News
01.27.2014
Review> Glyptic Phenomena
Stefanie Leontiadis reviews the book, Regenerative Infrastructures: Freshkills Park NYC, Land Art Generator Initiative.
Courtesy Prestel

Regenerative Infrastructures: Freshkills Park NYC, Land Art Generator Initiative
Edited by Caroline Klein
Prestel, $50

In pursuit of an inventive and flexible interpretation of Freshkills Park’s damaged land and its recovery of health and biodiversity, together with the intention to trigger the imagination of people, the Land Art Generator Initiative hosted the competition “Regenerative Infrastructures.” The results of the competition are featured in the book Regenerative Infrastructures: Freshkills Park NYC, Land Art Generator Initiative. The projects include a variety of proposals including visitor-tours, on-site events, educational programs, installations, performances, scientific environmental research, and the expanding definition of the park that challenge the terminologies of public art, urban landscapes, and sustainable structures and technologies.

The introductory essays lay down the Land Art Generator Initiative’s theoretical opinions on sustainable land art considerations, covering topics on aesthetics in sustainability, the contemporary issue of garbage-production, the artist’s role, and the relationship between landscape and infrastructure.

The extreme articulation of land art, which came to being in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where the designer interprets the direct linkage between landscape and project, is expressed in this competition through various sources of inspiration. This artful process reminds one of the epistemological relevance of the ground playing a significant role of a constant in the equation of the earth’s complex stability, similar to the formulation of the Gaia hypothesis of the 1970s by chemist James Lovelock, taking place parallel to the phenomenological investigations and new-expressionism. The Gaia hypothesis considers the treatment of the ground as a point of reference of a self-organizing system, where each particle that is being placed becomes strongly affected by its behavior. This doesn’t refrain much from the complexity theory of the same period of post-modernism, where qualities of architectural open space compositions were trying to find deeper values of linkages among forms, themes and aesthetic ideas, investigating multivalent relationships of many meanings.

This evolution of ideas becomes supremely relevant to the Regenerative Infrastructures projects, which try to use every installation piece for the production of renewable energy. A noteworthy example could very well be the winner of the competition, “Scene-Sensor//Crossing Social and Ecological Flows,” which uses piezoelectric generators to harvest energy from the wind and the visiting humans, employing the form of an attractive screen and the metaphorical concept of mirroring and reflection in the actual experience of the final solution.

The intensions of land art were initially a movement of disapproval towards the modern developing movement of machinery, artificiality, plastic aesthetics, and commercialized architecture. Pursuing natural simplicity through concepts of minimalism, geometrical simplicity and organic expressionism, the movement initially spread in Europe, with works usually positioned in the countryside and intended to reveal their pure concept from a bird’s eye view. With the Regenerative Infrastructures of Freshkills Park, one sees the progress, not only in the sense of sustainability, but also in the partaking in the traces of the memories of the urban ground, offering experiences of subconscious investigation. Ideally, the land art figures follow existing patterns of the land, being traced as blueprints in quest of creating memories of past existing contours.

Dimitris Pikionis, of the same generation as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, delves deeply into the investigation of this groundscape and topographical sensibility, associating the designs with the direct interaction of the being with the “glyptic form of the site.” This very glyptic over-design of the site’s topography is evident in Regenerative Infrastructure projects such as “Fresh Hills,” “99 Red Balloons,” and “Currents,” to name a few. But also Aldo van Eyck’s interpretation of the Amsterdam playgrounds are a pure expression of this phenomenon, translating the morphological characteristics of the place into playground objects laid out on the outline of a cement grid. In the Freshkills Park projects, using the topography as the blueprint layer, this happens with the “PowerPlay” proposal, a “sculpturally stimulating and energy-generating interactive kinetic play-space.”

Both of Pikionis’ and van Eyck’s theories combined translate to some of these projects’ solution of touching and the sensory perception of the child searching for elementary signs traced on the ground and punctuated through a rediscovery of landscape obstacles that absorb and distribute energy.

The interplay of the proposals takes various forms, including solar loop landmarks, the minimal element of the line, triangles representing natural healing, cylindrical energy collectors, bird-forms, panels, mechanical ghosts, kites, arching frames, rods as generators, three-legged modules, clouds, gas molecule forms expressed under high pressure, natural-looking elements of stems and blooms, trees, currents, and inflatable roofs. They are all valid solutions for contemporary situations of a landscape of historical importance, in the midst of a strong topographical imagery. The sources of inspiration for this imagery are also rich and inspiring, including-window reflecting and revealing scenes, the relationship between energy and land, the aligning on the moving condition of the landfill’s gradual sinking and the rising of the surrounding level, the expression of loss/hope/memory, interactive kinetic play-space, the bond between humans and the park, a bird’s wing movement, the revelation of process of power generation, a kite’s or flower’s or tree’s metaphor…

The book concludes with a comprehensive glossary explaining all of the mentioned energy technologies used for every project, completing the figurative character of the new landscape imagery.

Conclusively, it is a book that flirts among phenomenological facts of reality, illusion, and technology, transcending objects and sceneries into multiple layers of meanings, while offering symbolic advice.

Stefanie Leontiadis

Stefanie Leontiadis is a fellow at NYU.