A pair of spotlights, roving and restless, slowly overlap only to separate again, sweeping, searching, silent except for the low roar of the motor that drives them. The words that come to mind for the multidisciplinary American artist Lucy Raven’s elegiac new commission, which mints Dia’s new Chelsea space, are tactile: the work is moving, touching; the lights smooth over the craggy surfaces of the building, formerly the Alcamo marble-cutting factory. “One way I think about the scopic views in Casters X-2 and X-3 is as the projection of sight onto site,” Raven says, “in a relationship that is never settled, or grounded.”
The “Casters” works are made of lights housed in moving chassis that are partially derived from rotocasters, which mold objects in the round. Raven’s work delves into industrial processes, forming a material study of the western United States “through force, violence, displacement, destruction, construction, and monumental earth moving,” she says. Ready Mix (2021) [pictured], a black-and-white video work set in a massive, light-filled gallery, was filmed in an extra-wide aspect ratio, drawing upon the format’s history first as it was used in the first World War to surveil the land ahead of moving vehicles, and later to film wide vistas in Western films. Filmed at a concrete and gravel plant in Idaho, the churning of cement kicks up the mixer’s flaps like pressed piano keys or teeth being kicked in repeatedly, both violent and sublime.
Raven fixes the production which takes place in the western U.S.—whether industrial, such as concrete mixing, or entertainment-related, as in Hollywood—within a framework of global capitalism. “In both cases, the physical landscapes and geographies that describe the substrates for these systems [of capital] also come to be described by them,” Raven says. Landscape, often seen as a static backdrop for action, becomes active. It is mined, mixed, moved: it is formed, and forms in turn.
In a sense, Raven’s work can be seen as involving a transmutation of the same raw stuff that Dia’s long lineage of land artists, such as Nancy Holt and Walter de Maria, worked with. “One focus within the film is state change,” Raven says, “granular rock to liquefied, infinitely formable material, to building blocks—from one kind of rock wall that's mined just below the surface of the earth to another that's built just atop it.” The new Dia: Chelsea is set within one of the most developed cities in the world, on a block whizzing with the continually cycling display and transport of artwork-as-capital. And yet it reminds one, startlingly, that even this city has been built on and of that same sedimented raw material. —Lisa Yin Zhang
Lucy Raven, Ready Mix, 2021. Installation view, Dia Chelsea, New York City. © Lucy Raven. Photo: Bill Jacobson Studio, New York, courtesy Dia Art Foundation, New York