Academic journal article Asian Social Science

A Study of the Semiotic Understanding of Land Art

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

A Study of the Semiotic Understanding of Land Art

Article excerpt


Semiotics is the science of signs. It is known as an approach to expose the fundamental structural elements of the meaning of an object or a term. It comprises of the study of signs, designation, indication, analogy, likeness, symbolism, signification, metaphor, and communication. Semiotic and land art are closely associated with each other. Land art consists of sculptures, carvings, and performances located at specific natural surroundings to deliver messages of love and concern for the environment, even though they are ephemeral or located in inaccessible places they are transmitted by the semioticians. Like all works of art, each piece could be classified as abstract or realistic and would be created using signs and symbols of the artist's semiotic system to code the messages and feelings. The aim of this article is to examine the semiotics of land art based on signs and symbols of landscape through documentary analysis. The findings of the study revealed that semiotics is a powerful tool to reflect feelings and sentiments regarding different landscape. Some implications were also furnished.

Keywords: semiotics, signs, symbols, landscape, land art

1. Introduction

Semiotics is the science of signs (Eco, 1976, 1979). Foote (1988) regarded Semiotics as a subcategory of the cultural study through which signs and sign systems are investigated as modes of communication; such studies explore the ways of encoding and decoding the meanings of the presented signs and symbols. Furthermore, art and culture are complicatedly interrelated in a way that various features of art works originate from culture; consequently, scripts and signs used by humans in various locations are said to be related to the human culture that makes the role of culture so important in realizing the concept of semiotics in art (Ferreira, 2007; Smith-Shank, 1995; Temple, 2005).

For instance, 'color' can be regarded as ideas or codes which have been expressed for a long time in a society; for instance, in Medieval color symbolism 'black' stands for penance, while white represents innocence and purity and 'red' is a symbol for the Pentecostal fire. Some artists use symbols and signs that have some cultural characteristics to convey their messages to the viewer; fish, snake, hand, foot and goddess are amongst the symbols used in the art land works of Nadalian as an Iranian land artist (Bower, 2010). As an instance in land art of Nadalian (Appendix A), Anahita is an ancient and symbolic goddess of water and fertility in Iranian culture; she is believed to be the one who purified the waters and the milk of nursing mothers. Anahita's image is carved into the many rocks where the flowing waters exist, surrounding her image (Nadalian, 2011).

Another instance would be Nadalian's works whose carvings feature a female figure together with a fish or moon illustrated; female figures represent water goddesses and fertility in ancient cultures and the fish or moon are perceived as the symbols for rain and fertility (Doan, 2009; Ghal'eh, 2009). Nadalian (2011) stated that holiness of water goddess could be perceived at an age of increasing water pollution. Nadalian claimed that art works could be effective when everybody understands the message of the artist; thus, an artist can attain this goal best by using the cultural signs, which are associated with people's life history and beliefs. Like other artworks, land art pieces are also constructed using symbols and codes that must be analyzed and then synthesized for interpretation to discover the intended meanings embedded by the artists.

Semiotics can be defined, based on Smith-Shank (1995) as a wide ranging approach towards the perception of the nature of meaning, the understanding of cognition, culture, behavior, and life. In addition, it also tackles with the perceptions of the people of a given culture, which are the result of that culture and society (Tsotra, Janson, & Cecez-Kecmanovic, 2004). …

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