Decentering Land Art from the Borderlands: A Review of Through the Repellent Fence

Through the Repellent Fence. Sam Wainwright Douglas, director, 2017. Austin, Texas: Big Beard Films, 2017. Digital film, col. footage, 74 min.

I have a cynical take on land art, which indigenous people have been doing all along.
—Tania Williard1

From the opening shot of Sam Wainwright Douglas’s 2017 film Through the Repellent Fence, the artwork that is its central subject, The Repellent Fence/Valla Repelente (2015) is framed within an American Land art tradition.2 We are introduced to the work of the interdisciplinary collective Postcommodity, comprising Raven Chacon (Navajo), Cristóbal Martínez (Mestizo), and Kade L. Twist (Cherokee), only after encountering the crystal-sharp, low-angle aerial footage of Robert Smithson’s iconic Spiral Jetty (1970) amid sweeping views of the desolate Salt Lake desert where it is located.3 Following this breathtaking scan of Smithson’s best-known piece, the film surveys two other key earthworks from the late 1960s and early 1970s—Michael Heizer’s Double Negative (1969) and Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels (1974)—which, together with Smithson’s expansive sculpture, have garnered considerable art historical attention over the years, maybe even more than their fair share. All this, accompanied by an original soundtrack commissioned for Douglas’s film (reminiscent of Ry Cooder’s haunting score for Paris, Texas), precedes the film’s arrival at the snake-like US-Mexican border fence that is the site of Postcommodity’s work.4 In this sequence, the geopolitical barrier appears almost as another monumental cut or Land art installation in itself.

Swiftly, it becomes clear that The Repellent Fence, aside from a few superficial commonalities (e.g., linear form, multimile scale, American Western context), departs sharply from the canonical American Land art tradition. It would thus be reductive, and distorting, to view it first and foremost through the lens of Land art. That said, one of Douglas’s central directorial gestures is to bring the two into comparative relation, shifting between them throughout the feature-length documentary. Roughly two-thirds of the film is devoted to Postcommodity’s project, the rest to cinematic views of and spoken reflections on Land art, along with a brief detour to the ancient earth mounds created by ancestors of the Natchez peoples in what is now Mississippi.5 A number of questions are implicitly raised about the challenges and limits of interpreting indigenous land-based practices through the lens of contemporary Western ideations. For his part, Douglas seems to make the case that Land art—in an expanded sense—is not only broad enough to encompass The Repellent Fence, but also that it helped pave the way for bringing the land, and all its cultural inscriptions, into the purview of art. He pays homage to the now-canonical earthworks embraced in Western art history, while decentering them at the same time. We might adopt a somewhat more critical stance, however, whereby Postcommodity’s endeavor and 1960s–70s earthworks sit together less comfortably. The collective has been clear that Land art is not a primary reference point or target for its piece, which takes aim, more generally, at the “Western scientific worldview” and its tendency to construct borders “behind it or in front of it” wherever it goes, often involving the violent erasure of indigenous peoples and perspectives along the way.6 When refracted through The Repellent Fence, however, Land art’s complicity with—or even its status as a distilled expression of—precisely such a worldview becomes more apparent than ever.

We are introduced to Postcommodity in scenes of the artists at work on The Repellent Fence. First, they are in the field, testing one of twenty-six balloons, each ten feet in diameter and emblazoned with the “repatriated indigenous iconography” of an open eye, or what is now commonly known as a “scare eye” via its appropriated usage in a commercial product designed to deter birds from lawns and gardens. In time, this set of brightly colored inflatables will be floated fifty feet above the desert to form a two-mile, even-plane line that cuts perpendicularly across the US-Mexico border fence where it bisects the communities of Douglas, Arizona, and Agua Prieta, Sonora. In the next scene, Postcommodity is in the midst of one of, no doubt, countless board meetings undertaken to gain permission and support for its project. Martínez explains to one skeptical bureaucrat that it is not another fence that they are proposing, despite the piece’s title, but a temporary inscription meant to “flip the script, or to complicate the way we understand fences.” As such, it is intended to act more as a bridge, facilitating dialogue while also symbolically suspending, or repelling, the border fence by stitching the United States and Mexico back together into the shared indigenous homeland that the region is and has always been.

