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Newton Harrison


Helen Mayer Harrison


Fourth Lagoon Module: on Mapping, Mixing and Territory part 2

Collage on canvas
49.5 x 86.5 in. (125.73 x 219.71 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation and the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation

During a period when artists such as Robert Smithson, Walter de Maria, and Nancy Holt were creating what became known as land art, Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison were developing work that presciently went beyond land as canvas to address ecological issues of biodiversity and sustainability. Their Lagoon Cycle series intended to change the world through multileveled engagement with environmental communities. The Fourth Lagoon Module examined linkages between food production and watersheds within a lagoon ecosystem, and proposed to rehabilitate the environment through ecologically focused work. As a starting point, the Harrisons researched the estuarine crab Scylla serrata as a potential sustainable food source by determining the breeding necessities of these creatures.

The work itself is an amalgamation of mechanical drawings, hand-tinted photographs, and overlaid handwritten text, combining aspects of blueprints with the feel of historical navigation maps. The largest of the three pieces composing this work, #2, demonstrates the detail and complexity the Harrison’s project involved.

The imagery and text of #1 shed light on the sheer magnitude of the Fourth Lagoon Module by describing proposed artificial life-support systems for crabs and mollusks, and elaborate fish farms in desert canals, plains, and seas. Adopting an aerial perspective, #3 provides an overview of the entire undertaking.

The Harrisons’ complex creative process demanded collaborating with local communities, scientists, and government agencies. Some passages in this work are underlined in red, indicating how elements were likely used as documents in public development and planning meetings. The Fourth Lagoon Module exemplifies the Harrisons’ metaphoric visual and verbal art as material informed by creative, intuitive, and situated knowledge emphasizing their intentions of transforming the land into a functional, living, and sustainable work of art.

Mark Lee-Koven

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