and technological apparatus, often made possible by an invasive petro-fuel industry), seem to serve as a vehicle for the melody of the site: its shapes, forms, materialities, ambiances, rhythms, forces, and noises. These sensations elude processes of straightforward representation; they can only be felt. And these feelings are bodily. It does not mean, however, that Denevan’s works are not representational. Obviously, they are so, too, especially when they are encountered by the audiences. They are also visually mediated when encountered in the form of high-quality digital photographs capturing the fleeting moment of the installations’ visual exitence. Material-semiotic in its character, the form of the drawings is co-determined by the activity of the material tools that the artist employs in the process--they contribute to the emergence of circles and lines, interacting with the matter(s) of the natural landscape. All actors involved have important agential capacities--the agency is not exclusively Denevan’s. Tools, materialities of the place, physical forces, movements of air, water, temperature, and ice (that is, all physical processes) all contribute to the geoartistic practices as involved agents active in the production. Typically also for other land art or earth art installation so ephemeral in their nature, the knowledge of these works of art is circulated via photography, enabled by complex technological equipment (including helicopters and planes, sophisticated cameras, lenses, or software necessary to process the visual data). Another mediation, and another bundle of material-semiotic entanglements. This set of procedures is necessary to make wider public acquainted with the artist’s creations--either in the galleries displaying pictures documenting the becomings of the project or via the artist’s website containing visual record of his artistic installations. The agency is dispersed and no longer understood solely in terms of an intentional human activity. It belongs to all forces present on site--both human and nonhuman. Worth noticing is also the fact that the artistic pattern drawn by Denevan and his team is never fully designed in advance. Rather, it emerges as a constant flow of responsive and engaged creation reenacting the sense of the site and remaining in metamorphous flux stimulated by different relational forces and agents. 


Fig. 9. Jim Denevan's 2010 Vancouver, BC project

Fig. 11. Jim Denevan's 2010 Vancouver, BC project

Fig. 12. Jim Denevan's 2010 Vancouver, BC project

Denevan’s most notorious project is his 2009 enormous drawing on the sands of Black Rock Desert in Nevada (United States) for which he used a high tech GPS technology to organize coordinates and create a perfect gigantic circle (containing more than 1000 individual circles) visible form 40,000 feet up in the sky (click here to see the project). For the drawing Denevan and his three colleagues used a roll of chain fencing six feet across pulled by a truck round several times to leave deep traces in the sand of the desert. It took several days to complete the outstanding work. A desert storm washed it away the following week. The work of art was ephemeral from its very beginning as the artist decided to work with the sand which--when shaped in whatever way--resists any form of durability and permanence. Sand easily lends itself to sculpture or drawing, but--in smooth cooperation with water, wind, tides, and rain--the seemingly durable individual grains get recomposed into new structures and new configurations shape-shifting with every movement. It is about constant unfolding, a perpetual, dynamic--even though occasionally imperceptible--metamorphosis. Every shaping and configuration is transitioning into something else. All material forces operating on site are involved in the work of art’s incessant and restless becoming with no final goal or no ultimate shape to be achieved. The work remains fluid until it disappears, erased by the natural site-specific processes. The artist shapes the materiality of the landscape, but this is just a temporary, ephemeral practice that is not invasively changing the texture of the place (although, it does constitute a change!). For a time, the drawing seems to be a specific place thriving in the indeterminate, vast space of the desert. It is in fact a constant process, a perpetual, intense transformation. The artistic intervention is a set of movements within the more encompassing bundle of procedures, all in a way of the same character. The movement triggered by the artist gets eventually annihilated by other movements, testifying to the constant, often unnoticeable, operations of the latter.

It makes us realize the active dimension of the natural environment with all its forces and transformations. Even if we do not notice their operations when they happen, we can recognize their effects. The act of destruction of the work of art is actually an obvious evidence for the multiplicity of processes operating on site. And the extinction of the work of art is a very material process, which makes us think about the incessant intra-active, relational becomings of life. 

Fig. 15. Jim Denevan's 2009 Black Rock Desert, NV project

Fig. 17. Jim Denevan's 2010 Lake Baikal, Russia project

Fig. 19. Jim Denevan's 2010 Lake Baikal, Russia project

As evidenced by the selected examples, Denevan’s work exposes the fragility and vulnerability of natural forces, their incessant metamorphous regenerative flow and its susceptibility to new relational becomings and transformations. These processes are productive of new metamorphoses. They are also responsive to non-indigenous interventions, adjusting to the nature of their specificity. The meticulously designed and executed drawings do not last for long—both the natural and the cultural forces will cause their further metamorphoses as they intervene (sometimes in unnoticeable way) into the landscape itself. The material environment is always changing and always moving; it always remains in process. So is the cultural meaning of the artwork—it is always fluid and always different. These works of art, spontaneously yet regularly composed of countess circles and lines, may serve as metaphoric allusion to the never-ending cycle of nature, a constant movement between life and death, rebirth and annihilation; an unfinished process of eternal metamorphosis, or a never-ending becoming-other or different. This becoming, however, is not purely material/natural. Neither is it merely discursive/cultural. It is rather about constant vibrant intra-active entanglement of both in the emergence of the new. The land art by Denevan triggers critical reflection on the agency (which is no longer an exclusively human capacity) and the joint, collective becoming of the work of art, or its material-semiotic unfolding. There are many agents involved in the creation and destruction of the work. The processes, however, cannot be understood as oppositional. Destruction is not a process that would return the site to its original shape from before the artistic intervention. The site never returns to what it was. Rather, it is further creation—a recomposition of the traces of movement performed by the artist, a new configuration of the landscape, a new becoming. Both processes, therefore, should be understood in affirmative manners, that is, in terms of productivity. Different agents are involved in the drawings’ becomings as they remain beyond control of anyone.

