Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory 9781565842380, 1565842383

Back in print, Overlay is Lucy Lippard’s classic book on contemporary art and its connection to prehistoric sites and sy

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Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory
 9781565842380, 1565842383

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ART AND CON TEMPORARY THE ART OF PREHISTORY

LUCY

R./LIPPAR

Overlay

Also by the author The Graphic Work

of Philip Evergood

Pop Art Surrealists

on Art

Dadas on Art

(editor)

(editor)

Changing: Essays in Art Criticism Six Year:

From

The Dematerialization

of the Art Object

the Center: Feminist Essays on

.

.

.

Women's Art

Eva Hesse Tony Smith I

See/You

Mean

(novel)

Ad Reinhardt Get the Message?

A

Different War:

Mixed Blessings: Partial Recall:

A Decade

Vietnam

of Art for Social

Change

in Art

New Art in

a Multicultural America

Photographs of Native North Americans (editor)

The Pink Glass Swan: Selected Feminist Essays on

Art

Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory

by Lucy R. Lippard

The

New

Press

k^-4 New York

©

1983 by Lucy R. Lippard

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher.

All rights reserved.

reproduced in this book is copyrighted by the artists. Small portions of this book have appeared previously, primarily the following: "Quite Contrary: Body, Nature and Ritual in Women's Art (Chrysalis, no. 2. 1977); "Body, House, City, Civilization. Journey" (Dwellings, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1978); "Complexes: Architectural Sculpture in Nature" (Art in America, Jan. -Feb. 1979); "Back Again" (West of West: Ancient Monuments in Ireland, travelling exhibition, England. 1979-1980); "Gardens: Some Metaphors for Public Art" (Art in America, Oct. 1981); "Breaking Circles: The Politics of Prehistory" (in Robert Hobbs, ed., Robert Smithson:

All original art

Sculpture, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1981).

ISBN 1-56584-213-8 Library of Congress Catalog Card

Number 94-80036

Published in the United States by The New Press, New York Distributed by W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York

W

Established in 1990 as a major alternative to the large, commercial publishing houses. The New Press is the first full-scale nonprofit American book publisher outside of the university presses. The Press is operated editorially in the public interest, rather than for private gain; it is committed to publishing in innovative ways works of educational, cultural, and community value that, despite their intellectual merits, might not normally be commercially viable. The New Press's editorial offices are located at the City University of New York.

Typographic design by Sara Eisenman Production management by Kim Waymer Printed in the United States of America

95

96

97

98

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

1

.

1

:

This book

is

dedicated to

"family" at Ashwell



Farm

my in

South Devon to Janet and Robert and Richard Boyce. to Rex and Peter Kneebone. Genny Clark, and not least to the memory of Gnasher the black and white sheep dog who shared all my adventures; to my son Ethan Ryman. whose time at Ashwell produced growth and change, and to Charles Simonds. who has contributed much to my understanding of the ties between art and myth. Finally to Ashwell Farm itself, and the land surrounding it. where I walked daily the real ground on which this book is built.





Contents

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments

Introduction

Stones 1

\

\

\

ix

xiv

1

15

Feminism and Prehistory 41 \

The Forms of Time: Earth and Sky, Words and Numbers Time and Again: Maps and Places andJourneys Ritual 1

159

Homes and Graves and Gardens \197 Notes

|

243

Further Reading

Index

I

259

\

253

\

121

|

77

List of Illustrations Color Plates

Stones

Christine Oatman. Icicle Circle and

1

2.

Judy Varga, Geometry

of

Echoes

Converge

Mary Beth

4.

Charles Simonds, Duelling

5.

Dennis Oppenheun. Whirlpool: Eye of

Edelson. Fire Ring

the Storm

Michelle Stuart. Stone Alignments/

Solstice Cairns 7.

Water

divinity. Lepenski Vir

Peter Kiddle.

Chalk qoddess. Grimes Graves. England

8.

Ana Mendieta.

9.

"The Sanctuary." Dartmoor

Silueta de cohetes

Votive stone. Japan

3.4.

3B. Francesc Torres. Culture

Is Society's

Erection -/

Mary Beth

5.

African stone monument. Nigeria

6.4.

RainDough

The Great Anatolian

Egg-Temple 2.

3.

6.

1A.

IB. Faith Wilding.

Fire

Edelson. Turning into Stone

Natural stone "sculpture." China

66. Stone from Kermario rows, Brittany 7.

Carl Andre. Stone Field Sculpture

8.

Stone rows, Kermario. Brittany

9.

Long Stone. Dartmoor

10.

Standing Stones ofStcnness. Scotland

11.

The R ng of B rodga r.

12.

Stone rows, near Camac. Brittany

10B. Michael McCaJferty. Stone Circles

13.

Silbury Hill, Wiltshire

11.

La Roche aux

12.

Chun

13.

Seip

i

O rk ney

10A. Stone circle. Er Lunnic. Brittany

Introduction l-i.

fees,

western France

Quoit. Cornwall

Mound. Ohio

Maiiene Creates. Paper over the

1.

Stone Rou

2.

