The Boulder and the Beautiful
Qantas: The Australian Way, July 2010
On a glorious limestone hillside in Turkey’s Cappadocia, Andrew Rogers is supervising a team of 50 local carvers hewing the steps of an amphitheatre out of the earth. Beneath them, workers with a crane are hoisting a pillar of rock the height of a four-storey building off the back of a groaning truck. These are the final stages of a vast artistic endeavour four and a half years in the making, and you can see it all from the amphitheatre’s steps: 10 stone-wall and basalt sculptures extending two and a half kilometres down the valley, so big you can see them from space.
This is Time and Space, a collection of geoglyphs, or land art, and it is creativity on an epic scale. The installation in Cappadocia is big – 10,500 tons of stone, seven kilometres of rock walls – but not unique, for this is the 12th location in which Melbourne-based Rogers has worked: 40 sculptures built by 5,500 pairs of hands on five continents, from Iceland to Slovakia, Bolivia to the Gobi Desert, Chile to Geelong. In sum, it is easily the largest contemporary artistic installation in the world.
See this article is it ran here: qa0810_Landscape.indd
When you are an artist on this sort of canvas, the vision is just the start: it’s an exercise in logistics, engineering, staff management and architecture. It requires a character that is not just creative but driven, patient and stubborn. “I’ve basically found out you can build anywhere, in the most difficult situations of terrain and labour, as long as people want it,” Rogers explains as we bounce around the site in a van. “You just have to be very tenacious and driven. Fortunately I’m both of those things.”
The road to this vast undertaking in Cappadocia really began in Israel more than a decade ago, when Rogers was teaching in an architecture faculty there. On a trip to a desert area in the south his colleagues told him they wanted to create something to attract tourism, and he suggested a giant sculpture. A year later, he walked back into the desert to create the first of four artworks there.
“In those days I wasn’t trained as an artist,” he says. “I was trained as an economist.” He had no idea of techniques that might make life easier. “I didn’t realise you could use surveyors. So we used to stand there in 40 degree heat for four weeks at a time and triangulate everything, making points in sand to lay out the sculpture.” Today, the same process takes three to five days.
Next he found himself doing the same thing in the Atacama desert in Chile, the world’s driest, having been inspired by the Nazca lines in Peru. “I thought, what a great idea, why don’t we draw some things across the whole of the earth instead of just one place? That’s the idea behind the whole project. A connected series of drawings on the earth.”
As for Cappadocia, Rogers first visited the region 27 years ago; like anyone who comes here, he was struck by its odd, spiky beauty. He always wanted to come back, and everything about the place suited his purposes. “Each time I decide there should be something of special significance that is inherent to the topography. Here, it’s amazing: the limestone formations that have been caused by nature are quite remarkable and unique. And it is impregnated with thousands of years of history.”
Like any colossal journey it started with a single step – or a phone call, to a sister of a friend in the local travel industry in 2006. “I asked who I could talk to and it went from there.” Then negotiations began. “Getting the permits is always the hardest part,” he says. How do people feel when approached for something so unusual? “Most of them have never thought about it. It’s like Kleenex tissues: until they were invented nobody thought they needed them. But everybody is interested in preserving their history and heritage and fostering memories for the next generation.”
“You’ve got to find the person that’s interested, or the municipal authority or the elders who believe in the project,” he adds. In Cappadocia this required the support of two successive mayors to chase and approve permits, as well as numerous Turkish and western business leaders to provide funding. People like this need to be free-spirited sorts themselves. “He thinks what I do is quite normal,” says Rogers, impressed, of a local backer, “which is unlike a lot of people.”
For the art itself, Rogers tends to use a mixture of images based around central themes. “We perceive our existence in space and time,” he says. “In this world where technology is constantly advancing, human nature is not; it is often the values of the past that are most relevant today.” This theme, inherent to his work, comes through in many of his sculptures: A Day on Earth features 22 words such as memory, compassion and heritage carved in English and Turkish on basalt columns. Others take forms basic to life and culture – a grinding wheel, a palm tree, a horse – or reflect local myth, such as a Griffin and a double-bodied lion.
Common to every installation he has completed around the world is The Rhythm of Life, which started out as a bronze sculpture 17 years ago and whose original now resides in the National Gallery in Canberra. Rogers describes that original as “a dynamic structure in space, a series of points connected which make a line. It’s like life: all the connected influences we all have, friends, family, activities. It’s an optimistic symbol about life and regeneration.”