In that sense, Denevan’s works provide illustrative examples of the post-anthropocentric ecological turn in arts, conveying a message that the quintessence of the natural-cultural environment is its transience, ephemerality, and always metamorphous “processuality.” This is why the artist cannot “possess” the environment, but can only co-exist or entangle with it and let it speak on the same rights. Thusly conceived geoart opens the artist’s bodily-intellectual subjectivity to the sense of a place and allows for transcending the vision-centered attitude grounded in the quest for control or hunger for dominance. This owns much to the complex operations of material-discursive entanglements. Matter makes possible and sustains meanings assigned to it by artists or audiences, yet at the same time these meanings make matter matter. Hence, Denevan merges with the landscape through an artistic intuitive-rational “intra-action.” What emerges from this assemblage is a new becoming, and a new set of processes in which different agents and forces are involved.

What must be underlined here is that, although benign and non-violent in their character, Denevan’s projects have to be conceived also as interventions, that is, as something that would not have occurred without intentional human-technological activity. In that sense, we need to stay cautious about such artistic processes, as Lucy Lippard postulates in her 2014 book. The beautiful ephemeral drawings are generated in the complex entanglement of natural-cultural forces, leaving memorable—although usually imperceptible—traces on the landscape of the site. Even though they seem to disappear in the multiplicity of the indigenous movements, they still affect their trajectories and further metamorphoses. Noticeably, there is a capitalistic apparatus beneath the emergence of the giant works of art, including the specific equipment employed for visualization purposes (cameras, helicopters, planes, etc.) and for making the works available for wide audiences (distribution, display devices, digital viewing). There is also a complicated machinery used for producing the ephemeral drawings (including cars, bulldozers, trucks, etc.). This also testifies to the entangled natural-cultural and material-semiotic relationality from which these works of art emerge. It is necessary to keep these processes in mind in order not to blindly aesthetisize these movements, but to sharpen the critique, remaining nevertheless in an affirmative new materialist mood.

Fig. 13. Jim Denevan's 2009 Black Rock Desert, NV project

Fig. 14. Jim Denevan's 2009 Black Rock Desert, NV project

Fig. 16. Jim Denevan's 2009 Black Rock Desert, NV project

Fig. 18. Jim Denevan's 2010 Lake Baikal, Russia project

Fig. 20. Jim Denevan's 2010 Lake Baikal, Russia project

Fig. 10. Jim Denevan's 2010 Vancouver, BC project

In his project produced in Vancouver, BC (Canada) Denevan drew a network of circles and lines transcending the boundaries of scale. The fleeting installation was created as a part of the 2010 Vancouver Biennale at Spanish Banks. In order to create the gigantic drawings on sand Denevan needed help of some 15 volunteers. The work of art did not last for long--the team started drawing lines and circles at 9.00 AM. Already by 2.00 PM the work of art was completely washed away by the high tide. In the meantime, around noon, it was photographed from a helicopter to document the artistic process (click here to see the project). The installation was both an artistic intervention and a “non-intervention” at the same time. For a couple of hours it completely changed the look of the site with beautiful rhythmic drawings covering the banks. The work was vast and wide spreading. Yet, there was no trace of it left after the high tide. The land was smoothly returned to its natural forces and processes, with no lasting marks left by the artist. Importantly however, the work has left its imperceptible traces on site, since it has changed the configuration of natural processes present there. Seemingly imperceptible, the intervention, however, was factual; it was there as a set of movements affecting (and being affected by) the becomings of the site. Such an installation highlights the ethereal, waiflike nature of natural reconfigurations, the extinctive, fragile, and fluid character of life and nature where nothing remains constant and unchanged. No stasis, just a constant becoming. Such logic of artistic practice corresponds with the principles of geoart described earlier in this exposition. The intervention is about cooperation with the landscape, feeling its sensations and responding to its situatedness. The work of art is open for further operations of the surrounding environment comprised of both natural and cultural forces, even when it means it will immediately disappear forever. As such, it is returned to the landscape, inviting the participation of its forces and movements in its eventual annihilation. It means that Denevan’s intervention takes form of a seemingly non-invasive movement introduced into the original situation where other movements and forces continue to operate. Consequently, a movement similar in nature to the one performed by the artist wipe out the intervention, leaving the original look of the site almost untouched. 

Fig. 8. Jim Denevan drawing circles

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