In: Lutz Niethammer (Hg.): Bericht 1991 des Kulturwissenschaftlichen Instituts, Wissenschaftszentrum Nordrhein-Westfalen; Essen 1992, S. 195-211.
Views on earth from Hesiod to James Lovelock
It is one of the astounding phenomena of the natural sciences that, on their various fronts, these sciences are repeatedly overtaken as if by attacks of fever by antiquity. This probably surprises philosophers less than scientists themselves, who since Galilei, have turned away from the ancient traditions of natural philosophy, conscious of their superiority. In the meantime it has almost become part of the rhythm of scientific reforms that these reforms occur in the name of the old. As a result of the overextravagant destructive potential of modern technology, the regeneration of science is often sought in the conservation of the remains of traditions which are barely still comprehensible. A good example of this is the career of the Gaia hypothesis, which has experienced an equally controversial and irresistible rise since its creation in the USA by biosphere researcher James Lovelock (1979) and microbiologist Lynn Margulis (1986). The newest turn of the earth sciences is happening in the name of the most archaic goddess of the West: Gaia. If she was the mytho(theo)logical conception of the earth as a living being, at this point the astonishing balance of interacting networks of organic and inorganic nature appears to earth scientists as a ªwisdom of the body´, that is, Gaia's. Ecological complexity on the scale of the earth is understood as the equivalent of vital organisms: this is the return of the theory of micro- and macrocosm reflecting each other. James Lovelock experienced a sublime shudder: ªI felt like an eighteenth century physician discovering the body.´ While ªgeophysiologist´ Lovelock later moves away from his initial emphasis, according to which the earth is an intelligent living being, acting according to intentions, he does continue to maintain that its mechanisms correspond to the unconscious intelligence of bodies. With this claim he is moving within the schema of Romantic natural philosopher Schelling, for whom Nature was unconscious intelligence, humanity on the other hand conscious nature. Nature speaks through human beings, or: the Gaia hypothesis is the earth, grown reflexive in humanity. It is no wonder the New Age movement has wasted no time in appropriating the Gaia hypothesis. It has now become an element of the religious movements which often accompany ªgreen´ thinking, not only in the USA.
The Gaia hypothesis is certainly no mere pious dogma, but began as a serious scientific theory. In several respects, it represents a challenge to established scientific paradigms. The insight gained in a thought experiment (Lovelock observes the earth from Mars) that the earth is ªa strange and beautiful anomaly´ in space, is only possible if one leaves behind the physical and chemival view of the hard-core geologists (and their paradigm of the uniformity of geologival causes) and analyzes the earth as a kind of self-generated life. Thinking of the earth as a special case resoves the absolute division between organic and inorganic being, assuming that interaction between the two is characteristic of our mundane world. What is required is nothing less than a theory of the relativity of the living and the non-living, equivalent to Einstein's theory of relativity. What Lovelock observed ªfrom above´, macrocosmically, found support ªfrom below´, microcosmivally, when microbe research by Lynn Margulis and her son Dorion Sagan led to the thesis of endogenous cooperation not only between living things but between them and their inorganic surroundings. Contradicting Darwinist orthodoxy, the earth is for Margulis and Sagan not a gigantic showplace of selective modification and the murderous struggle to survive, but filled with the vision of a comprehensive consortium of all being which includes living as well as non-living material. While the Gaia hypothesis certainly contains impulses to rethink and redirect scientific-technological society, it is also essential to reflect upon the mythological, religious and aesthetic moments it contains and which are necessarily associated with re-evoking Gaia. It is not a question of returning to ancient history, but of becoming aware of its present potential to help analyse the ecological crisis human beings have themselves brought about.
With Gaia the ªTheogony´ of the poet Hesiod (circa 700 B.C.) is inevitably quoted. In Hesiod, Near Eastern creation myths run together and the horizon of pre-Socratic cosmology dawns, still in mythical language. According to Olog Gigon, in the genealogy of the godsX which tells the story of the genesis of the world, there appear for the first time the categories of truth, origin and the whole which will build the concept of being in philosophy after Anaximander. The whole, which lies in the origin and is therefore true, is ªthat which human beings encounter which is more powerful than they are and inaccessible to them (and which can therefore be called God).´ The lines of creation thus read, in Hesiod:
Chaos was first of all, but next appeared
Broad-bosomed Gaia, sure standing-plase for all
The gods who live on snowy Olympus' peak
And misty Tartarus, in a resess
Of broad-pathed Earth, and Eros, most beautiful
Of all the deathless gods. He makes men weak (. . .)
From Chaos came black Night and Erebos.
And Night in turn gave birth to Day and Space
Whom she conceived in love to Erebos.
And Gaia bore starry Heaven, first, to be
An equal to herself, to cover her
All over, and to be a resting plase
Always secure, for all the blessed gods.
(...) Then, without pleasant love,
She bore the barren sea with its swollen waves,
Pontus. And then she lay with Heaven, and bore
(Theogony, lines 116-136)
This is the way Hesiod grasps the roots of all being. In the beginning is chaos, the gaping void. One must imagine it as something empty and powerful. If one thinks further than the world shaped by the wide earth and the vaulted sky, one has nothing but the ªwide open´ chaos. The earth arises from this chaos; and in the earth, ªbelow´, like another chaos, the dark Tartaros. And Eros, which forms the world: that universal power which must be thought at the origin, if the cosmos is a single chain of generations. Gaia is not the earth that lies before our eyes: rather she is the power which manifests itself in our earth. Gaia is the inaccessible and unpredictable aspect of that earth, its divine aspect (which precedes the gods). In the sense of the later theory of the elements one could say: Gaia is riza/rizoma = root of the earth, from which everything comes. Hesiod teaches origination from one element (Thales will later claim the same for water, Heraclitus for fire and Anaximenes for air, until Empedokles ranks all four elements equally). But love is necessary for becoming. Love joins Gaia in a hieros gamos (sacred wedding) with Uranos, the sky, who came from her (ªautopoetically´) and is equal to her. In many cultures the wedded earth and sky ªlie together´ and must be separated to make ªspace´ for the things of nature. The intercultural HET myth (Himmel-Erde-Trennungsmythos / Sky-Earth-Separation myth) defines creation this way: after the wedding night, sky and earth step apart in the light of day. Greek philosophy retains the idea that becoming is connected to separation and differentiation. In Hesiod day and night do not arise from the (regular) wedding and separation of sky and earth; rather, Erebos (darkness) and Nux (night), like Gaia products of chaos, give rise to ether and day. Light arises from darkness never the other way round. Before all gods with their individualized spheres of responsibility, before all ªconcrete´ nature, we by this have the shape of the world and its dynamic principles. Gaia generates Uranos as Nux does light: they form henceforth the (erotic= generative) polarities of earth and sky as well as night and day. Eros is here the principle of natura naturans. For only then does the creation of the gods with their genealogical ordering and also the (late, hard-won) system of earthly justice begin. It is definitely valid that Gaia is therein the center and mother of becoming, the Magna Mater of the religions.
