Where We Are

May 8, 2024

Andrew Rogers, Celebration of Life, 2006

Andrew Rogers
Exhibition Artist

Retrospective exhibitions are very significant and having one at the Jewish Museum of Australia: Gandel Centre of Judaica has a particular resonance. This is an opportunity to look to the past and forward to the future of making things; mainly in the built environment but also rearranging portions of the earth’s surface with land art. Recently my thoughts are about sculpture being realised as jewellery. Exhibitions offer a stimulus for ideas including a child’s vision for the future. As a secondary school student, I was lucky to be taught and inspired for the future by the artist John Brack who imparted to me a discipline and focus.

I try to think beyond what we can see around us and imagine things that do not exist. This is the foundation of stories, culture, spirituality and facilitating human thought.

Sculpting is a unique human function. It melds our intelligence and imagination with our ability to put concepts into forms. I feel privileged to be able to express myself. To express oneself is a timeless need – sculpture is a manifestation of this need. It is about expressing an idea, the spirit of humanity, our essence, energy, feeling, one’s soul and personal vision. It is about passion, dreams and aspirations, holding a mirror up to society. To capture the world’s vibrancy and beauty, to perceive an idea and bring it into being with one’s hands has allowed me to have a purity of expression. My sculptures are about singularity and community. We are all individuals possessing the sanctity of a singular life and the ability to express ourselves. At the same time, we are part of the society in which we live.

Sculpting is an introspective procedure – a purifying, refining process of detection. It is an expression of the heart not just an application of a skill. The greatest challenge is to ensure the form rises above the literal to the level of symbolic. I hope people can see the ideas and are stimulated. A powerful response makes sculpture come to life.

Mastering sculpting has been a journey. Journeys are just as important and meaningful as one’s destination or – in my case – final forms. My real journey of discovery is not in creating new structures but in having new eyes.

My journey started with figurative sculpture. The human form is not just an object, but also an envelope of our values. Human forms highlight that we are merely transitory, minor participants within the forces of nature. I am still excited by live models and studying their movement, their sinews, the flex of a muscle, tones of the skin and the suppleness of a body. Sculpting gave me a reason to see an autopsy which provided me with a deeper understanding of the magnificence of human anatomy, its beauty, wonder and complexity.

With each sculpture, I learn about the idea I am trying to portray. Through figurative forms I gained insights into our bodies – their asymmetry which makes us all different – as well as music and knowledge itself.

While making the Holocaust Memorials located in Australia and Brazil, I learnt about people’s potential for inhuman behaviour. This opportunity allowed me to honour those who have gone before us to ensure our memory is not diminished because without memory, we have nothing.

In Machu Picchu, Peru, I created a memorial to the history of the Andean man and revealing a startling history of an ancient people.

I try to think beyond what we can see around us and imagine things that do not exist. This is the foundation of stories, culture, spirituality and facilitating human thought.

Passing rocks for construction, Rajasthan, India

The pursuit of the abstract

The challenge is always to use materials in a new and different way. To push the boundaries and make metals convey meaning and portray form in a manner that has not previously been seen. I like to challenge the material’s limitations by exploring constraints both in terms of form and process.

Bronze and stainless steel may be weighty materials within art history and are particularly demanding materials, but adventurous manipulation has allowed casting of wonderful shapes and bold expressions of curiosity in metal along with complicated elements of delicacy. This is challenging and requires meticulous finishing.

The impact of scale and texture is significant. Major castings realised with the sculpture ‘I Am’ contain many tons of metal. Large sculptures naturally project a very physical presence. However more than an exploration of structure, this practice is about an idea within the structure. I believe in the importance of the individual which I reflect in these forms. The forms are similar but are as unique as we are as individuals.

‘We Are’, a collection of bronze sculptures, is a metaphor for the relationship between the individual and society. Their organic, undulating and textured outer surfaces acting as a counterpoint to the delicate, highly polished interior world of our thoughts. These interior ideas are full of optimism and the regeneration of life. It is the individual that makes our world a place of justice and compassion. However, as this grouping of abstracted figurative forms remind us, there is an inseparable relationship between the singular and the communal. The internal and external. These distinct forms share a common structure or language and stand in conversation with one another. This is an open-ended conversation in which everyone is invited to participate. ‘We Are’ is about the interconnection of humanity. These works reflect my continual desire to build a bridge through my art – between individuals and across cultures.

Andrew Rogers making I Am, 2015, commissioned to mark the sesquicentenary of Flinders Town, Flinders, Victoria, Australia

The adventure of land art

In 1998, after teaching architecture students at the Technion in Israel about spatial analysis, I walked into the Arava Desert to make a large creation in stone of 2 letters from the Old Testament, meaning life. I was confronted by vast desert, as far as one could see, and by what I had undertaken to create within it. Imagine standing in dry stifling 35-degree heat for endless days. I still feel the burning hot metal singeing my flesh when I picked up the first spike to mark the location. Sometimes there was zero visibility from the sandstorms. Thus, began one of the largest contemporary land art undertakings in the world – the Rhythms of Life project. 51 major stone structures forming connected drawings on the earth, captured on satellite images. There is a unique enjoyment working on large scale structures. I am excited to sit on a mountain surrounded by desert or an altiplano in absolute silence and contemplate these forms.

None of this would have been possible, had I stuck to the ‘straight and narrow’. I wouldn’t have been able to see and climb the most beautiful parts of our earth, teach at a university in Israel or critique art classes in China, nor would I have been able to fly from Israel’s Arava Desert to Vienna to attend the presentation of my sculpture to the great Simon Wiesenthal (1908–2005) who hunted criminals of the Second World War during which I resided at the US Ambassador’s residence in Vienna. I have regularly visited Pietrasanta, Italy to climb through the same caves Michelangelo climbed to select marble to carve into my sculptures. I was given honorary citizenship to Machu Picchu, Peru and was told that I am a reincarnated Inca. I have attended exhibitions and unveilings of my sculptures and land art around the world, including New York, Venice during a Biennale, Kazakhstan, and Bolivia where I constructed land art at an altitude of 4,200 metres – equivalent to halfway up Mt Everest and many other diverse places in the world.

The challenge is always to use materials in a new and different way. To push the boundaries and make metals convey meaning and portray form in a manner that has not previously been seen. I like to challenge the material’s limitations by exploring constraints both in terms of form and process.

The land art structures are about

Entropy. My work exists as a moment in time, resonating the importance of the perspective that we are caretakers and have responsibilities to those around us and to those who follow. Over time they will reintegrate back into the landscape which is an important aspect of our relationship to our earth that nourishes us.

They are contemplative spaces. In many places where I have worked, I am upset to see the effects of degradation and climate change reinforcing that we need to look after our earth.

The structures reflect the inequality of people’s existence and the disparity of opportunities for people. A problem that envelopes the world. In the west, destiny is a matter of choice. In many places elsewhere, it is a matter of chance.

When I look at my structures, I never just see an object. I see hundreds of people of diverse cultures passing rocks to each other. And I see generations of families – grandchildren, fathers, mothers, grandparents achieving the preservation of their heritage together.

In India the project involved 1,000 people, including many brightly clad women in traditional saris. In Nepal, 450 people worked in the Himalayas near the world’s highest snow-capped mountains and in the deepest gorge on earth.

In Turkey, 650 people, including families with three generations, participated in the creation of the 13 large scale stone structures up to 6 stories high which comprise ‘Time and Space’ one of the largest contemporary land art landscapes in the world.

Working with local communities is not always possible. In China, some 1,000 soldiers of the Army of China were deployed to construct three geoglyphs in the Gobi Desert – a daunting task. It was the first time the army of China had built such structures, and it was my first time giving direction to an army!

In Kenya I worked with 1,270 Maasai, the largest gathering of Maasai in their history, mostly in colourful traditional dress, communicating through interpreters. Each morning, I met with 1,270 people. Their tribal leaders leading discussions and all expressing a point of view – many carrying a spear!

Sleeping in a tent on a glacier during the production of the first major land art on an ice lake in Antarctica was intimidating. The shattering ice resulting from walking on the ice with crampons on my boots and wondering if the ice was thick enough to support me got my attention.

So, what are the intangibles that come out of this many years of opportunities to create in disparate place and environments? Distilled down it is an affirmation that if you dare to dream boldly, anything is possible. This to me is an important maxim.

Challenges I encounter lead me to believe that when you want to achieve a goal, difficulties provide great opportunities.

I hope you enjoy the exhibition and wish you good luck and happiness.

Andrew Rogers, The Gift, Cappadocia, Turkey, Volcanic Rock

Where We Are will be on at the JMA from 10 May–01 Sept. 2024.

ANDREW ROGERS is a distinguished and internationally recognised innovative artist. His critically acclaimed sculptures and photographs are exhibited internationally and held in many private and prominent public collections and institutions around the world. Rogers has been awarded an honorary doctorate from Deakin University, Victoria, Australia for his distinguished contribution to contemporary art and culture.