The Ultimate Earthwork

Prof. Philip Leider

Founding editor of “Art Forum”, Professor of Art History of at University of California at Irvine, and BezalelAcademy in Jerusalem, 1992

Speech delivered at the Bar- Giora Observatory, April 27, 1992, evening – during the launching of the “Super Obelisk I”

“…Among the very few people who helped Ezra Orion bring the idea for this evening’s extraordinary event to the attention of the officials of the International Space Year”, was the American engineer, Len Arnowitz.  Arnowitz sent Ezra Orion’s proposal, a simultaneous release of vast parallel laser beams from dozens of stations, from the northern hemisphere, a “Super Obelisk” 1 billion Kms. Tall – soaring at the speed of light, vertically to the plain of the Milky Way, and theoretically at least, infinite in duration. The people at ISY must have been, well, stunned…   They were encountering, as had several technical communities before them during the past few decades- the sudden intrusion into their domain of strange and foreign obligation: the obligation to recognize their sculptural potential to the International Space Year 1992

And thus orion and few dedicated friends in the technical community, managed to secure the cooperation of the scientists, engineers and technicians who alone could realize the astonishing work of art- manifesting itself at this hour

Orion’s work consisted entirely at the first discovering what the technicians needed, to seed in their minds something of the vision which had been in his own mind long before he had ever heard of the International Space Year.  For, although the needs of the technical community and the needs of the artist meet in this work, they are, in truth, not following a single agenda. Orion has his own agenda to fulfill, and it is driven, not by history of space-exploration, but by the History of Art

What is truly remarkable is how consistent this moment is with the greatest aspirations of modern art from the earliest moments of its conception.  It is as if this work is a vision shared by Malevich with both Kandinsky and Mondrian has finally come into existence: the dematerialized work of art, at last

 Malevich, Kandinsky and Mondrian, the creators of Abstract Art, the art of our century never met, never exchanged ideas. Yet, all three speculated on an ultimate work of art that would free the artist once and for all from his dependence on matter.  All three believed along with millions of others at the turn of the century, and more than a few from the scientific community, that between matter and spirit there was no qualitative break, but rather more of a quantitative continuum.  They believed that spirit was simply a refined form of matter, so refined, in fact, that it could be perceived, at the stage of “evolution”, only in the form of “aura” or “vibrations” and these only by spiritually gifted individuals.  Deeply anti-materialistic, they believed that all of history, all of life, was leading to a period when all matter would return to the universe of pure spirit from which it had condensed itself, eons and eons ago.  They also believed that art could help people come to understand this process more clearly, could hasten the spiritual evolution of people by demonstrating that art did not depend on the creation or on the depiction of things

…There are also moments when at last the obstacles to the project are cleared and the technicians find themselves taking a surprisingly new kind of interest in the proposal, and especially in their part in it. In the letter from Charles Reigber and Rolf Koenig of DGFI/D-PA, Frankfurt, urging member stations to participate in tonight’s launch.  “…At the very beginning we were also somewhat skeptical about this Laser Sculpture…  But from day to day we are becoming more enthusiastic. So we would also like to see you participating…”  And, one by one, each Sattelite Laser Ranging Station becomes curious, then interested, and then, finally, enthusiastic. Yet, surely the exotic and unaccustomed nature of the proposal would have discouraged their participation. “…This outstanding conception of art can be realized only by us scientists, engineers and technicians”

Malevich called the nature of his work “non-objective”, meaning art as “spiritual”. Mondirian, chafing at the limitations of even the basic materials of painting, wrote in exasperation that “for the spiritual artist, colour and brushwork sufficiently represent matter”…  The ultimate work would be one hardly conceivable, in which spiritual states would be communicated by thoughts, vibrations of spiritual energy, without the use of materials at all

Ezra Orion is not a theosophist, and does not come to the conception through the theosophical speculation. The meditation whose culmination we are present at tonight – began with the majestic earthworks in the Negev desert of 1978-79 and artist’s depending appreciation the relationship to be unearthed between sculpture and geology, especially – in Orion’s case – to plate tectonics. The Syrian-African Rift has almost mystical connection to Orion’s desert works of 1980’s, with a kind of driven, relentless logic.  Orion’s art led him to the Annapurna Sanctuary in the Himalayan Mountains, formed as they are, by the same tectonic forces that created the Syrian-African rift.  There, in the central Himalaya, he had created what he called a Launching Pad of the Consciousness – to the intergalactic Vastness

It must have been there that Orion began to realize where what used to be called “sculpture” had to go – – But how? With what?  The answer is here tonight, in the altogether improbable union of the “International Space Year” and the aspirations of the noblest art of our century