The Ring ofBrodgar. Orkney

/5.

Maiden

3.

Robert Morris, Untitled. Documenta

16.

Charles Simonds. Niagara Gorge

4.

Cup-and-ring marks. Achnabreck,

IT A. Margaret Hicks. Hicks Mandate

.

Dartmoor

Scotland

Turlough

Hill

Cairn

Castle. Dorset

17B. Grace Bakst Wapner, 38

Oatman.

5.

Christine

6.

Dennis Oppenheim. Star Skid

Star Rise

lbs.

18.

Chris Jennings. Castle Rigg

19.

Stonehenge, Wiltshire

Bronze Age

20. Chris Jennings,

#4

21. Robert Smithson, Slate Circles 22. N.E.

Thing

HE. Dennis Oppenheim, .

.

.

Co., Piles

Dennis Oppenheim, Rocked Hand

12.

23A, B. Robert Smithson, Broken Circle/

23C. "Hun's Bed," Drenthe, Holland

#28

24. Michelle Stuart,

Compass

ISA. Michael McCafferty, Body

Graham Metson,

13B.

Spiral Hill

Relocated Burial

Ground

Rebirth

14 A, B. Charles Simonds,

Landscape»*">"

IIS;**-"'

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Three faces of engraved bone from c. 6500 B.C. According to Alexander Marshack, this is a record of lunar markings. 12.

Ishango, Congo,

678E910

1*1 512 Jf01112 .'-23*567

13 A.

Mary

Fish.

Day 15—14

2131*1 789101 15123* 111213 *56789

Stones.

1974. Pencil on paper. 8" x 10". From Twenty-Eight Days, an artist's book documenting menstrual ritual performed daily on

13B.

Doheny State Beach.

Mary

!

Ferrer)

California.

6789101112131*1512346678910111213 1*15123*56789101112131*15123*5678 9101112151*15123*567189101112131*1^123*56789101112131*15123*5678910 1112131*15123*56789^01112131*1512 5*56789101112131*15123*5678910111 '3*56789101112131*15123*5 >789101112131*15123* 5678910111213 1101112131*15123*5678 )101112131*15123*56789101112131*1 "6789101 112131^1512345678910111213141512345678910111213141512 __ —. ih 3X*J U^34 56789 1 111121 3 1 * 1 5 1 234 5_ 1 ;

Fish.

Twenty-Eight Days.

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1974. Doheny State Beach. California.

13A.

.

..

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33

The moon may have been studied by early astronomers besun because its monthly cycles were more closely attuned to organic life and concurred with early matriarchal beliefs; its effect on the tides would also have been crucial to the early British and Scandinavians (and, to a lesser degree, to the Mediterranean peoples). Grange").

fore the

Today,

all

over the world, people are

cal clocks of survival. 34

eclipses,

worms,

fish, plants

A Japanese sunspots,

scientist's

the

earth's

still

closely attuned to the biologi-

and animals on which they depend for research into the relationships between magnetic field, and body chemistry

suggests that "we may be on the threshold of discovering new biological responses that made eclipse prediction so important to the ancients." 35

The

British philosopher John Addey has developed a harmonic theory of sex determination and birth dates according to lunar/menstrual cycles and has suggested that this was known in prehistory. If, as Alexander

Marshack proposes, the repeated scratches and notches found on stones and bones from the Paleolithic era are "time-factored" and therefore the first calendars, there would have been several millennia for such knowledge to develop. Much more recent lunar calendar sticks have been found among the Pawnee and Biloxi Indians in North America. The Hopi ceremony Mdrawu, which occurs in October, is a fertility ritual in which

*

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^S'v^> 13B.

14A.

14B.

14 A. The

Venus of Laussel, a

relief

carving from overhanging rock shelter in the

Dordogne near Les Eyzies, France. c. 6500 B.C. Limestone,

Paleolithic,

ochred red.

17" high. Probably a

c.

"mistress of the animals ," forerunner of the Neolithic agricultural goddesses, also

associated with moon, snake, water,

and

seasonal and calendrical myths. (Photo: courtesy Musee de I'homme, Paris.) 14B. The

Venus of Lespugue.

Paleolithic.

Ivory 5" high. Bart Jordan has associated .

its

silhouette with the Neolithic toad or

uterine image,

among

other,

more

complicated, cosmic /mathematical associations. (Photo: courtesy

Musee

de I'homme, Paris.)

1 5.

Medicine wheel, Big Horn Mountains,

Wyoming,

c.

1500-1765

A.D.