Through the Repellent Fence, 2017 (film still), dir. Sam Wainwright Douglas, 74 mins.

Throughout the film, we learn about The Repellent Fence through Postcommodity’s own words, and rightly so, for the artists’ fierce articulateness is matched by their obvious commitment to genuine and transformative exchange. To Douglas’s great credit, he also recognized early on that The Repellent Fence is the type of project especially deserving of a feature-length film to help convey its highly layered and extended process.7 Indeed, despite the piece’s culminating event lasting only four days, it was eight years in the making.8 In addition to various logistical hurdles, from cactus thorns and wind to the cost of helium and permits required, this duration was required to develop trust and collaboration among the communities involved as well as to broker the safety of the artists as they proceeded within an intensely weaponized landscape. Among others, Postcommodity worked closely with government agencies in the cities of Douglas and Agua Prieta, local school groups, landowners, NGOs, religious leaders, the US border patrol, and the Mexican consulate to bring the project to fruition. Before arriving to the transborder city of Douglas/Agua Prieta in 2012, by invitation, the group had already spent five years studying the borderlands and building relationships there in search of the right location. Namely, they sought a community mutually eager for the kind of “indigenous reimagined ceremony” they had in mind, intended “to serve as a catalyst for shifting bi-national discourses away from homeland security, neoliberalism, and drug cartels in order to a focus on more immediate quality of life issues like reconnecting families and cultures.”9

The Repellent Fence simultaneously denaturalizes and socializes the US-Mexico border, working against its common misrepresentation as an evacuated no man’s land. It draws our attention, instead, to the dense social relations and operations that characterize “the most geospatially contested area in [the] Hemisphere,” especially as they pertain to indigenous people, who are both divided by the border and erased from discourses about it, yet persist nonetheless.10 While Postcommodity has created other works that engage this same geography—most notably, A Very Long Line (2016), which was included in the 2017 Whitney Biennial—Chacon, Martínez, and Twist don’t consider themselves to be “border artists” per se.11 Rather, such pieces get at the structural and ongoing forms of dispossession tied to “the militarization of ancestral homelands,” wherein the border fence acts as a “filter of bodies and goods—a mediator of imperialism, violence, market systems, and violence capitalism.”12 The imposition of the border—which Postcommodity stresses is ephemeral, and therefore changeable—has led, for instance, to debates about citizenship in the immediate region being framed almost exclusively in terms of American versus Mexican, effacing the presence and identity of those who long predate the existence of either of these nation states.13 Postcommodity’s hovering countermonument, as already stated, shifts our frame of reference. From its vantage point, the respective beginning and ending of the United States and Mexico are obscured, while the artificiality of the border comes into focus. In summarizing his motivation for making the film, Douglas has said, “This is a border story that has not been told: indigenous artists giving voice to the shared history of indigenous people who have traveled back and forth for thousands of years, reminding the world that being indigenous does not stop at a border.”14

All of this, including its socially engaged orientation, seems a far cry from the comparatively static, rock- and concrete-based, individually attributed earthworks that appear in Douglas’s film as counterparts to The Repellent Fence. However, according to the specialists called in to speak on behalf of Land art—and Douglas could not have selected a more expert lot, as all have not only engaged with earthworks and their American Western context for many years, but also developed their own, groundbreaking creative practices stemming from such engagement—this earlier body of work, like an aperture, opened the way for further aesthetic contemplation of the landscape at large. Perhaps most succinctly, Matt Coolidge, the founder and director of the wildly ambitious and influential nonprofit organization-cum-artwork the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI), states:

I consider Spiral Jetty to be one of the great works of art, not because of its sculptural components, but for the ideas it represents. It’s really a point of embarkation. I see the Jetty as an important piece of land art, but mostly for what it enabled in terms of expanding the dialogue into an awareness of the potential for the entire landscape of the world to be valued in the same way that a picture on a wall in a museum is.15

