Sometimes it is possible, after centuries of strange paths, that art and history intertwine firmly, offering new visions of both. This is the case of the artistic intervention conceived and created by Landscape First in Prati di Punta for the Municipality of Grosotto, in the upper Valtellina. On the municipal area you can find several rock engravings dating back to Copper Age. The artifacts, less well known than the more famous engravings of Grosio, a neighboring town that houses the Park of engravings, have been studied and cataloged in the past without however embarking on a path to enhance this heritage. Indeed, it is likely that many of these carvings still lie covered with moss, leaf layers and soil.

The Municipality of Grosotto, wishing to undertake a path to enhance this archaeological heritage, commissioned Landscape First a work that would lay its foundations in the dissemination and rediscovery of engravings. Accepted the request, landscape architect Gaël Glaudel developed and materially carried out an intervention that was at the same time linked to history, territory and local culture.

The artistic project has therefore seen the development of a work in line with the style of Land Art, born around the 1960s by a group of artists who, sensing with great attention the crisis of figurative art, began to explore new ways of expression, in search of a dimension that would allow to get out of the space of the canvas and the frame. We were faced with a new model of artistic approach, of equal value to the others that made their appearance in those years, but substantially different in the ways in which it applied its principles, and the means of expression that reflect one of the main theme that began to rule at the end of the century: ecology, with all its economic, social and political implications, it could not help but influence the sphere of art, leading to a consideration of the meaning of sustainability, of the biosphere and to the denial of the anthropocentric principle that saw the human being as the only interpreter of life on Earth. In fact, according to Filippo Pizzoni, “the distinctive feature of Land Art is that it is not the landscape that informs art, but vice versa: art is the first to question the role and meaning of nature in the contemporary world and leave its interpretative mark on it” (Franco Angeli, 2010).

The Land Art work therefore wants to propose interventions that are part of the territory and its interpretation at the same time, expanding the spatial and temporal limits, renouncing the protection given by the walls of a gallery or a museum, thus undergoing changes due to events atmospheric and temporality. Precisely this ephemeral character underlines its perfect environmental compatibility, accentuated by the use of environmentally friendly materials found locally. This sought-after minimization of the impact of the work reflects an ideal connection of thought that has been established between the ancient work (the rock engravings) and the new work (the Land Art intervention).

What was wanted to achieve is in fact a work of references and connections, some obvious and others more delicate and subtle. A first bond is established by reasoning on the type of engravings taken into consideration and on the meaning that these could have for their makers. The engravings represented in the artwork are defined as “topographical scutiformes”, characterized by a series of more or less marked lines, contained in an outline that recalls the shape of a shield. These modular figurative elements, modules between modules, reported an abstraction of an “object” or landscape element, which is represented in a way that is not uniquely recognizable. Probably these representations referred to a fenced succession of cultivated fields, seen from the top of the mountain on the valley floor. It is thought that the crops depicted could have a distinctive peculiarity compared to others, perhaps belonging to a sacred area where ritual plowing took place. Sacred cultivations object of veneration that become elements of representation by observers in privileged positions on the mountain slopes. We can see an initial path of abstraction that led to these rough forms, engraved in the rock without any notion of perspective or change of scale, with stone instruments certainly inadequate for the purpose, but with great effort and will to leave an almost indelible mark. A first form of art, which does not seek to interpret the observed element, but wants to create a dialogue between reality and its representation, between a part of the territory and a symbol that embodies its spiritual power.

The relationship with the modernly work takes on multiple connotations as we said. The scutiform engraving represents a cultivated field, therefore a piece of territory modified by the hand of man, in this case for subsistence purposes. Gilles Clément, in his Brief history of the garden (Quodlibet, 2012) states that “the first garden is for food. The vegetable garden is the first garden. It is timeless because it not only establishes the history of gardens, but also crosses it and deeply marks it in each of its periods “. By extension we can see agriculture as the first form of landscape in the more recent meaning given by the European Landscape Convention, that is an ” area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors”. The work of the Copper Age is therefore related to a specific landscape element.

Extending the discourse, even the current work of Land Art relates to the landscape, intervening directly on the territory and modifying it. To this is added an extemporaneous thought, a reasoning that leads us to see agriculture, with its action of modifying the soil, delimiting boundaries and moving land, as an example of ante litteram Land Art. Lines, volumes and geometries that draw the territory. The relationships multiply and intersect in this first semantic sphere that investigates the meaning, the idea and the topic: the relationship between contemporary intervention and ancient artefact (the current art that looks at the ancient art); relationship between engraving and landscape, between Land Art and landscape; relationship between involuntary Land Art primeval and contemporary.