80' across,

245' circumference. Built by prehistoric

Native Americans (restored by forest rangers in 1931-55),

it

may

represent

the sun, though its 28 spokes suggest Its six cairns might stand for the planets; they are aligned

lunar months.

and sunset on the summer and to the rising points of the stars Aldebaran, Rigel, and Sirius. The wheel may have signaled the proper day to begin the Sun Dance. The spokes of the Big Horn Wheel, like those of other to sunrise

solstice

medicine wheels on the Plains, nearly always point to other, distant wheels and cairns. Artifacts found at the Majorville Wheel in Alberta, Canada, establish its construction up to 5,000 years ago, while the Egyptian pyramids

were under construction.

drawn down the women's legs symbolize the beginning of menstrual periods as well as the four directions. The Hopi also used a horizon calendar and a sun-watcher kept track of time on a notched stick. One of the most ancient lunar images, dating from 6500 B.C., is the stone Venus of Laussel a wide-hipped nude woman holding a crescent-shaped bison horn with 13 notches, corresponding to the lunar months. The Pythagorean "complete" numbers (such as 7, 9, 12, and 28) reoccur throughout the old cosmologies, equated with the planets, the zodiac, and the lunar mansions. Bart Jordan has found the lunar number 28 on the Venus of Laussel, and interprets it as outlining the moon's journey. 36 He also notes that to the Sioux visionary Black Elk, the bison stood for 28 because it had 28 ribs. There are 28 feathers in the headdress and 28 poles in the lodge dedicated to the Sun Dance, representing the conjunction of the sacred numbers 4 and 7 and the number of the Sioux lunar months. The Big Horn Medicine Wheel has 28 spokes, and the number 28 recurs elsewhere in the most diverse societies. Its base, the number 7, is the "virgin" number because it is neither the product nor the factor of any other number; a mathematically perfect heptagon does not exist: "The geometry of seven is developed from no other system nor does it give birth to any." 37 It is the product of 3 (representing odd numbers) and 4 (representing balance), so it unifies the contradictions. Seven appears rarely in physical nature but often in references to temporal cycles and spiritual forces. The horse, a lunar and Great Goddess attribute. four vertical stripes



was

traditionally

shod with 7 nails on each hoof, becoming the transmit-

ter of earth to sky.

and vice

versa.

Jordan has reconstructed a hypothetical lunar "alphabet" which visually "turns" as the week does. His analysis of another prehistoric involves a dizzying array of rethe ivory Venus of Lespugue goddess ferences to finger language, geometry, musical tones, chord systems, note names. By fusing the forms of egg. mandala. and uterine frog in overlapping ovals within her sculptural silhouette, he makes the figure into a mathematically evolved symbol of the universal goddess. He has also read the masklike features of other "Venus" figures (which in turn resemble the goggle-eyed Celtic goddesses) as numerical representations of movements of the planet Venus through the heavens. Jordan is a musician, and his cultural deciphering of Paleolithic symbol constructions is embedded in the notion of permutation (also the base of Sol LeWitt's art). He works from the networks between natural, astronomical, physiological, spectral, musical, numerical, and linguistic systems in prehistory. After setting up a 20-semitone harmony wheel based on the human hand, and taking clues from sources as diverse as Plutarch and ancient Chinese thought. Jordan asked himself what the solstice and equinox and the seasons had to do with music "and that's when I began to realize there must be a system older than this." His conclusions have the elegance of the most modern mathematical formulas and they appear to apply to virtually every prehistoric culture. Combining an intuitive sense of form with meticulous research. Jordan attempts to see with the eyes of the ancients. Of particular interest to \isual artists is his work with color (traces of pigment are found in Neolithic pictographs in Valmonica, Italy, and of course in the caves) and with body counting, which he says always began with the left hand. (There are still places in the world where women count with the 28 finger-and-joint system.) Jordan then ties all this into the magic squares of 9. adding up to 15. (The magic square is still a popular mathematical game; Ad Reinhart used a nine-square grid armature for his black paintings.) These magic squares may relate to the enigmatic "checkerboards" or calendar grids found in many ancient rock carvings on all continents. Ernst Cassirer has also pointed out that mythical time is always conceived "both as the time of natural processes and of the events of natural 38 life." Thus the determinedly "simple" art of the Minimalists and Conceptualists can be related to basic survival, seen as a way of coping with





16.

Portion ofjemez dance shield,

c.

1920. Paint on rawhide. 19?" diameter. Photo. Herbert Lotz. courtesy

ofNavaho Ceremonial

Art.

Museum

Santa

Fe,

Mexico.)

Leandro Katz. Lunar Alphabet 1 7.4. B. and Lunar Typewriter. 1979. Katz photographed the faces of the moon throughout its cycle and made from

it

an

alphabet that functions both visually and textually.

18.

Photos: D. James Dei

Tina Girouard. Pinwheel. 7977.

Neu Orleans Museum of Art.

Cyclical

multimedia performance utilizing archaic symbols: about the four directions and the four seasons. Photo: Richard Landry.



the clutter of modern specialization and going back to learn for oneself how humankind learned within "the terrible simplicity of the archaic frame." 39 If one distrusts the value systems of this society, where does one look for alternatives? Back to the beginnings. Thus in much art about



elementary systems there

is

a certain longing for precision that

is

simul-

taneously anti-technological and anti-romantic. In "Sentences on Conceptual Art" 1969). Sol LeWitt stated a simple premise that helped to spark the synthesizing third stream of visual art: ideas alone can be works of art; they are in a chain of development that may eventually find some form. All ideas may not be made physical. If words are used and they proceed from ideas about art. then they are art and not literature; numbers are not mathematics." 40 Almost without exI

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