Effortless 01:07:34

Joseph Mougel

Archival Pigment Print

During my service in the US Marine Corps, I dug holes, or, more accurately, “moved” holes from one location to another. This exercise was more of a game, with no tangible benefit, as the new hole would ultimately be moved to a new location, yet again. The satisfying repetition of performing the action eventually overcame the obvious pointlessness of the whole operation. The hole did not need to be particularly nice or well-dug; it merely had to move from one place to another, with the dirt from the hole at the new site filling the original void and its grass returning the original lawn. The idea of the hole initially signified a negative; the hole itself is absurd, as the act of digging and filling it seems, on the surface, to be pointless, and by continuing to dig holes, I sought to negate a part of my life. Many artists have tackled this subject in their work; some, like Michael Heizer’s Double Negative (1969) are grand undertakings constructed with the aid of heavy machinery, while others, like Chris Burden’s Honest Labor (1979), speak to an intervention on a more human scale. layers of soil and sediment that the hole traverses.

Immediately following my military service, the hole functioned as a metaphor for the burden of trying to create a void in my life, to put a part of me away. Now, the digging of the hole is more of a meditation on the act of creating nothing, of transience and the ephemeral, as the hole is always filled in again in the end. Similarly, the Effortless photographs document landscape interventions in which I labor unseen, as the incremental progress of my activity, whether mowing a field or shoveling a frozen lake, exists outside the carefully composed before and after images. These works exist as evidence of a performance, with the time required to complete the task offering insight into the otherwise seemingly instantaneous transformation of the scene. As with the hole pieces, these products of my activity are ultimately undone as the ice melts or the field inevitably returns to its overgrown condition. In all of these pieces, manual labor functions as the vehicle for artistic creation. Digging holes is an hourly job, with the work constrained by the length of the day and progress noted at regular intervals through the accumulated piles of dirt. In the effortless pieces, the job itself is the goal, and the time recorded is whatever time is required to complete it.

The work spans genres of performance, video, and photography while engaging with topics of site-specificity through a field-based practice. Each performance references ecological, historical, and/or contemporary land-use systems, so while the format for digging the hole is similar at each site, the peculiarities of location contribute thematically to the work.

Archival Pigment Prints from scanned 4×5 negative. Each photograph depicts a scene before and after a human intervention, altering the landscape. The center image is the time that it took for the intervention to occur.