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A vast vision: Andrew Rogers retrospective

Andrew Rogers' monumental land art can usually be seen just one piece at a time, but a Jewish Museum retrospective makes his vast work accessible.
Deborah Stone
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Andrew Rogers, Sacred, Slovakia

Andrew Rogers’ Sacred in Slovakia (supplied).

Published: 5 June 2024

Last updated: 5 June 2024

Andrew Rogers is known for thinking big. His contemporary sculptures are often huge, and his land art is vast enough to be photographed by satellite from space.

Readers may know his impressive geoglyph To Life (Chai) which spans more than 900 square metres of the Arava Desert in Israel. Or his powerful Buchenwald memorial at Springvale cemetery in Melbourne. Or some of his many abstract bronze sculptures found in Australian sculpture gardens.

Because several of his works are monumental, it is often only possible to see one at a time, but a retrospective now at the Jewish Museum of Australia will enable readers to enjoy many Rogers works through small scale models, photographs and videos.

Andrew Rogers: Where We Are looks at Rogers evolution as an artist from his early days to the abstract forms and massive land art that have made him famous.

Rogers doesn’t want his age divulged – he still feels young and has plenty more to do – but suffice to say the exhibition covers more than 40 years of work and an oevre that is vast in vision and in physical space.

“It's good to see where one started, and it's great to see the possibilities of where one can be heading. I started as a figurative sculptor, so I could teach myself to sculpt and capture all the planes and angles of the human form. It wasn't until I felt that I was competent that I began to abstract and what I create now is abstract, contemporary forms,” Rogers told The Jewish Independent.

Although most of Rogers work is abstract, he is inspired by ideas, not merely forms or places.

“It's always about the idea and how you express it. That's what's difficult.”

Does he then expect his viewers to be able to read ideas from his works?

“It's better if the viewer does understand it, but everybody has their own reaction to art.”

Does he get frustrated when people bring what he did not intend to an abstract work?

“No, definitely not. Part of the joy of sculpture, what makes it come alive, is people's reaction to it.”

Rogers most distinctive project is Rhythms of Life, a project which brings together communities and massive stone structures, or geoglyphs, that he has created across the globe, including in Chile, Bolivia, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Slovakia and Iceland.

The project has involved 7,500 people and 51 structures in 16 countries over 16 years. The largest structures are 40,000 square metres and designed to be seen from above, either by standing on a nearby peak or through satellite pictures, some of which appear in the museum retrospective.

Andrew Rogers' To Life in Israel (supplied).
Andrew Rogers' To Life in Israel (supplied).

In the Arava Desert in Israel, Rogers created a massive geoglyph spelling out the Hebrew word “Chai”, meaning life. Then, in his first ‘Celebration of Life’ ritual, he lined up 42 pregnant Israeli women, bellies exposed, along the structure, turning life-making literal.

In the mountains of Slovakia, Rogers worked with local Romany to create a symbol based on an ancient coin found in the 2500-year-old Spiss Castle, which can be seen above the geoglyph.

In Chyulu Hills, Kenya he collaborated with 1,270 Maasai people to create three major stone structures: a lion’s paw, a shield and a symbol he has created for the Rhythms of Life project.  

In Chile, one of his three geoglyphs was a piece called Ancient Language, based on a stone carving of the local Aguada culture from 600-900 BCE.

Andrew Rogers' Sacred Language in Chile (supplied).
Andrew Rogers' Sacred Language in Chile (supplied).

All these structures are ultimately ephemeral. Some may take centuries to disappear while others – notably his Antarctic creation which was required not to impact the environment – only survive the initial installation in the photographs.

“I think you have to have respect for the environment and the earth surface. And so over time, they are designed to disappear,” Rogers explained.

Over a long career, Rogers has seen plenty of change, notably in the technology available. He is now using artificial intelligence to help him visualise the relationship between a new work and its environment.

Other aspects of his work are constant. He says his Jewish life has always impacted his work.

“A lot of my work is to do with values in life and Judeo-Christian ethic and so that has been incorporated in a lot of forms. It’s definitely had an influence.”

Although he hasn’t been personally impacted, he is aware of how difficult the current conflict has made life for many Jewish artists. His advice for younger Jewish artists is to focus on their work.

“Just stick to what you're doing and keep going,” he concluded.

Andrew Rogers: Where We Are is running until September 1 at the Jewish Museum of Australia.

About the author

Deborah Stone

Deborah Stone is Editor-in-Chief of TJI. She has more than 30 years experience as a journalist and editor, including as a reporter and feature writer on The Age and The Sunday Age, as Editor of the Australian Jewish News and as Editor of ArtsHub.


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