This first sphere of references is followed by two others, one concerning the sign, the shape of the work itself and one that examines the method of realization. But first it is better to describe the work itself, whose title, Agricultural sanctuary, was born as a tribute to the genesis of the scutiform engravings that are the conceptual basis of the intervention. In particular, two scutiformes were examined, found in Bedól locality. The first scutiform that is encountered to the east of the sector has an ogival profile, lapped on the left side by a showy detachment, flat base and semicircular top; it is covered by an elongated subrectangular area arranged horizontally at half height and by a regular mesh of small cups that harmoniously fills the entire lower half to resume at the top, where it overlaps the contour, partly protruding from the figure. The next scutiform is of the more classical type with an asymmetrically tapered ogival profile upwards and filled with elongated rectangular sectors that are regularly in columns (A. Martinotti, 2007).

The artistic intervention has transferred the drawing of these engravings directly to the ground, with an important leap in scale, since the total area of ​​the work is equal to 10×10 m. First, a grid was created on the site to identify proportionality between the cast of the engravings and the intervention area. So the drawing was faithfully brought back to the ground through the use of white gravel.

The two incisions were then treated according to two distinct methodologies. The first was dug directly into the ground, creating deep grooves that exactly match the profile of the incision, underlining the method of removing material. The new gigantic engraving becomes a “positive” towards the ancient scutiform, establishing a direct relationship between ancient and current artifact (the stone engraving that becomes an earth engraving), a “negative” if we refer to the subtraction of materials. Some rocks found during the excavation were later inserted into the excavation, thus underlining the original “canvas” on which the artists of the Copper Age performed their works.

The second scutiform was instead made with a “positive” methodology, an extrusion of soil created using the soil extracted during the excavation of the first incision, suitably sieved and mixed with the water of a nearby canal. This earth drawing places a direct connection with the object represented in the engraving, the cultivated field; the loose ground, the slight bedding and the shape itself suggest a path towards the materiality of that element which from substantial becomes representation and becomes tangible again.

The artwork was entirely built with materials found on site, natural and without any external additions (any non-local material and instrumentation was removed at the end). Hence the respect for two fundamental characteristics in Land Art: temporality and specificity of place. The work is site specific as it relates fully to the site, the history and culture of the territory to which it belongs, with the landscape and the environment safeguarded by the compatibility of the materials and avoiding excessive impact. The work, ephemeral in style and concept, is destined to undergo alterations by the climate, changing and covering itself with vegetation, gradually reabsorbing itself into the ground, leaving however a sign in visitors, a curiosity towards local heritage of engravings.

As for the construction approach, this recalls in its phases operations related to the world of archeology, properly the field of study of this type of artifacts. The laying of the grid recalls the division into sectors of the areas of interest in a site; the construction of the first incision has an evident parallelism with the iconic methodology of the archaeological excavation; the reported terrain provides visual associations with images of ancient foundations or finds. The homage to the world of archeology is part of the work and would like to provide a future impetus to the investigation, enhancement and conservation of the still submerged rock engravings.

It is conceivable that at times these engraving sites were associated with a sanctuary, in the form of a ritual totem referred with natural forces. Precisely for this reason the designer of the work has created a specific totem, in such a way as to put the two new “engravings” in dialogue with a broader environmental / landscape theme. The totem was made using a dead locust tree, deprived of most of its bark but preserved in almost all of its shape. A non-toxic silver-colored paint was then applied to the debarked parts, and the tree was placed poised on a vegetable fork, made using another dead plant, a birch. This totem, the Needle, represents the delicate balance between artificiality and nature. While remaining in the balance, without any support on the ground, it leans towards the artificial field. The theme of balance permeates the entire work in its essence.

The main socio-economic and religious issues of the Aeneolithic peoples were focused on the territorial component, conceived as a primary vital resource, and at an ideological level they involved the cultivated areas as well as the inhabited ones, most of the time coinciding: therefore the sacral prophylaxis and the invocation to fertility were addressed to the deities both for the fields and for the villages schematically and abstractly reproduced on rock (A. Martinotti, 2007). This new Agricultural sanctuary offers a place to rest, to approach for a sincere reflection about the personal attitude towards nature. There is no moralistic intent, no ethical lesson, simply a moment of pause in which to face with serenity a gap that at the moment seems unbridgeable: we see the respectful approach diverging, leading to the sacredness of our ancestors, who saw in nature and its gifts (particularly in agriculture, the primary source of sustenance) something superior and worthy of veneration, from the indifferent or fake interested attitude of this anthropocene to its reckoning, in which that soil, those fruits and the wonder of the things that grow are taken for granted. The reflection starts from here, from a tangible sign of earth, an expression of art, culture and historical heritage, but also a pagan sanctuary devoted to bringing man closer to the landscape, to nature, to his world.

Project details

Design: Gaël Glaudel x Landscape First
Project Location: Prati di Punta, Grosotto, Italy
Typology: Land art, environmental art
Built: 2022
Client: Municipality of Grosotto
Photo credits: © Gaël Glaudel

Gaël Glaudel x Landscape First