A certain leveling is implied here, wherein earthworks are taken to be one among a range of other cultural artifacts, mostly of nonartistic origin, which are now of equal interest and importance to artists. (We can debate whether 1960s–70s Land art is to be credited for this, or the practices forged in its wake, including those of CLUI.) Chris Taylor, the director of the pedagogically inventive Land Arts of the American West program at Texas Tech University, goes further in defining Land art as “anything people do in the landscape,” or any form of “cultural expression” made in relation to the land.16 Much of the footage of iconic earthworks in the film, as it were, includes Taylor and his students clambering among them; we likewise glimpse the group at other sites on the roster of its annual two-month field course, such as the Kennecott open-pit copper mine and the Very Large Array, a futuristic-looking radio astronomy observatory. Elsewhere, Taylor has elaborated on the program’s methodological orientation: “If we’re going to study the landscape, we can’t just study the monument. It’s not productive to pick these things out of their contexts; we have to take in the entire frame.”17 Following this logic, the border is a feature of the built landscape—or even a piece of Land art—that demands to be scrutinized in all its site-specificity, including its entanglement with broader contexts. Clearly, in the case of this particular “monument,” whose purpose is to delineate the space of the nation-state, it also plays a profoundly consequential role in producing the context at hand.

A two-way expansion is posited by the film: canonical Land art is acknowledged as having contributed to ushering “the entire landscape of the world” into the domain of art, while, at the same time, the boundaries of this genre (and art more generally) are loosened to the point where it no longer resembles a neatly circumscribed or coherent category. Capturing this, the curator and critic Lucy Lippard—who, one could argue, has given more sustained and careful thought to recent and contemporary art and landscape in the American West than any other single figure and whose own work has increasingly widened its focus from Land art to land use—offers,

I never was very interested in defining art . . . particularly. I don’t like that kind of boundaries. I think if somebody does something kind of marvelous and it’s in the land, call it Land art. . . . Art is supposed to raise questions and jolt you and move into those gaps between art and life that people weren’t thinking about much and pry them open and make you see what’s going on in a place.18

Here, the tendency of art history and criticism to enclose, or hem in, aesthetic practices and gestures by way of classification and other interpretive overlays is called to alert. On a subtle level, then, the film draws a link between the construction of borders within the spheres of geopolitics and art.

From the vantage point of The Repellent Fence, as suggested at the start, 1960s–70s earthworks might, more skeptically, be read as an undiluted expression of settler colonialism, including its fundamental maneuver of claiming territory by erecting borders. With its prototypical slashes into the desert’s surface, in other words, canonical Land art arguably embodies and entrenches the logic of borders, moreover, doing so based upon the evacuation of indigenous realities and imaginaries. Postcommodity’s own stance on this body of work, which is articulated at multiple points in the film is, unsurprisingly, critical. Chacon, in particular, makes no bones about what he sees as Land artists’ propensity to be destructive to the earth and “to colonize different places they felt were theirs.” There is no doubt that the figure of the frontier, along with its underpinning myth of emptiness, factored heavily into this strain of art making. Indeed, Virginia Dwan, the preeminent gallerist who helped underwrite several iconic earthworks, once characterized the mood of early scouting expeditions to locate real estate upon which to execute outdoor artworks this way: “The idea of virgin land became very exciting in this context. . . . We had a terrifically pioneering feeling.”19 Rugged individualism, as a core tenet of American frontier ideology, is also transparently manifest in canonical earthworks, which have generally been portrayed (including by the artists who made them) as monumental gestures by individual creators, who, more likely than not, donned the requisite cowboy garb while going about their business. Even brief research reveals that palpable competition existed among Heizer, Smithson, and De Maria over who could claim to have arrived at the ideas and locations for earthworks ahead of the others.20 (Meanwhile, Holt and Dwan have been largely sidelined within narratives of the genre, as has been the significant degree of collaboration between artists.)21 The gendered dimension of Land art, with all of its obvious and latent machismo, remains external to Douglas’s evaluation. We might, though, ponder the comparative success of not only male earthwork artists, but also all- and predominately-male art collectives, including CLUI and Postcommodity, relative to their female counterparts, as one reflection of Land art’s likewise gendered reception.22

If a certain colonial attitude is characteristic of, or even structural to, Land art in the Western canon, what implications does this have for us now, as we revisit such work—whether in the classroom or by way of actual pilgrimages to the remote locations where it is sited? An appetite for iconic 1960s–70s earthworks obviously holds strong, if not having grown more ravenous, as evidenced in the rise of tourism around these pieces as well as the steady stream of “I went to Spiral Jetty” travelogues published in recent years, many of which possess a distinctly self-congratulatory tone.23 (I don’t exclude myself from this trend, having personally made the trek to most of the must-sees on the bucket list; indeed, I am writing this critique to myself as much as to anyone else.) On such art trips, self-reflexivity is often traded for an un-critical indulgence in the romance of the frontier, with all its trappings of rugged remove and discovery, despite the fact that we know full well—thanks to the work of scholars including Jane McFadden and Miwon Kwon—that Land art from the 1960s was already thoroughly enmeshed in media and market systems alike.24 Taken further, contemporary celebrants of canonical Land art, at least those who leave the illusion of an unpeopled hinterland unturned and intact, reproduce the same kind of colonial vanishing trick enacted by Land artists themselves. Lest this begins to smack of hand-wringing, let me just say: one thing that The Repellent Fence, and indigenous land-based practices, more generally, offer is to make us less comfortable about Land art. In his excellent analysis of Postcommodity’s work, Matthew Irwin identifies “no man’s land” as a concept constructed by “an ongoing colonial process,” or that is continually stabilized through a series of evacuations.25 One outcome of Douglas’s film bringing canonical earthworks and The Repellent Fence into the same frame is to make stark the contrast between those practices that serve largely to center the fictive, lone heroic subject (the pioneer, if you will)—performing any erasures necessary to this end—and those that put existing communities and cultures at the center.

Through the Repellent Fence, 2017 (film still), dir. Sam Wainwright Douglas, 74 mins.

In a discussion following the premiere of Through the Repellent Fence at the Museum of Modern Art in February 2017, Twist, a curricular head for Otis College’s art and social practice program, aligned Postcommodity’s piece with socially engaged art. He stressed, as the collective has elsewhere, the group’s interest in sparking nuanced conversations around highly polarizing subjects, like the borderlands, which are characterized by “lots of gray and lots of complexity in that gray” as opposed to any semblance of black and white.26 At various points in the film, the artists raise a number of telling questions: how to create prompts that disarm rather than arm? Around which community might members respond with self-determination? Or, “What happens when the [US] Department of the Interior loses its monopoly on . . . story and place?” Along with the pluralization of debates, one of their core aims is clearly to help wrest and redistribute the power to articulate place. Although Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s 2005 public artwork, The Gates, is cited as a reference point, a number of recent art projects seem far more proximate based on their shared dialogical orientation, long-term engagement, and emphasis on specific contested geographies. The architect Teddy Cruz, for example, staged a series of conferences and field tours between 2005 and 2011 under the heading The Political Equator, which explored material and labor flows across the border between San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico.27 In 2011 the Boston-based collective the Institute for Infinitely Small Things (IIST), led by Catherine D’Ignazio, generated a multitentacle project, The Border Crossed Us, focused on a particular segment of the US-Mexico border fence in southern Arizona, one that “divides the Tohono O’odham indigenous community along seventy-five miles of their reservation, disrupts ceremonial paths, desecrates sacred burial grounds and prevents members from receiving critical health services.”28 In addition to installing a reproduction of this infrastructure on the campus of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, IIST hosted a roster of events led by representatives of the Tohono O’odham tribal community, probing the sociopolitical dynamics of borders as well as the relation between seemingly distant locales.

While Postcommodity believes that a closer alignment exists between its own work and social practice art than with Land art, it is also deeply wary of many projects of this breed on the basis of their similar tendency to import outsiders for fleeting, and thus often trivial and exploitive, interactions: “It’s a colonial model, very paramilitary, to parachute artists into a community for two weeks and then leave the community holding the bag,” Martínez has noted.29 The origin, stakes, and intended effects of The Repellent Fence—underscored by the many months of community engagement leading up to a piece of earthwork scale, but which lasted for only a few days and left behind no physical imprint on the land—reflect a very different center of gravity, namely what they describe as indigenous self-determination.30 The group is moreover intensely alert to the potentially extractive nature of cultural production, including the perpetual threat of cooptation and instrumentalization. Chacon, Martínez, and Twist choose their words carefully and open language to constant reevaluation, for instance, circling back on and questioning particular terms in the midst of conversation. In a 2017 interview, as one example, Martínez expressed the risk of the term “indigenous” itself being used as “another lever for cultural resource extraction,” or to ultimately advance hegemonic discourses.31 (He has likewise raised flags about “decolonization,” an obvious buzzword du jour.)32 Such precision reflects the artists’ commitment to “mediate complexity, not to simplify it” as well as their extraordinary savvy in resisting various forms of enclosure, including reductive categorizations such as “indigenous art,” “border art,” “Land art,” and so on.33

Just as Postcommodity’s practice challenges us to wrangle with a whole set of thorny questions pertinent to the sphere of contemporary art and far beyond it, Douglas’s film—by contextualizing the collective’s work within the American Land art tradition—destabilizes a number of commonly held art historical assumptions. Whether fully intentional or not, and never quite resolved in the film, the director’s evident grappling with how to bring The Repellent Fence and canonical earthworks from the 1960s–70s into relation is itself a powerful impetus for conversation, in sync with Postcommodity’s artistic intentions. As such, his documentary not only relays a highly layered and timely contemporary artwork to the wide art and non-art audiences that it deserves, but also provides a rich tool for the classroom. The urgency of Postcommodity’s project has only heightened since it was completed two years ago. While the US-Mexico border has long been a locus of cultural and geopolitical struggle, it has come under renewed limelight with President Trump’s calls for banning immigrants and completing a wall to run along its almost two-thousand-mile length (currently, only 650 miles are built). Aside from the obvious relevance of this subject matter, The Repellent Fence arrives at a moment when indigenous cultural practices—from activism (e.g., at Standing Rock) to art making by a “generational vanguard of Native artists that has refused to be ghettoized or confined to identity politics or traditional mediums”34—are becoming more visible within Western art and academic contexts.

My primary reservation about Through the Repellent Fence lies in its tone, especially that struck at the conclusion. In the final scenes, we witness Postcommodity in the field with a large crew of friends, collaborators, volunteers, and family members, sending up its helium-filled installation after days of near sabotage from high winds. It is irresistibly, and befittingly, moving, not least for the artists’ multiyear commitment and raw elation at the culmination of their efforts. More significantly, it is a feat of community-driven self-determination, of people reinscribing memory on the land. As Twist recounts, gripped with emotion, “When that last balloon went up, I mean, it was the best experience I’ve ever had . . . to acknowledge a person, a land, a community, and the cultures of the people here.” The tone is one of triumph, underscored by the levity of the color-saturated orbs swaying high above the desert floor. As my artist companion at the premiere of the film encapsulated, “That was the best feel-good movie ever.”

Through the Repellent Fence, 2017 (film still), dir. Sam Wainwright Douglas, 74 mins.

While I am all for the full-swing celebration of Postcommodity’s Repellent Fence, I am also for confronting the ways that this piece complicates the way we think about the history of western Land art and maybe Western art history altogether. Douglas is generous to both iconic American earthworks, which were apparently his original subject, and his ultimate protagonist, The Repellent Fence. But I’m not sure that it’s entirely possible to have “our” cake and eat it, too. How do we, as art historians, critics, curators, and artists, reconcile the canonical western Land art tradition with indigenous land-based practices? No, not that. How do we contend with their ultimate irreconcilability as well as instances where they rub up against each another? How do we begin to deal with the “problem” of Land art, for instance by teaching it in ways that trouble, rather than uphold, its claims to genius, autonomy, and (white male) mastery? What happens when earthworks lose their monopoly on the story of Land art? How do we simultaneously rise to the challenge of interpreting a piece like The Repellent Fence without flattening it, keeping in mind that it is not meant, first and foremost, for “us,” but for the people of Douglas and Agua Prieta? How do we become sensitized to the often unconscious, ongoing forms of colonization reflected in our own scholarship and teaching, including the frequent tendency to impose, encircle, simplify, lay claim, instrumentalize, and so on, as a means to consolidate power?

The open eye/“scare eye,” with its double and incongruous cultural meanings, here comes to mind as a potentially penetrating, if elusive, iconographic tool. Representing an always watchful and attentive gaze, in many indigenous cultures it also symbolizes accountability. As usurped into the alien function of warding off unwanted avian “pests,” it takes on a somewhat more ominous cast, evoking something more like surveillance. Perhaps both of these connotations, while running counter to one another, have a role in reminding us to remain alert. Resistant to being pinned down, the eye looks back and unsettles in the process. We might read it as a call to hold space for the irreducible and incommensurate even as it decenters us at the same time.

Through the Repellent Fence will be broadcast on America ReFramed Season 6, Episode 9 beginning April 24, 2018.

Emily Eliza Scott is an interdisciplinary scholar focused on art and design practices that engage pressing (political) ecological issues, often with the intent to actively transform real-world conditions. She is also a core participant in two long-term, collaborative art projects: the Los Angeles Urban Rangers (2004-) and World of Matter (2011-). Currently a postdoc in the architecture department at ETH Zurich, she holds a PhD in contemporary art history from UCLA, and will begin a joint professorship in the history of art & architecture and environmental studies at the University of Oregon in fall 2018. Her writings have appeared in Art Journal, American Art, Third Text, The Avery Review, Field, and Cultural Geographies as well as multiple edited volumes and online journals; her first book, Critical Landscapes: Art, Space, Politics, coedited with Kirsten Swenson, was published by UC Press in 2015. At present, she is developing a monograph on contemporary art and geological imaginaries, a coedited volume on art, visual culture, and climate change, and new courses on Land art, Anthropocene debates, and urban ecological design. Before entering academia, she spent nearly a decade as a U.S. National Park Service ranger in Utah and Alaska.