Then there’s construction, which began in 2007. Material is key to Rogers. “Stone has been intrinsic to civilisation forever,” he says. “It’s great to touch and feel rock and stone; it brings you back to the fundamentals about the earth, about what’s important.” The stone must be local and where possible nothing foreign is brought onto the site. “In Nepal we used mud with granite. In Chile, bird droppings with clay. Wherever we find a local technique that’s successful and stood the test of time, we use it.”
He has also always insisted on indigenous labour – a rule breached only once, when constructing in the Gobi desert in China, when the authorities decided the best way of getting things done was to give him an army to do the building. (“They don’t normally build sculptures and I don’t normally command an army,” he says.) In Cappadocia, almost a thousand local people were involved. Do they understand what they are working on? “They understand after they’ve worked on it. When they start, it’s a totally abstract concept.”
Relatively speaking, Turkey has been an extremely smooth project; the greatest controversy came with his insistence on paying men and women labours equally, which caused a minor revolt among some of the men. “They’re all challenging for different reasons,” he says. “In Bolivia we worked at 4300 metres, gasping for oxygen all the time. In some of the deserts we’ve been working in 45 degrees. Then you have people issues: too many workers wanting to work in India, and stopping fights between 300 people.”
There’s still a certain rustic approach to producing the art: Rogers judges levels by eye, then marks the pattern each metre with a peg in the ground. But with the workforce engaged, the building is in some sense the easiest part. Unbelievably, the Rhythm of Life sculpture in Cappadocia – whose walls, at the highest point, are two and a half metres high and hundreds of metres in length – was built in just 10 days, by a team of 380 stonemasons. The stones were simply picked up from the ground around the valley, passed hand to hand along lines of people; there’s no cement, no mortar, yet the dry stone walls are pristine three years after their completion.
So why build big? Does it change the meaning of a sculpture to make it writ large? “It doesn’t add anything to its meaning, but scale always adds another dimension,” Rogers says. “It’s more confronting for people. It’s taking the ruins out of being just a material into the realms of speculation.”
‘Visibility from space’ isn’t a casual claim either: Rogers commissions satellites to photograph the sculptures from 280 miles (450km) up. To help with visibility, he coats them, although the material varies with what is local; from place to place it has included cactus juice and bird droppings.
Even as Rogers opened his installation in Turkey on May 29, he was active elsewhere; the next step is Kenya. “It’s all set to go,” he says. “We have 1,000 Masai warriors who will come and camp around the site and build the structure.” It will bring its own challenges and quirks. “They don’t use stone for anything so it will be very interesting. It’s a totally abstract idea for them: they only use thatch.” The structures – which elders have requested include a lion’s paw and traditional markings from a shield, as well as the Rhythms of Life motif – will be made on a volcanic lava plain from deposits around the edges. “It’s going to be fascinating.”
As an installation on a sixth continent, this completes the objectives he originally had for his project. But one senses that it won’t stop here. “I have lots of invitations and if they are interesting places and interesting people I wouldn’t say no. It’s about getting an idea.”
Cappadocia is perfect travel: stunning scenery; history; towns with accommodation and restaurants set up well for tourism without yet being ruinous; and a focus for unusual activities like hot-air ballooning.
The area is filled with curious limestone conical towers that have become known as fairy chimneys, and over the centuries many of them have become homes – or, more recently, hotels. Some have been used to carve churches out of the rock, magnificently painted inside. People have lived here for at least 4,000 years since the Hittites settled the region, followed by the Persians, Romans, Christians, Seljuk and Ottomans.
It is also one of the world’s best places to go hot-air ballooning, blessed with a rare combination of favourable wind and flying conditions and extraordinary topography to see from the air. Skilled pilots can not only navigate the balloons over the region’s most beautiful valleys but descend deep into them, just metres from the rock formations. Other balloons – there may be as many as 40 in the air – add to the extraordinary sight.
In Göreme, Cappadocia’s main travellers’ centre, is the World Heritage-listed Open-Air Museum, a clutch of rock-hewn churches and monasteries. Pay the extra TL8 (A$6) to enter the Karanlık Kilise, or Dark Church, painted inside with vividly colourful biblical scenes.
Elsewhere you can see underground cities, as many as eight levels deep, excavated in the sixth and seventh centuries to give an escape route for Christians fearing Persian and Arabic armies. 10,000 people lived in one of them, Derinkuyu, staying there for months, their air shafts disguised as wells.
More than anything, Cappadocia is a place to walk around, enjoy the scenery, eat well in excellent and friendly restaurants, and sit back with a glass of wine to watch the sunset from a hotel terrace. For many people it is the highlight of a trip to Turkey.