The indefiniteness and randomness which reigns in the natural world forms part of artistic work. Michael Heizer, one of the most important pioneers in what is called Land Art, and who has been creating monumental pieces from the 1970’s onwards, had been interested since an early stage in nature as a transforming and destructing power. Dissipate, for example, was produced in 1969 in the Black Rock Desert in the state of Nevada. Composed of wooden trenches two metres long and painted grey, its overall shape or layout was obtained by dropping matches from a height of sixty centimetres onto a sheet of paper.
The artist left the work to deteriorate and then photographed it several times throughout the process, thus finding how “its abstraction proliferates along with physical deterioration: the two enter into dialogue.” .
This power of abstraction of nature attracted a considerable number of artists of this period, particularly sculptors who, like Klee in his time, studied the way art revealed certain natural geometries that could be observed in vegetables or in minerals, as can be seen in the pictures by Blossfeldt . The importance of these natural geometries had been detected at the beginning of the century by biologist D'Arcy Thompson, also a distinguished mathematician and Hellenist, in his book On Growth and Form  known by many painters and sculptors in the 1950’s and 1960’s, such as Tony Smith or Robert Smithson. The latter, impregnated by Riegl’s conception and his vision of Egyptian art as crystalline architecture, wrote: “one cannot escape nature by representing it in an abstract manner; abstraction is nearer to the physical structures inherent to nature itself.” .
The pyramids, observatories and labyrinths, monuments widespread in extremely sophisticated archaic, civilizations fascinated a large number of artists due to the special relationship these buildings maintain with certain natural phenomena which symbolize several stages in the ordering of life and death, or in the way they simply enable a certain kind of observation. The art of the 1960’s corresponds to what American critic Lucy Lippard would label as the “dematerialization” movement, thus privileging the conception and the process instead of the object. This did not stop artists such as Robert Morris from making an observatory to Emmen in the Netherlands, built for the Sonsbeeck exhibition in 1971, and permanently rebuilt in 1975.
In the view of the artist, the aesthetical structure of the Observatory takes its inspiration from much older works and presumes a sensorial exploration of the space which allows the experimentation with games of reversal between inside and outside, that is, the inside of a circle becoming the outside of another in an almost phenomenological manner. In an interview Morris observed, however, that in the works of oriental cultures from which he drew inspiration, “there are passages and places where we stop, there are landscapes followed by interruptions. The concern with access and view is constant, more than with the object. This is equally true for the architecture of Islamic mosques, to which I feel much closer than the buildings in western tradition, and the objects which it is necessary to look at.” .
When Smithson created the earthwork Spiral Hill and Broken Circle, for the same artistic occasion, he was especially interested in the relation between the moraine deposits discovered in the centre of the broken circle, when the soil was dug to obtain a plane surface, and the top of the spiral, turned in the opposite direction of the circle. This rock, the same type as those used in the Neolithic period to build the graves previously called “the beds of the Huns”, and the spiral peak had an inseparable relationship for him. When Smithson was asked if he was not worried that he had isolated Broken Circle from the rest of the landscape, by making it invisible except from the top of the spiral, he answered: “I don’t see it as an object. What we have there are really many different scale changes. Speaking in terms of cinema, you have close, medium and long views. Scale becomes a matter of interchangeable distances.” .
Thus, despite impressive accomplishments, an artist such as Smithson, more than the objects themselves, will be mainly interested in their meaning, their power of invocation and the individual, social and historical imaginary they mobilize to be truly experienced. This is surely the case with the Spiral Jetty, built on the site of the Great Salt Lake in Utah in the years 1970-1971. The place determined the form of the work – conceived originally as an island – because the moment the artist discovered the landscape around him, he also felt “trapped in a static cyclone”, or what he designates as “a rotating space”. What is interesting, however, is that Smithson heard at that time about an Indian legend which told how the bottom of the lake was agitated by huge whirls, showing a passage connecting the lake and the sea. To inscribe the work in this legendary time is then to echo the beliefs of one of the oldest peoples of the region, whose relationship with nature seems more profound and worthy of faith.
This is sharply translated in Marc Tansey’s 1982 painting Purity Test. In it, we see a group of five Indians, looking as if they have come out of a painting by Remington, gazing at the spiral from the top of a cliff over the Great Salt Lake. The title, Purity Test, makes reference to Greenberg’s modernism and his idea that each art tends towards what it has as being more specific and pure, an idea disputed by Smithson and his friends, and ironically invoked in this painting. Because, what would these Indians see if they had this spiral in their view? We may consider, as Arthur Danto, that these Native Americans looking at the Spiral Jetty “would ascribe meanings to it, and fit such an exceptional and vast articulation of earth into a form of life.” And Tansey’s point in part must be that the “’primitive’ human, sentimentally situated somewhere between animals and ourselves, can no more perceive things free of interpretation and meaning than the “civilized” human can”. .
