Reflections on Cultivating a Cultural Environment
by Matthew Lennon, HorseHead International Project

(Left) Carol Bolt, 1998 HorseHead ----(Right) Paul Martinez 1996 HorseHead. Photos by Arthur Aubry

The HorseHead Sculpture Project has been a laboratory for the visual arts since 1987. It grew out of necessity. There were artist who had ideas and models for works lying fallow because they had nowhere to exhibit. This was because the scale, materials and the processes involved excluded presentation in an institutional venue.

In 1987 I purchased thirteen acres in rural WA. State and I started the HorseHead Sculpture Project. The land had contour and bio-diversity. The garden was untended. The place needed work, human interaction. The surrounding area was comprised of a community of loggers and farmers, all hard hit by over a decade of American Agri- business policy. Massive unemployment, a sense of depression and desperation were bountiful. Home farms were being sold off a bit here a bit there.
It was at this point I began to find the words that would motivate me- abandonment, disuse, neglect, disregard. And lead me to my favorite word in the process- reanimation.

It was the perfect place to bring a bunch of urban artists.

As we began working on the land I began letting the local community know that we were going to do an art project. Simultaneously I began inviting artists. At this point I had one criteria for the artists- they had to have a day job outside of the art scene.

I found eleven artists. They were carpenters, bus drivers, bartenders and warehouse workers. There was no theme. The curatorial instructions were simple:

• Do something you want to do
• When engaging the local people talk about the materials you are using and how they will inform your piece- in other words no art speak was allowed
• Work from site as much as possible

I had gallery owners, artists and critics tell me that artists wouldn’t participate so far from Seattle’s thriving commercial and institutional scene. Further there would be no audience for a project requiring a two-hour drive.

All but three of the artists worked entirely on site. We installed thirteen installations. There were figurative, minimalist, illusionary and primal pieces. Materials used were glass, wood, bread, steel, brick, rope, found objects, gauze, cement..…
Over four hundred people traveled to attend the opening. The project grew from there.

In 1987 HorseHead was the only artists led outdoor sculpture project west of the Mississippi. It has worked and developed three rural sites and one urban site, one of which was a 375-acre abandoned naval air base being restored as a park and cultural centre to the people of Seattle. In 1999 in concurrence with the Sand Point Naval Base project we introduced 36 original works throughout the city of Belfast.
Approximately 220 artists have participated, including artists from Japan, Ireland, Trinidad, Paris, Italy and Canada. Installations included computer art, sound and video works and produced elaborate performance pieces. Presently four outdoor sites, following the HoseHead model, are being developed in the Seattle region.

For me, what makes a cultural environment is the very effort to form community and ultimately communities come from the effort it takes to create a good place. If we lose faith in the notion of The Good Place, if we lose sight of the importance of doing good works, eventually there is no memory of the place we intended to create.

A good public place for art is often clumpy, neglected or abandoned, emphasising the need for continual participation. Re-animation. A good place is always a laboratory. The legacy of a good project should be one of good works and the recognition that the process is never done. It excludes complacency. The status quo is for amateurs.

What I looked for when I walked through the sites of HorseHead was a confirmation of place, its diversity and uniqueness, and its relationship beyond insular notions of regionalism. What the artists and the experience of collaborating in HorseHead gave me was an awareness of the effort it takes to be here.