Culture Shock: Land Bridges

Land Art Students Forge Connections Between Species, Places, People

Maggie Grimason
5 min read
Chaco region
On the Fracking is Fracking Reality Tour in the Greater Chaco Region. (Jeanette Hart-Mann)
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The land arts movement came of age in the ’60s and ’70s in part as protest to the gallery-centric commodification and commercialization of artworks. The first names that might come to mind are the likes of Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer, whose works are grand gestures on the landscape, often in ecosystems that the artists themselves didn’t call home.

“We’re thinking about land arts differently now,” explained Jessica Zeglin, one of a number of students in UNM’s art and ecology program whose work will be shown in
Thank You, I Love You, I’m Sorry at the John Sommers Gallery on UNM’s campus. “We approached it as being with the land, instead of using the land as material. We learned from the landscape and from the people and animals that live there. “It’s more a focusing on listening to, being with, being in, rather than an imposition on,” added another graduate student in the program, Erin Gould. Others joining us that day were Brionna Garcia and nicholas b. jacobsen, who nodded in agreement to this departure from land arts in its most original iterations.

An eight-week experience in land art of the American West brought the artists to different sites throughout the Southwest, including the headwaters of the Rio Grande, the Taos Gorge, the Greater Chaco region and the border region between Arizona and Mexico. During this time—and most notably during six weeks of camping at the various locales—the artists described tapping into a creative exploration of relationships. Interpersonal relationships with other humans, yes, but also different landscapes, animals and plants, and experiencing the different “dialects” of elements like water as they existed in varied topographies. This exploration put them staunchly within the ecosystems they were hoping to create work based off, not outside of them, which was of vital importance.

“Western science is often this practice that puts you outside of the natural world, and you look in from there,” jacobsen described. “Whereas, a lot of what we’re doing, it requires participation, because there’s a lot of emphasis on being part of it, being imbedded within it. … You’re not a force upon nature, but a force within it.” As a result of ethos carried with them into the field, a lot of the works that are brought to the gallery space are participatory in some way. They manifest as audio works, installation and performance, among other mediums. “For me, science had become this body of knowledge based upon ‘Can you prove it?’ … And I thought it was powerful to use art to understand the world around me,” Garcia said. The work emphasizes other ways of knowing.

The title of the exhibition was born from a conversation with Beata Tsosie-Peña, the environmental health and justice program coordinator at Tewa Women United. “She was talking about our relationship to water,” Zeglin recalled, “and the ways in which we’ve mistreated our water and continue to do so. She encouraged us to, as we are interacting with water, as we are taking it into our body, to thank it for everything it is giving to us, to tell it about our appreciation, to acknowledge what we’ve done—so, thank you, I love you, I’m sorry. That really resonated with us going forward.”

“There’s all these beautiful relationships that we’re all a part of,” jacobsen continued, “but that comes with some pretty problematic things.” By way of example, Garcia described spending time near the headwaters of the Rio Grande in the Rocky Mountains and seeing Bark Beetle devastation at the higher altitudes there. “Like 70 percent of trees there were suffering from this, and it’s all directly related to climate change,” she said. “Seeing the impacts of humans on all these different ecosystems, it was like—how did we possibly get our mess and destruction all the way out here? It was so eye-opening.”

But more than casting a sad pall over their continued observation, study and creation, the experience was galvanizing. “The human-nature divide is connected to so many problems,” jacobsen said. “Us imagining that we are not nature—that we’re apart from it, because nature is mechanized and we have a soul—that’s common in Western ideologies, and I think it creates a lot of loneliness and isolation.” Hinging on that, Gould added, “you can have this appreciation and love and affinity for natural world, but that comes with taking responsibility. This is a way of moving forward. If you love something and feel responsible for it, feel the weight of that pain, all the harm done. … It doesn’t have to be the end—it’s bad and awful and hard, but you can do something. I’m going to carry that with me forever.”

In addition to Zeglin, Garcia, jacobesen and Gould, other artists distilling far-reaching works into experiences in the gallery are Sarah Canelas, Xena Gurule, Kyle Holub, Blaise Koller and Rowan Willow.
Thank You, I Love You, I’m Sorry will see a formal reception on Friday, Dec. 7 from 5 to 7pm at the John Sommers Gallery (Art Building #84, Room 202). The show will be up until Dec. 13, with regular gallery hours of 9am to 12:30pm, and 1:30 to 4:45pm, Monday to Friday.

Find out more about Land Arts of the American West at UNM at

“Tinaja” by Erin Gould

Courtesy of Erin Gould


“The Land is Unstable and so are the Maps” by Jessica Zeglin, nicholas b. jacobsen and Erin Gould.

Courtesy of the artists

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