Deep within the deserts of New Mexico and the salt flats of Utah lie monumental accomplishments of human will, structures defined by their relationship to the land and the human perception of the universe. These installations, such as the works of Nancy Holt (Sun Tunnels), Charles Ross (Star Axis), and Robert Smithson (Spiral Jetty), are colloquially known as Land Art, a genre that sits at the intersection of architecture, sculpture, and earthworks (the history of which is chronicled by James Crump in his documentary Troublemakers).
While all art requires the passage of time and years of perfecting the craft, Land Art is differentiated by the scale of both labor and duration of construction, often taking place over nearly geologic timescales, both in pre-planning to select the perfect geographic locale and the fabrication process itself. Architects, land surveyors, local governments, construction laborers, land owners, local communities, permits, and weather are merely a drop in the bucket in terms of considerations and obstacles that must be tackled before even breaking first ground.
Published under Ice Water Games (Ritual Of The Moon, Eidolon, Rainstorm EP, Tenderfoot Tactics), Pattern is a journey across the psychogeographical landscape of the artistic process. With gorgeous procedural visuals and a candid narrative closing act, Galen has leveraged the serene painterly landscapes of an otherwise modest meditative stroll into something far more meaningful and resonant to those who have endured the internal strife of creation.
Pastel horizons, stiff shoots of bamboo, derelict structures, and expansive mesas dotted with pillars frame the player’s trek as they wander from one camp-fire to the next, taking a contemplative moment to rest beneath the stars before traversing onto the next hallucinatory vision. A simple mantle mechanic combined with an intuitive glide function allows for strategic birds-eye views of the environment in order to spot the next campsite, typically given away by its telltale hazy brown smoke lazily drifting on the Fall breeze, contrasting against the sky.
(SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT OF THE REVIEW)
Eventually the player comes across strange rocky orbs along their path that offer the author’s narrative on the intent and sub-textual interpretations of Pattern, explaining aspects of the piece’s origin and the ways in which it had personally transformed him over the course of development.
These pebbles of glowing wisdom offer up many note’s from Galen’s journey, but one in particular stands out:
The mindset shift for me there is that I am not the artist crafting a perfect final painting, but I’m the engineer building a kinectic sculpture that reacts to its surroundings.
It’s a sentiment closely mirrored by Galen’s Land Art predecessors in the physical world, that by engaging in the act of creation, no matter your medium, you become part of the work itself, forever altering your perception of what it means to “finish” something. The idealistic sheen of naive preconceptions about the medium become weathered by the reality of labor, giving way to a sobering patina that embodies the worn character and shrunken ambitions of any artist completing a profoundly lengthy piece.
Hardship however does not always chip away at the innate principles held by those who triumph in producing their vision, some may even find it reaffirming in a way that challenges insights passed down by teachers and mentors. Pattern is a demonstration of what it means to come full circle and find oneself within the work, even if the original intent has become lost to time and consternation.
Galen’s kinetic sculptures will likely endure much in the same way most Land Art will- a testament to determined patience in pursuit of a distant vision on the horizon. As of this writing, even after 48 years, half a lifetime, Ross’ masterpiece is yet to be finished. Perhaps in the grand scheme of things we are fortunate to have a medium that allows us to express similar ideas at a fraction of the time.
While Pattern is comparatively far less ambitious of a project than integrating art into the very land itself, it’s no less relevant to the evolution of how we reflect the human experience through our art.
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice