The idea for the land-art project "Heliotrope" has been floating around in David Wood's head for the past 20 years. Now, with the help of the students in Gary Shapiro and Erling Sjovold's "Land Art and Landscape: Aesthetics, Design, Practice" class, "Heliotrope" is floating in Westhampton Lake.
The large-scale art project has been the talk of campus since it was installed on the lawn in front of Boatwright Library on March 20, the spring equinox. Wood, an environmental artist and centennial professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University, was invited to campus by Shaprio to give a talk to the class on the question, "After Art?" and to lead the class in the two-phase installation of "Heliotrope."
"Land Art and Landscape" is a unique studio art class that draws from art history and philosophy to combine aesthetic theory and artistic practice in its exploration of traditional and contemporary landscape and land art. The class spent about 20 percent of the semester working on "Heliotrope," with its 13 students divided among construction, publicity, and research committees.
The students not only learned about the history and significance of land art, but with "Heliotrope" actually helped create a significant work.
Students from the class carried the work's "petals" onto the library’s lawn, helped arrange them into a symmetrical circle, cut the foil mirrors, and pasted them on. A friend of Shaprio's, Piet Borman, cut each board into a 2-inch-by-20-inch wedge shape and glued and nailed the pieces back together.
"'Heliotrope,'" explains Wood, "is a way of smiling back at the sun, both in its sunflower shape, and in the mirrors that radiate out from the center." He got the idea for the work while walking in the Grizedale Forest in the English Lake District about 20 years ago.
"When Gary Shapiro invited me to install an art work on campus in conjunction with my public lecture, I jumped at the chance," he says.
During Phase I, "Heliotrope" stayed on Boatwright lawn for three weeks, where it created a yellow sunburst pattern in the grass underneath it. For Phase II, the class moved "Heliotrope" to the center of the lake, where it will be anchored until early May.
"I wanted a two-phase installation, with an 'image' left on the bank still visible when it is floating in the water," Wood explains. "Its dry land imprint is meant to make the water seem wetter. And I like marking time, change, transformation –– like the rising and setting of the sun. The yellow image reminds us of the dependence of life on the sun –– even the vegetative life of grass deprived of sunlight by the temporary covering of the wood."
First-year student Astoria Aviles didn't know what to expect when she registered for the class, but has enjoyed being a part of a large-scale art project. "This class brings life to philosophy, which is nice," she says. "In many classes you might read something and never see the ideas being put into practice."
Wood hopes people will not only pause to enjoy the visual beauty of "Heliotrope," but that they also will ponder its symbolic meaning.
"I want people to enjoy it as a visual form, especially when it bobs and ripples scintillatingly in the water," he says. "It also bears witness to the solar future that we must embrace to survive on this planet, and our deep dependence on the sun's energy."
Shapiro documented Phase II of "Heliotrope" in this slideshow: