Humans and the Earth: MCA’s ‘a body measured against the earth’

By Fiona Moran
Staff Reporter


‘a body measured against the earth’ is open until April 7, 2019 at the Museum of Contemporary Art \.

Tucked into the fourth floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Carol and Douglas Cohen Gallery is a small space, only about 25 by 30 feet in dimension. The room opens right on top of the winding staircase that connects all of the museum’s main gallery floors, with a four storey high art installation anchored to the ceiling just outside the entrance. The exhibit’s title lettering is just outside the entrance, followed by artworks hung going down the hall. Two of the pieces on the outside corner wall mark the edge of the small exhibit, too big to fit into the actual room.

Inside the gallery, Northwestern University freshman Sebin Bok sits on the lone bench in the center and watches a film being projected onto the rightmost corner of the gallery walls.

The film, titled “Swamp,” is a visual exercise done by the artists Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson in 1971. Holt tries to navigate a dense New Jersey marsh only looking through the camera, and Smithson tries to guide her with instructions.

While some art patrons said that they couldn’t watch the film all the way through because it made them dizzy, Bok said that she found the film relatable and that it reminded her of her childhood adventures.

“There were, like, segments of my life where I would go into these little pockets of nature and just…push myself to be part of it,” Bok said. “I did that all throughout high school..and sometimes I’d find the craziest pieces of art. Like, vases, like that beautiful vases in the middle of nowhere…letters, engravings…mementos of people’s lives.”

The exhibition is titled, “a body measured against the earth,” and it showcases artworks from the ‘60s to the present day on the subject of how human beings interact with and become a part of their environment through their bodies.

The exhibit opened Aug. 21, 2018 and will run until April 7, 2019. It was curated and organized by Jared Quinton, a Marjorie Susman Curatorial Fellow and writer and critic for several art publications.

The exhibition contains works from 13 artists, predominantly from North American backgrounds, in a variety of mediums including mud paint, photography, etchings, maps, film and digital video.


Each piece was selected as an example of how art and artists interact with and become a part of the landscape and ecosystem in which it was made. The title is derived  from a snippet in eco-feminist writer Rebecca Solnit’s book “Wanderlust: A History of Walking.” “Walking…is how the body measures itself against the earth.”

According to the exhibition’s description on the MCA website, the centerpiece and main inspiration for the collection is Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta’s “earth works.” Three photographs from her “Silueta” series are displayed on the left hand side of the doorway next to the exhibit’s title lettering, serving as a focal point for the exhibit. Right next to them is a digital video of a naked Guatemalan woman standing still in a meadow while an industrial excavator rips the ground out from around her.

Inside, next to the film “Swamp”, is a photograph of Lake Mead that looks like it could have been taken on Mars. In each of the artworks’ descriptions, the placard details how the artist made the piece, oftentimes describing the physical movements the artists did to produce the art.

Georgina Valverde, an artist and art educator who worked at the MCA during the ‘90s, pointed out how the artworks were interacting in time as well, with the newer pieces displayed alongside the works from the ‘60s and ‘70s that pioneered the genre.

“It’s a theme that’s been, I mean, it’s not just earth works from the ‘60s and ‘70s…there’s always been landscape painting… but these pieces are different because of how much they insert the body into the landscape,” Valverde said.


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