Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden (1997)

Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden (1997)-20
"The Grotto", the third garden of Waterworks Gardens

[This is the third in my series of Washington State Earthworks, the previous entries are on the Herbert Bayer Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks (which contains the introduction to this series) and Robert Morris”˜ Untitled Earthwork.]

The most recent of the three Washington State earthworks that I visited on my earthworks tour is the Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden from 1997. Of the three earthworks I’d visited on this day this one in Renton WA was the only one I’d been to before. It is more or less on the route between the Lake Washington Loop and the Interurban Trail and I the first time I ever rode on the Interurban Trail I had checked out the park.  I usually never had much time, either on my way somewhere else or reaching it at the end of a longer ride so this was the first time I took the opportunity to really explore it. It was though toward the end of the day and the sun was sinking into smoke filled skies (making for a rather apocalyptic looking sun) . This does lead to some of my photos being a bit blurry as the sunlight waned.

Lorna Jordan Waterworks Park map
Map of Waterworks Garden

Waterworks Garden is the most intricate of the three earthworks, with five separate garden “rooms” each with a distinct character to them. The once again excellent Earthworks pages on the city of Kent’s website contains a decent overview on Waterworks Garden and Lorna Jordan’s website features pictures that showcase it in its prime (note that this is a Flash site and I can’t link directly to the Waterworks Garden pages. They are located under the Portfolio heading). Being built so much later then the other earthworks it incorporates decades worth of of theory and practice in the making of earthworks, which has by this time fully absorbed the reclamation theme  which Robert Morris wrote about (which is s0mething you don’t see in pieces such as Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, De Maria’s Lightning Field or Serra’s Shift).  Jordan’s particular muse is water and her pieces often work with the material in context of reclamation: this piece for instance is a wastewater treatment plant.

Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden (1997)-3
"The Knoll", the first garden of Waterworks Gardens

“Stormwater runoff is collected from the grounds of the wastewater reclamation plant and put through 11 ponds where contaminates and sediments are allowed to settle. The water is then released into the wetlands which sustain plants, microorganisms and wildlife. The stormwater treatment ponds and the wetlands form an earth/water sculpture that funnels, captures and releases water.”
– from the City of Kent Waterworks Garden page

The Garden is on a hill and the water is presumably pumped up there and then gravity pulls it through the various treatment ponds that make up the combined artwork/processing plant.  The entrance at the top is a very ceremonial garden whose large monolithic columns give it the feel of a Stonehenge or Brú na Bóinne.  Artistically cut out sections of tile with rusted grates over them makes the presence of water felt amongst this stonework. This garden and the Grotto are the most obviously shaped and have a more public art feel. In between these two are the much more earthwork style portions of the piece. The second garden is a series of larger pools which begin the stormwater treatment.  A path wends its way through these pools, each one descending down the hill.

Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden (1997)-9
"The Funnel", the second garden of Waterworks Gardens

Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden (1997)-18 From the Funnel, the open ponds become smaller and more in trees and then you enter the Grotto.  Even more so than the Knoll, the Grotto is through and through a sculpted garden that wouldn’t be out of place in a formal English garden.  A rounded space with fountains and pools of water that are allowed to have brilliant green scum floating upon them.  The Grotto is constructed from concrete (or shotcrete apparently) in the shape of a seedpod and is finely detailed on every surface. Nature in the form of trees, vines, shrubs and the aforementioned pond scum has been allowed to run rampant making the Grotto even more mysterious as if you had found an abandoned garden in the woods.  A nice tranquil spot in the middle of this earthwork it does once again embody the overall feeling of neglect that I experienced at all of these earthworks.  Being more of a park than Robert Morris”˜ Untitled Earthwork it is closer to the Mill Creek Canyon Earthwork and had about the same level of neglect, though not the amount of trash that had piled up there. It is instructive to look through the City of Kent Earthworks Site and other resources to see how these earthworks looked in their prime. Each of these earthworks cut shapes into the terrain that is mostly obscured due to overgrown plants (though the goats seem to keep Morris’ earthwork in an approximately original condition).

Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden (1997)-23
"The Passage", the fourth garden of Waterworks Gardens.

The last two gardens The Passage and The Release are the filtering of the processed stormwater into a wetland and are harder to take distinct photographs of.  The Passage is akin to walking on a path through a wetland, with shallow lakes, swampy regions, marsh grasses and other flora that you’d find in these areas.  The Release was pretty wooded and became a stream eventually, the final release of the water back into nature.  On Lorna Jordan’s site you can see pictures, maps and models that show all of these areas a lot clearer than I was able to photograph them.  The park also contains the Springbrook trail which connects to other regional trails. Its a great park with a combination of the artwork mixed with the water reclamation and recreation. Well worth visiting and makes for a nice way to begin or end one’s earthworks tour.

This is the last of the three earthworks I visited on my August 1st earthworks tour.  There is however a fourth earthworks I’ve visited on Mercer Island which I plan to revisit and write up at a later date.

Check out all of my pictures of the Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden on Flickr.
Read all of my posts about Washington States Earthworks.


Fugue State

Eleven Clouds


Fugue State
Fugue State

Fugue State, the September entry in the Eleven Clouds project, is a 43′ CD-R packaged in a vinyl pocket. This conceptual process piece was created in the following way. Utilizing his persona on the i hate music electronic message board the artist initiated a thread on the subject of improvisation in 2010 (for which, see here). While a participant in this thread it was of course allowed to proceed normally and after several days it had generated several pages of responses. The first page, plus one post, of responses were then collected into a text file with minimal editing (primarily web addresses were changed into text) which was then read aloud utilizing the OS X “Alex” voice and recorded to a file. The resultant audio file was used to create a source audio file which contained silences corresponding to the amount of time in between posts (scaled to 1 minute = 1 second). This new file was burned to CD-R and was played in the worlds cheapest compact disc player, through a very cheap FM transmitter, captured by a nearby FM radio (also cheap) and fed into a Nord Micro Modular. The patch the Micro Modular was running (pictured below) was designed to radically transform input, particularly frequency modulated input and patterns of speech. While any text run through this system would lead to similar sound, the pace, feel and structure of this piece depend on the source material. In this way the twelve people who participated in this thread up to the cut-off point can be thought of as collaborators in this piece.

Nord Micro Modular patch utilized in this  piece

How to acquire a copy

Fugue State is released in an addition of twelve (12) and is available only to the collaborators on the project. If you are one of the twelve people who participated in the State of Improvisation 2010 thread between 1:29 on September 8th and 7:12 on September 9th please send you mailing address to the electronic mail address below.

For more information please feel free to contact us at
mgmt AT hollowearthrecordings DOT com

Robert Morris Untitled Earthwork (1979)

Robert Morris Untitled Earthworks (1979)-13

[This is the second in my series of Washington State Earthworks, the first was regarding the Herbert Bayer Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks and contains the introduction to this series.]

The most well known of Washington’s earthworks is the Robert MorrisUntitled Earthwork from 1979 which was built in an abandoned gravel pit in what was then fairly empty land. This of course was the landmark work of the King County Arts Commission’s Earthworks: Land Reclamation as Sculpture symposium.  The essay that Robert Morris wrote for the catalog for this symposium is quite revealing and well worth reading in its entirety.  The once again excellent Earthworks pages on the city of Kent’s website contains the essay for those who wish to do so.

To my knowledge, this is the first time that art has functioned as land reclamation. The idea of cleaning up the landscape that has been wasted by industry is not, of course, new. I have previously had discussions with coal mining interests in West Virginia, and I know Robert Smithson was negotiating some time ago with coal miners in the West.

But a few things have not been discussed, to my knowledge, about art as land reclamation.