  1. Tania Williard, “BUSH Gallery: Contemporary Art, Language, and Community,” paper presented at the CAA annual conference as part of “Indigenous Resurgent Practices” panel, New York, NY, February 2017.
  2. At the time of the author’s viewing of the film and production of this essay, its official title was Through the Repellent Fence: a Land Art Film. Douglas subsequently informed the Reviews Editor of Art Journal that he’d dropped the subtitle—a move relevant to the analysis offered here—although no further explanation was given. Email to Kirsten Swenson, August 22, 2017.
  3. Presumably filmed using a drone, this opening aerial footage is a likely nod to that shot from a hovering helicopter in Smithson’s film, Spiral Jetty (1970).
  4. Paris, Texas, dir. Wim Wenders (1984), 2 hrs. 30 mins.; Cooder’s soundtrack was released by Warner Brothers.
  5. The earth mounds at Natchez provide an implicit link between monumental earthworks and indigenous land-based practices. For the art historian, they also bring to mind the 1983 book Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory by Lucy R. Lippard—one of the specialists who appears later in the film. Her own account in Overlay, as the title suggests, contextualizes late twentieth-century Land art within a time span reaching back to the prehistoric, although Rosalind Krauss’s interpretation of Land art relative to a postmodern rupture from modernism has become a rather more dominant reading. Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” October 8 (Spring 1979): 30–44.
  6. In a Skype interview with the author on April 10, 2017, Postcommodity clarified that “it was never our goal to be subversive in relation to canonical Land art.” Toward the end of the film, Twist also offers, “The longer that we’ve worked on this piece and been down in the trenches together, it reached a point to where I didn’t see the relevancy of Land art as I once did. And I didn’t see this piece as being part of the canon of Land art, aesthetically or conceptually.”
  7. It is worth noting that Sam Wainwright Douglas’s best-known previous film profiles a similarly ambitious and community-oriented endeavor, the Alabama-based radical educational design/build program known as Rural Studio. See Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural, 2010, 57 mins, website:
  8. As recounted in numerous interviews and articles, the initial idea that led to The Repellent Fence was hatched in 2007; the piece culminated in a four-day event in October 2015. Postcommodity notes that the event’s four-day timeframe aligns with the temporality of many ceremonies within their respective cultures. See, for example, Jenny Gill, “The Repellent Fence Story, as told by Postcommodity,” Creative Capital blog, October 15, 2017, at; “Artist Talk + Op-Ed Launch: Postcommodity,” Walker Art Center, March 10, 2017, at; and an interview with Postcommodity in Art21 Magazine, February 4, 2016, at, as of March 28, 2018.
  9. Gill.
  10. The quote is from the film, as stated by Martínez.
  11. A Very Long Line was crafted from footage gathered during the making of The Repellent Fence. More specifically, its concept emerged from the artists’ experimentation with this prior documentation, which was then re-shot in spring of 2016 according to their needs for the 2017 Whitney Biennial installation. Email to the author, December 14, 2017.
  12. Description of A Very Long Line, Postcommodity website,, as of March 28, 2018.
  13. Gross distortions, or perversions, have ensued from this geopolitical-discursive overlay, as captured in a series of barbed questions written by Postcommodity in a recent piece: “Now, how the fuck does an indigenous people who descended from a magnificent history become labeled ‘illegal’ and ‘alien’ while remaining a part of their own sacred ancestral continent? . . . And why does being ‘Native’ often cease to exist south of the US/Mexico border? . . . How did so many Native Americans come to look upon their southern cousins through the culturally chauvinistic pride born of US capitalism and racism?” Postcommodity, “2043: No Es Un Sueño,” Walker Art Center Artist Op-Eds, 2017, at, as of March 28, 2018.
  14. As quoted in Liz Calvario, “Through the Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film Trailer Stitches Together the US and Mexico’s Border With Art,” Indiewire (Jan. 30, 2017):
  15. For more on CLUI, see, in particular, its main website at; and Overlook: Exploring the Internal Fringes of America with the Center for Land Use Interpretation, ed. Matthew Coolidge and Sarah Simons (New York: Metropolis Books, 2006).
  16. For more on the Land Arts field program, see, as of March 28, 2018; and Bill Gilbert and Chris Taylor, Land Arts of the American West (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 2009). I wish to thank Chris Taylor for speaking with me on June 30, 2017. His review of James Crump’s 2015 documentary on Land art, “Troubling Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art,” Art Journal 75, No. 2 (Summer 2016): 88–91, is also highly pertinent to my own.
  17. Taylor quoted in Liz Janoff, “Land Arts of the American West: Creating a New Framework for Field Research,” Art & Education School Watch (September 6, 2017), at, as of March 28, 2018.
  18. Lippard’s growing focus on land use is evident in her latest book, Undermining: A Wild Ride through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West