She is repeatedly honoured as such in antiquity whether under the name of Demeter or Terra. Even the philosophers never deny Gaia their respect. We find Eros as the original power in the Orphists as well as in Parmenides, in Empedocles (in the tension between love and strife as the original motive polarity of space) as well as most beautifully in Plato's ªSymposium´, where Hesiod is explicitly quoted (Symposium 178b). Plato's obsesation that ªthe earth has not emulated women in pregnancy and birth; it is women who have emulated the earth´ (Menexenos 238a) is informative with respect to the Gaia hypothesis. To understand Gaia's procreative power anthropomorphically, in the scheme of human sexuality precisely this would be an anthropocentric misunderstanding! Human sexuality only makes the power of living nature apparent. However, Gaia leaves important traces in the cosmology with which Plato, in the framework of the patriarchal god of reason, explains his theory of the origin of the world. In Plato, the divine master craftsman shapes ªthe universe by creating reason in the soul, but the soul in the body, in order to perfect the most beautiful and best work according to his nature´ (Timaios 30b). This cosmos, therefore, originated ªas a living being inspired with truth and gifted with reason´ (Timaios 30b); and it is such a living thing as a whole, not only in parts. Platonic cosmology thus incorporates the Gaia hypothesis. God forms the ªbody (soma) of space´ (Timaios 31b), in so far as it is visible and tangible, from the four elements fire, water, earth and air. But he makes the solid earth our ªprovider and ... keeper of night and day, the first and most venerable of all the gods created in the heavens´ (Timaios 40 b/c). This privileged placing of Gaia shows Plato's reverence for Hesiod (as does Timaios 40e/41a). This is true although Plato clearly had reservations about the Magna Mater mythology and sought to resolve them through the god of reason. Nevertheless, Gaia demands her tribute from philosophers and Plato pays it by introducing a ªdifficult and dark form´ of becoming, the origin of all elementary genesis. "ln what does anything originate?" is Plato's question. He answers: it must be a ªforce´ (dynamis), the ªrefuge that shelters all becoming like a nurse´ (Timaios 49a). That in which everything that is originates and passes away, is ªthe nurse of becoming´, the ªreceptivity of the mother´ (Timaios 50d). No doubt in the rational work of the paternal demiurge the mother is the enigma of his own creation: ªsomething invisible, formless, and allinclusive, that in some highly inexplicable way participates in the imaginable and is extremely difficult to comprehend´ (Timaios 51a). In the truest sense, Gaia is identical with nothing (she is none of the elements, and no body) and is still that which makes possible all that has become, something which is even before the elements separate from each other, even before all the world exists. Plato conceives of this ªnurse of becoming´ as an extremely unbalanced vibration, run through with heterogenous energies. For Plato, this forms the outer limit of what language could possibly describe: the idea that before all differentiation, before all gods, before the cosmos, before the numbers (before the demiurges?) there was something like a powerful, vibrating back and forth, a pulsation of energy, a shaking without objects or qualities, without which nothing can come into being. This is the conceptless secret of the where from and where to of being which Logos can not truly illuminate: Plato's approach to motherhood. The Gaia hypothesis. For the first time in history, the process of making the world scientific (Plato just made a claim to the complete mathematization of the cosmos) is caught up by an inaccessibility which communicates itself as a power of natura naturans, and which is not to be grasped in numbers or in concepts. It is only to be hinted at in metaphors, that is, poetically. Here, in the midst of philosophical discourse, poetry in the expression of the inexpressible.
Where this consciousness still exists, man cannot understand his gift of reason as if he were the master and center of an earth which is prepared for him, as the Stoics later imagine. Theophrast (372-287 B.C.), Aristoteles' successor in the Platonic Academy, writes in Fragment 19 of his text ªOn Piety´: ªThis (the earth) is the common hearth of gods and men; and all of us who nestle close to her, as to the mother who nourishes us, must praise and tenderly love her as the one who gave us life.´ Two and a half millenias later, microbiologist Lynn Margulis hangs up the photo of the blue planet in her institute with the emblematic caption: ªLove your mother!´
The Stoics present no anthropocentric teleology, but a pantheistic equality of God and Nature, or more precisely: a teaching according to which Nature is a forwardmoving power possessed of consciousness and reason (just as Lovelock initially assumes with the Gaia hypothesis). In opposition to the atomism of the Epicureans, according to which everything arose from random clumps of atoms, Poseidonios stresses that nature shows a sense of order and a kind of art (sed ordo apparet et artis quaedam similitudo): ªIf that which receives support from the earth through its roots lives and flourishes through nature's artistic creation, the same artistic, creative power must be effective in the earth itself.´ Nature's ªartistic skill´ (sollertia) is so perfect that it cannot be imitated (imitando) by any human art (ars), any craft or master craftsman (opifex). The ªup and down, back and forth´ interaction between the elements contains a procreative power which gives birth and creates, which is nourishment and growth. (The formulation recalls Plato's nurse of becoming.) How much the competing philosophical schools agree with respect to the cohaerendi natura is shown by the radical Epicurean Lukrey (98/97-55 B.C.), who begins his teaching poem ªDe rerum natura´ with the famous apostrophe of Venus and the Nature which is brought to life through her. In Lukrez, the daedala tellus (artist earth) bears an honorific title through which it is granted, as a natural force, that which constitutes the ancient epitome of artistic skill. Daedalus is a sign that Nature as genetrix reveals everything in the most meaningful way and that the earth continually pays homage to and reflects the goddess of love. (De rerum natura Libr. I, p. 1-7).
The view of nature as an artist remains widely held in Renaissance hermetism, alchemy and natural philosophy. The cosmology of the Neoplatonic philosopher Bernardus Silvestris of the Chartres School is informative here as an early testament of the Middle Ages. In his ªDe mundi Universitate´ (circa 1140) Bernardus describes how Natura pleads with the divine Noys (=nous, world reason) in the name of the unformed Silva (rigid chaos, womb of material) for the creation of the cosmos. For the ªmother´ Silva longs to emerge from the ancient tumult and requires artistic measures and the bonds of the muse (artifices numeros et musica vincla requirit, Line 22); indeed, she holds scattered in her lap all the possible children of the world (Line 33ff). This urge toward aesthetic measure which is immanent in the material requires the limiting and forming abilities of reason and of the Natura which mediates both. The cycle of elements thus established forms the ªfour fold root´ of all things and forms of the universe. Along the lines of the ªTimaios´ we find here, in the midst of Christian theology and without any suspicion of heterodoxy, the theory of the origin of the natural world according to the laws of the beautiful. This implies an artistic potency inherent in Nature, which unfolds in the wedding of generative material and form-giving reason analogous to music or sculptures.
It sounds like a distant echo of this hymn to living nature's aesthetic potential when, three and a half centuries later under the impression of the massive rise of modern mining Paulus Niavis in his ªIudicium Iovis´ (circa 1490) depicts a court scene in which, ªin the valley of beauty´, the Earth (Terra) accuses man of matricide (parricidi accusatus) because of the many mines he bore through her body. Bernardus Silvestris derived the obligation to respectfully recognize the earth as well as the privilege of dominium terrae limiting each other reciprocally from the double nature of man (body/earth spirit/sky). In Merkur's and Demeter's pleas (representing the weeping Terra) in Niavis, however, this balance appears completely destroyed. The charge is that without any respect, using tools like instruments of torture, man has destroyed his provider's living body for the sake of mere utility and profit. Man actually defends himself with the completely secularized Stoic argument that the earth is there for his sake and that he must exert great effort to wrest the things necessary for life away from this earth, who hides her treasures, step-mother like, within her. At this historical turning-point, a three-fold leavetaking occurs: from the earth as daedala tellus, from the earth as the mother's body, and from the aesthetic and ethical insight into the predestined wholeness of nature. This is replaced by technical instrumental labour and scientific knowledge. The earth becomes dead material, deanimated and anaesthetic.
If Terra's anti-technological arguments recall ancient reservations about mining, the reproach of torture makes one think back on Plato's reserve about forcing truth through experiment. Just as in astronomy one must deduce the invisible numerical relations of the cosmos not from appearances but through reason, so too one will not want to use violence to determine the harmony of the spheres like those who ªfrighten and torment´ the strings. (Plato uses here the words otherwise used for tortured slaves: Politeia, Zeta, 531b.) In keeping with this, in the pseudo-Virgil ªAetna´-poem (Line 404ff), even the experimental investigation of stone is compared to torture. In order to learn that it can spray fire, one must consult it with iron, and to learn that, like a tortured person, it can also give in, can even soften and prove itself timid, we force the spirits out of it with tormenting fire. As its pain sends off sparks, the stone divulges its nature, as if in confession. In dealing with the earth and the things of nature, this combination of ªexperiment and examination´ has a great future.
Indeed, Francis Bacon, the famous contemporary of Paulus Niavis, presents the modern experimental theory (which had, for example, already been practiced by Galilei) in his ªNovum Organum´. After Bacon, nature does not give up her secrets willingly. She must be irritated, pressured, forced, coerced, even tortured in experiment, so that like a witch under torture, she confesses her arcana to man. Bacon's natura vexata is an infuriated nature who divulges her answers when forced. Through methodical experimentation, on the other hand, man lays the groundwork for a mastery of nature and simultaneously for the wealth of the nation (which is also what is understood to legitimate scientific mining in Agricola). The earth is seen in terms of its usefulness for man. It is not an artist, but raw material to be appropriated. In its generative behaviour, it is not the model for a mimetic art and technology, but rather these are founded according to autonomous rules of production which absorb all knowledge. Kant takes up this modern trait in the famous passage in foreword to the ªCritique of Pure Reason´, where he writes ªthat reason only sees that which its own suggestion brings forth ... and must coerce nature to answer its questions.´ Principles of reason and experimental technology shield man from nature and allow him to confront it from a safe distance in the role of ªan appointed judge who compels the witnesses to answer the questions he puts to them.´ (KdrV B XIII.) One hears the analogy, in a milder tone, to early modern legal practice and its torture manuals, with which Francis Bacon was very well acquainted.
This is the background to Goethe's dictum, ªNature falls mute at torture.´ Extorted answers are another form of silencing, even of killing. In his embittered fight against Newton, Goethe had actually reproached ªexperimental philosophy´ with vivisecting Nature in experiment: ªThe living is dissected into elements, but it can not be reconstituted from these and brought back to life.´ Scientifically objective nature is for Goethe dead nature. To be sure, Goethe did not go so far as Niavis in Merkur's plea, where man is described as the murderer of nature (Johann Georg Hamann, on the other hand, repeats this accusation). But he did realize that empirical science gets under way by working on dead material. When Goethe locates the paradigm of analytical science in anatomy and mathematical physics, it means for him: the new sciences win their authority not through the study of the living organisms, but from dead bodies and inorganic material. On the other hand, he thoroughly failed to recognize the constructive character of the modern sciences. His view of the earth was not aimed at the question of what one could do with it and make from it (for human use); his interest was thus not of a technical kind. Rather, Goethe wanted to see natural science arranged like a ªgentle empiricism´, in which the researcher, with attentive senses, examines nature in such a way that she, almost as if in dialogue, shows herself of her own free will. Nature is for Goethe aistheton, that which is perceptible by living sense. There can be no mediation between technical and phenomenal science.
Although Goethe in no way overlooked the destructive powers of the earth and therefore considered a fighting self-preservation vital for humanity, he did bring nature and art closer to each other as much as possible: within the borders which are set by nature's force and which are to be set by humanity's force. Wanting to develop nature as another art and art ªlike a second nature´ has informative consequences. If nature is ªthe only artist´ as it says in the Tobler-fragment, this in no way means that art ought to imitate nature in an outward sense. Art must far more return to that intelligent action, ªto that reasonableness of which nature consists and according to which it acts.´ Art is thus art ªbecause it is not nature´, but at the same time remains ªon nature's track´. This is modern kind of thinking. Free with respect to the products of nature (of natura naturata) and therefore autonomous in this respect art is nevertheless the mimesis of natura naturans, its worldforming, procreative power and thus near to the potency attributed to Gaia. Precisely because art is farthest from ªNature as product´ (Schelling), and ªsprings from the heads of the greatest people, as Minerva did from Jupiter's´ and thus is the document of its unmediated (auto)poiesis precisely in this does art approach the effective power of nature (the formative as well as the chaotic).
ªThe beautiful´, it can therefore be said, ªis a manifestation of secret natural laws, which without its appearance would have been eternally hidden from us.´ Moreover: ªOne to whom Nature begins to disclose its obvious secret will feel an irresistible longing for its most worthy interpreter, art.´ Nature refers to art because art displays the latent qualities, the creativity of material. As human idiom, art is nature's interpreter in both senses of the word it both explains and translates.
This has consequences for Goethe's concept of natural science. If the work of art in its structure represents natura naturans, science finds the reverse, art in nature. For example, when Goethe transfers dissecting anatomy into a ªplastic anatomy´, so that the doctor will learn to understand the human body as an artwork, through the medium of sculptural experience. In the plastic anatomy of the doctor-artist, from the perspective of sesundus deus, the secret of the living flesh reveals itself. Goethe does zoology, botany and geology in the same way they are bodily based, in so far as a human being, the ªlargest and most exact physical instrument´ always moves in a world (aistheton) reconstructed through sensory recognition (aisthesis). When James Lovelock, on Gaia's trail, calls himself a ªgeophysiologist´, Goethe would have raised no objections to this neologism as a description of his research. The significant difference consists in the fact that Lovelock does not want, like Goethe, to deduce the life of the earth from the body, but with the help of the most complicated measurement technology, which is suitable for Gaia's hidden network. What for Lovelock is cybernetics in nature, was for Goethe the art of nature. The newest variation on the Gaia hypothesis consists in the plastic art of the earth being replaced by the ability of the computer.
In the sixties and seventies, while working on the NASA space projects, James Lovelock discovered, from an orbital perspective, the singularity of ªthe blue earth´, of life-giving Gaia. At the same time, from the perspective of the concrete metropolises in which nature threatened to disappear beneath the threshold of perception, artists like Walter de Maria, Robert Smithson, Richard Long, Michael Heizer and others were developing concept and land-art. Whether these parallel developments indicate a connection in terms of content has not yet been examined. In the meantime, art and science have recognized both the earth's vulnerability and its power, as well as the irrevocable unprotectedness of humanity despite the impressive state of civilized penetration and technical mastery of natural space. For Goethe, the insight that the theoretical degradation of nature and technical megalomania (Faust's seaproject) underestimates nature's power was the prerequisite for an alternative concept of art and science. Today, on the other hand, artists and scientists are practically caught up by such realizations because of the ecological crisis which is beginning to turn into a survival crisis for humanity. The Gaia hypothesis reacts to this scientifically, concept and land-art aesthetically. Is it possible that these two events refer to each other?
Just as the truth of Gaia cannot be located in the artificial world of large laboratories, neither can the art that corresponds to nature find its place in isolated museums, galleries, and ateliers. In such places nature is shut out with respect to the production and reception of the work and its experience is prevented. In the works of art which, according to the title of de Maria's works, can be collectively described as ªearth-works´ (de Maria often installs nothing but huge mounds of local earth), the earth, its forms and materials become present in a way that breaks with the tradition of the museum and of the handed-down concept of the work.
Land-art emphasizes particular moments of modern art while taking up, not always consciously, ancient traditions of natural philosophy which were most recently alive in the natural aesthetics of Goethe's time. Modern artworks also often reflect their own production processes. It is often overlooked that this reflexive turn, which exhibits the procedural aspect of the work, demonstrates the difference between natura naturata and natura naturans. As Goethe said, the reference to nature need not necessarily lie in copying the things of nature, but rather in the fact that the aesthetic process is understood as a return to nature's formative creativity. Therein lies the historic opportunity to still represent nature even beyond the imitation-doctrine, that is, while turning away from the figurative. William Turner's abstract landscape paintings were the first to attempt this fully. Nature is not present where it can be seen in pictures, but it can be felt as a moment of aesthetic productive power. The incorporation of the unintentional and random into the artwork (up to Jackson Pollock) can entirely be interpreted as a natural moment in the process of the work.
Secondly, in modern art materials themselves become an issue. The traditional relationship between art and material was Aristotelian: the artistic idea leaves its mark upon the meaningless material as logos spermatikos. In the Gaia tradition, however, we saw that there is an urge toward form immanent in the material, that the material itself has plastic power. In this way art's turning to its materials is to be understood as an aesthetic exploration of the mute language of materials. Works by de Maria, Long, Heizer but also Beuys or Rückriem with earth, gravel, sand, peat, minerals, granite, basalt, asphalt, metals, fat, and so on is thus a kind of aesthetic ªgeophysiology´. When natural materials become artworks by virtue of their texture, their structure, their formbuilding potential, their ªsense of plate´ and their rootedness in geological time, this demonstrates what Poseidonios called the sollertia of Nature. ªArt is Material´ (the title of a 1982 exhibition in Berlin): in the perspective of natural aesthetics, this means that art is the ªInterpreter´ (Goethe) of nature; it is the articulation of nature translated into the human idiom.
In de Maria's ªearth-works´, Robert Smithson's and Richard Long's conceptualistic land-art, even in the gigantic material movements of Michael Heizer or Joseph Beuys installations, the art processes are often like cult ceremonies, which reach their goal in the instant of their ritualistic completion: what remains as work is the memorial, the monument of an aesthetic gesture through which Gaia appeared, while the material traces of the work are often lost again through erosion and aging, that is to say, they are purposely given back to nature.
This is true, thirdly, for land-art in general. It is remarkable that with many of these works the artist retreats from the classical position of sovereignty with regard to his work. When objects are buried, so that soil, bacteria, and moisture can work on them; when wheather and the powers of erosion change or entirely annihilate the form of the work; or when a landscape's characteristic configurations of light and space become decisive for the shape of the work the traditional concept of authorship is dissolved along with that of the work. The former is not autonomous, the latter not closed, both give up art's old claim to eternity. Instead, art and nature become co-present: nature is accentuated in its co-activity which aceompanies every human act a dimension which is widely forgotten in the modern age. Exposing works of art to nature's effects to the point of destruction reminds us that eroding or catastrophic forces are the inclusive condition of all human labour. In the end, this means: the earth is unconquerable, not to be penetrated or dominated. It rejects not man in general, but man in his power-consciousness.
Fourth, in earth-art, the form of artistic labour changes. Art becomes work in nature, often in spaces far from civilization like deserts, salt lakes, and fallow fields, extinct areas of civilization which show history in transition to natural history. This requires both artist and observer to divest themselves of the pre-formed mode of urban perception of art. The necessary movements in the space around the work bring the whole body and all the senses into play; this changes one's perceptions of time, since weather, the seasons, daylight, even geologic eras are a part of what constitutes the conception and reception of the work. Indeed, simply walking in a landscape (as de Maria and Long have shown), with the ephemeral traces this leaves, may become a meditative ritual invoking silence, solitude, slowness. One plaves oneself in relation to the higher dimensions of a natural environment without human beings. So too Michael Heizer's movements of rock masses (240.000 tons of stone), which are possible only with the aid of the most modern technology: despite their gigantic size, when they are considered in the geohistorical configurations within which Heizer arranges them, they become recognizable as a marginal semiosis, barely scratching the body of the earth. In opposition to the appearance of human superiority in the high-tech age, such aesthetic works, undertaken in the name of the sublime, remind us that the disproportion between human-time and world-time (H. Blumenberg) remains as unbridgeable as that between the ultimately inaccessible earth-space and the cultural space implanted in it. Every human being is ephemeros in the pre-Socratic sense: in comparison to Gaia's space and time, we are fleeting, transitory living beings. It is precisely this which emphasizes what is special and precious about existence in nature. De Maria's ªEarthkilometer´ (documenta 6), a metal rod driven 1000 metres into the earth, is also a characteristic sign of this Gaia theory. This axis mundi, like Brancusi's ªEndless Column´, ªappears in myths as a world axis or tree of life, as a column supporting the sky or a ladder to heaven.´ Here too, art seeks to become a monument to Gaia and in such a way that human beings remain enveloped by her. Earth-art sets limits to human autonomy. The artists' goal is not to master natural history, but to locate a human space within it. In this they correspond to the Gaia hypothesis, if this hypothesis is concerned with using science to determine how work onghuman culture ought to look under Gaia's requirements. It could thus be that at the end of the twentieth century art and science, under the pressure of ecological crisis, are moving toward each other again as they did around 1800, in what was until now the last epoch of natural philosophy. The post-metaphysical age needs a new translation of Gaia.