The most significant implication of art as land reclamation is that art can and should be used to wipe away technological guilt. Do those sites scarred by mining or poisoned by chemicals now seem less like the entropic liabilities of ravenous and short-sighted industry and more like long-awaited aesthetic possibilities? Will it be a little easier in the future to rip up the landscape for one last shovelful of non-renewable energy source if an artist can be found (cheap, mind you) to transform the devastation into an inspiring and modern work of art? Or anyway, into a fun place to be? Well, at the very least, into a tidy, mugger-free park.

It would seem that artists participating in art as land reclamation will be forced to make moral as well as aesthetic choices. There may be more choices available than either a cooperative or critical stance for those who participate. But it would perhaps be a misguided assumption to suppose that artists hired to work in industrially blasted landscapes would necessarily and invariably choose to convert such sites into idyllic and reassuring places, thereby socially redeeming those who wasted the landscape in the first place.[emphasis mine]

Robert Morris Untitled Earthworks (1979)-0Morris chose in this first earthwork as land reclamation to not convert the site into an idyllic and reassuring place instead emphasizing the transformed nature of the landscape by terracing the assault on the earth, preserving yet transforming its fundamental character. The terraces work their way down into the central pit with a narrow wooden staircase leading down to them. I found it interesting that the stairs were all on the north edge, one could easily imagine them being staggered around to encourage walking around the various levels.  Entry to the piece is at the very western top of the pit where there is a parking lot and information boards and such which Morris dubbed the “Access Point”. One level down on the western side are scattered a series of blasted looking tree remnants which Morris referred to as the “Ghost Forest”.  These trees were meant to evoke the shaggy forest that had grown there in the interim since the pit was used – nature reclaiming the land itself. Later in 1996 the artist added a bench (a rough hewn block of wood) and a path around the uppermost terrace.

Robert Morris Untitled Earthworks (1979)-4

The questions that Morris raises in his essay are certainly apropos and considering that there has been much land art used as reclamation or to justify various assaults on the earth since then, these question have not lost any of their sharpness.  But they way that public art fits into the landscape, the way that people interact to it, its actual legacy are notions that I personally find fascinating.  As I noted with the  Herbert Bayer Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks this piece also has an air of neglect around it. Being still relatively off the beaten track it doesn’t have the accumulation of trash along a busy road as is the case in Mill Creek but it certainly had a feel of disuse, or perhaps even misuse. From the firepit in the center ringed with fallen members of the Ghost Forest to the porn magazine discarded at the Access Point, it is clear that the local use is not really taking in notions of land reclamation.  A dog walking park, a place for teens to get away from their parents, a location to harvest blackberries and an amusing sight when 4Culture has the goats out there to trim the grass, that seems to be the local take on it.  Perhaps most interestingly the middle of nowhere aspect is certainly not the same as housing developments and apartment houses have crowded the margins and the once endless farmers fields are partially cut up into gated communities.

Robert Morris Untitled Earthworks (1979)-24

The piece remains (mostly) the same (there was apparently some changes on the margins to accommodate the immediate adjacent apartment complex)  as the land changes around; this to me seems the real legacy of land art and the real captivating aspect of public art in general.  While there is probably no more obvious (and unfortunate) example of this then the constant attempts to industrialize the land around the Spiral Jetty, the carving up a chunk of this piece for the eternally creeping exurbs of Seattle is right up there. With the projected population growth in the Puget Sound in the coming decades, it is not hard to image this piece as becoming basically a tiny park among the housing developments, an oasis amidst Kamazotz.

See all of my photos of Robert Morris’ Untitled Earthwork (1979) on Flickr.

solitUde for just a moment regained

Cage and Tudor

On the Mode dvd From Zero, one of the cuts is Cage reading the mesostic Overpopulation and Art overlaid with a performance of Ryonji. This was from a lecture series that he did at Standford just a few months before he died in 1992. I found this reading very moving, Cage’s voice frail and shakey, yet fully committed, the stark percussion and floating voices of Ryonji perfectly matched with the reading. I tried to find an excerpt of this video online but no dice, however I did find the lecture preserved by the fine folks at Other Minds which you can stream at Archive.org. On this day, the 98th anniversary of John Cage’s birth, give it a listen: Overpopulation and Art.