    (New York: the New Press, 2014).
  19. Dwan quoted in Elizabeth Childs, “Robert Smithson and Film: The Spiral Jetty Reconsidered,” Arts Magazine 56 (October 1981): 71. As footnoted in Childs’s text, Dwan’s quote is taken from an unpublished interview in Florence Rubenfeld, “Robert Smithson” (master’s thesis, Goddard College, 1975), 25.
  20. Smithson’s prolific writing about emergent land-based practices in the 1960s–70s might be read as a discursive territorializing of the field; see especially, Smithson, “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects,” Artforum, September 1968, 44–50, which served as a manifesto for the exhibition that he and Dwan cocurated at the Dwan Gallery in October 1968, entitled Earth Works. According to Dwan, Heizer was the first artist to create “earthworks” in the desert. The critic Calvin Tomkins likewise recounted: “One day in 1968, weary of New York and its dead art, Heizer flew out to Nevada and began to work on a piece called NESW. . . . Robert Scull financed Heizer’s extremely productive summer of 1968, which he spent in various desert regions in Nevada.” Calvin Tomkins, “Onward and Upward with the Arts: Maybe a Quantum Leap,” New Yorker, February 5, 1972, 42–57. Meanwhile, in a 1972 interview with Paul Cummings, Walter De Maria claimed that he was the first artist to think of making artworks on the land in remote locations, partly inspired by a road trip he and Heizer had taken together in 1967. Cummings, oral history interview with Walter De Maria, October 4, 1972, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
  21. See Emily Eliza Scott, “Group Pioneering: Robert Smithson’s and Circle’s Early Forays to the Field,” in Architecture and Field/work, ed. Suzanne Ewing, Jérémie Michael McGowan, Chris Speed, and Victoria Clare Bernie (New York: Routledge, 2011), 43–55.
  22. For more on women and land-based artistic practices, see, in particular, Kris Timken’s excellent new book, The New Explorers: Making Meaning in the 21st Century American Landscape (Oakland: Conveyance Press, 2015).
  23. For example, see Nico Israel, “Non-Site Unseen: How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” Artforum, Summer 2002, at, as of March 28, 2018; and Heidi Julavits, “The Art at the End of the World,” New York Times Magazine, July 7, 2017, at, as of March 28, 2018.
  24. See Jane McFadden, “Toward Site,” Grey Room 27 (Spring 2007): 36–57; and Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon, “Ends of the Earth and Back,” in Ends of the Earth: Art of the Land to 1974, ed. Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon (Los Angeles and New York: Museum of Contemporary Art and Prestel, 2012), 17–31.
  25. Matthew Irwin, “Suturing the Borderlands: Postcommodity and Indigenous Presence on the U.S.-Mexico Border,” InVisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture, May 6, 2017, at, as of March 28, 2018. Irwin’s astute and in-depth insights into the “no man’s land” construct, especially as it relates to the US-Mexico border, resonate with the work of many indigenous scholars who likewise draw attention to the ways that structures of settler colonialism (e.g., invasion, erasure, dispossession) are far from historically bracketed, but continue to be reproduced across all manner of spectrums.
  26. From the author’s notes taken during post-screening discussion with the director and artists. Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 19, 2017.
  27. Project blog at, as of March 28, 2018; Dongsei Kim in Critical Landscapes: Art, Space, Politics, ed. Emily Eliza Scott and Kirsten Swenson (Berkeley: UC Press, 2015), 179–81.
  28. Project page, Institute for Infinitely Small Things, at, as of March 28, 2018.
  29. Martínez quoted in Crystal Migwans, “About Place: An Interview with Postcommodity,” Miami Rail, Winter 2016, at, as of March 28, 2018.
  30. In addition to Postcommodity’s many writings, interviews, and artists’ talks that speak to this, see Mark Watson, “Centring the Indigenous: Postcommodity’s Trans-Indigenous Relational Art,” Third Text 29 no. 3 (2015): 141–154.
  31. Skype interview with the author on April 10, 2017. In a 2017 podcast, Postcommodity elaborated on its aim of complicating indigenous discourse “away from its commodified present.” Art Practical Audio: (un)making episode 7: Postcommodity, March 29, 2017, at, as of March 28, 2018. The collective has not been shy to engage in controversial debates about indigenous cultural identity, including Twist’s participation in the current protests over the artist Jimmie Durham’s claimed status as a Cherokee (he is one of ten signatories to a recently published and widely circulated letter calling out Durham as a phony); see “Dear Unsuspecting Public, Jimmie Durham Is a Trickster,” Indian Country Today, June 26, 2017, at, as of March 28, 2018.
  32. Little detail is provided about the basis of Martínez’s resistance to “decolonization,” beyond it signaling a “turning back” instead of forward. Martínez in unpublished interview with Matthew Irwin on October 26, 2015, cited in Irwin, “Suturing,” n.p.
  33. Postcommodity, artist talk at the Walker Art Center on March 10, 2017, at, as of March 28, 2018.
  34. Lucy R. Lippard, “Postmodern Ambush,” Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry 39 (Summer 2015): 14.