Surprisingly, ªgeo-physical´ land-art finds an echo in a thinker who would not even remotely have thought of them: in Martin Heidegger's ªDer Ursprung des Kunstwerks´ (The Origin of the Work of Art). Art, according to Heidegger, ªstellt Erde her.´ What is this supposed to mean?
Herstellen definitely does not mean techne here, in the sense of: man makes (himself master of) the earth. On the contrary. The work of art, Heidegger believes, opens the earth as physis in the Greek sense of the word as an emerging and a rising. Earth is that which shelters humanity yet also closes itself off from humanity. In a work of art, something is set forth (by a human being) in such a way that the world that is opened through it is also set back to earth. What does this mean?
One can first recognize here the archaic formula which means man himself: he is also of the earth (grows from it) and becomes earth (he becomes dust). This is the earth's sheltering aspect in the double sense which is the flip side of the emergence of that which is contained by the earth (human social life in the world). The work of art produces and represents both. This is the meaning of the sentence: ªThe work allows the earth to be an earth.´
The articulation of the earth means earth neither as ªblood and soil´ nor as thing, planet, or physical object. The aspect of the earth which the artwork allows to emerge is rather that it reminds the earth, that is, for Heidegger: it allows the earth to appear in truth, raises it into the unhidden tnd unforgotten (alétheia). This illumination, however, is paradoxical: the earth is opened ªwhen it remains unentborgen and unexplained.´ Art is the work of human beings, in such a way that it is always rejected by the earth: ªThe earth thus causes any entry into it to meet with disaster. It transforms any merely calculated intrusion into destruction. While this intrusion may bear an appearance of mastery and progress in the form of a technical-scientific objectification of nature, such mastery remains a powerlessness of the will. The earth only appears openly as itself where it is preserved and protected as the essentially impenetrable, which retreats from every attempt at entry and thus maintains its permanent reserve. ´
It seems to me that Heidegger has described here certain typical characteristics of the concretization of nature in modern art (not only in land-art, but also in the art of Max Ernst, Paul Klee and Franz Marc) and has simultaneously named a difference between this art and the scientific Gaia-hypothesis. Gaia might, so goes the latent wish of the scientific geo-physiologists, reveal herself, in all her astounding life, as a mathematical figure. This is precisely renewed Plato: for Plato was the first to think of the secret of the world as a mathematical form accessible only to reason. The Gaia-hypothesis would thus be a form of metaphysical mathematics; even more so, if some chaos-theorists now identify chaos with nature. Land-art is, on the other hand, post-metaphysical in the Heideggerian sense. It represents the destructive dialectic of the earth and the controlling penetration of it with the result that the earth's significant uncontrollability becomes apparent and man experiences his inescapable powerlessness as a healing boundary. This would be the ªtruth´ of an art which ªallows the earth to be an earth,´ the truth of earth-works. It need not be the truth of art in general.