The monumental tradition in sculpture can be traced back to the earliest stone and earth works of man made art in the earliest periods of human history. This tradition has historically pitted humans against nature, in a dialectical struggle to control, master and ultimately imitate nature. The modern traditions of monumental sculpture from Rodin’s masterpieces to 1960s Land art and more recent grand public art projects in the image of Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc, can in many ways be seen to contain elements of this dialectic punctuated by moments of rupture and discontinuity. As we become more aware of the disastrous impact of the global environmental and political- economic crisis we are confronted with the need to question notions of monumentalism for our time.
The curatorial framework of the Verbier 3-D Sculpture Park Residency programme 2011 was an invitation to artists to respond to this challenge. The location of the park, at an altitude of over 2300 metres within the mountain peaks of the Swiss Alps, posed this challenge in a very direct way. The challenge the artists in this project faced was how to make sculpture in the shadow of the unparalleled monumentalism and sublime beauty of the mountain range in Verbier. Faced with such extreme conditions at high altitude the curatorial framing of Go Tell it On the Mountain urged artists to rethink traditions of monumentalism in ways that contest notions of mastery and control of nature and urged them to engage more modest sculptural projects that ‘work with’ the mountain in a new dialogue between art, nature and community. The following open-ended questions were used as a starting point of reflection for the artists:
How can artists and art practices respond to the challenge of environ- mental sustainability in such extreme conditions?
Are the grand narratives of monumentalism, triumph over adversity and conquest of nature still relevant in an age of global conflict and potential environmental catastrophe?
Is monumental sculpture an appropriate method or scale to engage diverse local communities?
What is the relationship of human to mountain, art to environmentalism?
How can a sculpture park articulate the historical and the contemporary within a framework that addresses current issues of relevance to local mountain communities as well as global environmental politics?