The spiral has become a kind of icon of Land Art, and the fact that it disappears regularly under the waters to emerge covered in salt crystals only adds to its statute. A simple but gigantic shape, it invokes the archaic signs which can be found in many primitive sites, such as the Amerindian petroglyphs, which were to cause a profound impact in Michael Heizer, whose father Robert was an anthropologist who worked intensely in Northern and Central America. In the 1985 catalogue of his exhibition, Sculpture in Reverse, from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, Michael Heizer showed some of these paintings from the Great Basin region in the American West. He was also inspired by them in creating his 1968 Primitive Dye Painting on the Coyote Dry Lake in California.
In 1985, Michael Heizer was commissioned to rehabilitate a particularly polluted site in South Chicago, Illinois. Without renouncing his formal geometrical vocabulary, Heizer was inspired by the tombs built by the Indians of the Mississippi regions, known as the Mound Builders. These Tumuli had been popularized in the 1850’s in J. Egan’s paintings, an artist from Philadelphia, using extracts taken from the work of the explorer Montorville W. Dickeson who in turn used these images painted on muslin to illustrate his lectures . Heizer’s inspiration came from another book, The Antiquities of Wisconsin, published in 1855 by Increase Allan Lapham. Lapham, an engineer, had systematically surveyed all the Indian tombs in the Wisconsin region, most of which have now disappeared. Reading that book, found in a second-hand bookstore, Heizer realized that many had maintained a relationship with the local fauna and flora and decided, as a tribute to the exterminated Indians, to construct five of them, invoking the animals he had found in the surrounding area: a snake, water-strider, cat-fish, frog and turtle. Robert Smithson had in the meantime been inspired by these tombs and particularly by the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio, for an Earthwork project in Maine, Meandering Island (1971), which he never actually finished.
We see how nature is apprehended through cultures where the special relationships with the stars, the plants or the animals fascinate artists who are formally inspired by the remaining material traces, witnesses to those relationships, the meaning of which we do not always understand. Calendars or observatories have always existed since the birth of our civilizations and Stonehenge, for example, was of great interest to an artist like Richard Long, even if he has never actually tried to build a calendar-like structure. The stones he gathers along his walks, if they invoke megalith circles, do so rather remotely. But because the walks are an essential element in Long’s work, we can justifiably incorporate this artistic practice into a kind of ritual which can be seen in some pre-historic cultural centres.
Long, moreover, travelled throughout Peru and followed the Nazca lines. He photographed one of them in 1972, writing under the picture: walking a line in Peru. The image becomes a mode of appropriation of this line the artist did not draw and which gets lost in the landscape. But this appropriation is merely mental and the photograph only gives an account of an experience, recalling the wise title of a work by another artist, Hamish Fulton, friend of Richard Long, and with whom he walked: An object cannot compete with an experience. Fulton declares: “Well, the intention is to be influenced by nature rather than to influence nature. [...] I'm not a sculptor, I want to leave as few traces as possible. [...] The substances and properties of nature become more and more strange. A scientist can tell you, from the scientific point of view, how a round boulder came into being but you can't find anyone in the world who saw it being born. So the boulder is actually a limitless mystery, even to the oldest living person on Earth” .
Thus, nature is also perceived as an origin, and the trace of that origin and of that perception is renewed with the myths of the mother-earth, put in evidence by some artists and their work.
In 1969, Michael Heizer transported or, rather, “displaced” three huge blocks of granite and settled each one of them inside a cement pit in the middle of the Nevada desert. Each block weighted thirty, forty three and seventy tons each. Extracted using dynamite from the heights of the Sierra Nevada, they were then placed in Silver Springs Dry Lake, close to Reno in Nevada. The title Displaced/Replaced Mass indicates a kind of anti-geological return movement, since these blocks had belonged to the desert for millions of years. Thus displaced by the tectonic movements of another time, they were placed by the artist in the desert, their original site. (Fig.1.1)
The artist Ana Mendieta, who died at the age of twenty eight, made marks on her own body throughout the period from 1973 to 1980, which she designated as "silhouettes" (Silueta). She sought, in to her own words, to “establish a dialogue between the landscape and the feminine body, symbol of motherhood” playing with mud, water, vegetables and even purifying fire. She constructed a series of rock art sculptures, which represented the shape of her body. “Mendieta's rupestrian sculptures”, wrote Lucy Lippard in her important work Overlay, about the relationships between contemporary art and pre-historic art, “are both modern and primal in their fiercely feminine symbolism”..
Charles Simonds, in his film Birth, directed in 1970, appears to be gradually emerging from the mud which is completely covering him, as if he was literally escaping from the insides of the earth. The Zuni Indians, in New Mexico, see the mud as the flesh of a supernatural woman, and work with the land is associated with the women of the Anasazi tribe, the first inhabitants of the American Southeast. .
The relationship with the spirits or the goddesses in pagan religions is a way to communicate with the supernatural forces which, in turn, shape the natural elements. This connection with the forces that move our world, whether they are material or spiritual, is the origin of many artistic interventions, such as those by the German artist Joseph Beuys, most famous for his performance I love America, America loves me. In May 1974, Beuys arrived for the first time on American soil. He was swathed in felt and loaded into an ambulance and taken to the René Block gallery, where he spent three days with a coyote.
This performance, which has remained famous ever since then, was an attempt to capture the collective unconscious of a nation to whom the coyote is an emblematic and totemic figure, evoking the spirit which animated the first inhabitants of the country and their close relationships with the animal world. The artist became Shaman or the intermediary between the spirits of animals and of men. Gifted with magical powers, he established a direct connection with these forces which animate nature, trying to restore a lost harmony.
Artists, like anthropologists, speculate about all this, but because artists’ resources are largely fictional, they appeal to our imagination, even if they also appeal to our knowledge. This is the case, for example, of classifications. We can try to understand what is the logic governing the connections between plants, animals or humans. It is rather complex and not everyone agrees on the matter, but artists are unarguably very concerned with what the classifications might suggest, the relationships these peoples maintained with nature and what is taught about their own culture. The evocative power of these objects, the way they were rendered in space or how they were used is, for the artist, a sufficient artistic motif. “If the archaic arts, the primitive arts, and the ‘primitive periods’ of the learned arts”, wrote Lévi-Strauss, “are solely what does not age, it is because of this consecration of the accident serving the execution, that is, the use – which they seek to make integral – of the raw element, as the empirical matter of a signification.” .
This might very well explain the reasons why the artists quoted here, aware of what matter has to tell us, have turned their attentions to those so called primitive arts, not only because for the pleasure of contemplation but also to find new sources of inspiration. In the 1970’s, the German artist Nikolaus Lang devoted himself to inventories of bones or crafted stones, feathers and skins of dead animals, but also of disposable materials from our contemporary industrial societies, which he rendered in a scientific manner, as if part of an archaeological excavation. . Alongside him Paul Armand Gette was very much involved in the observation of nature, to the point of translating Carl von Linné’s Journey to Lappland into French (Voyage en Laponie) . A naturalist by education, he made a herbarium in which he collected everything which came to hand, preferring the “everything collected”, instead of the “everything selected”, thus “conferring each thing with an identical value”. 
The artist likes this “equality”, this “ground zero”, with which he plays in many of its works. He frequently chooses a place, a lake or a beach (La Plage 1976) and there he gathers all sorts of information, without being concerned with exhaustiveness, fully assuming his role in its subjectivity. He then records his observations in small books, which he calls “souvenirs”, rather than “documents”. .
As for herman de vries, a third example of an “artist collector”, he has declared that “he hates art in nature”, since “art cannot add anything essential to nature”, and “the messages of nature are perfect”, even if, for him, “the fact of promoting a return to natural conditions might be an artistic act.” . As he gathers materials, de Vries exposes himself to the randomness of encounters in order to reveal nature in its singularity, in each sample of his collection. This sample may be extremely impressive and go through methodical organization, but remains open and in direct contact with the world of experience. Why is Botany of such interest for artists wonders Anne Moeglin-Delcroix in her book L'Esthétique du Livre d'artistes. Increasing interest for naked eye observation as renewed by the classificatory science of the XVIII century, or the concern to give an account of public actions on land, there is above all the “fact that Botany allows one specifically to question the relations of signs and nature, discourse and experience, words and things.” .
The collection, the harvest, invokes a certain type of relations which characterises that the nomads have with land. The Italian artist Giuliano Mauri arrived at sculpture through poetry. In 1985 he started building the La Casa dell'Uomo in Lodi. Mauri’s work is characterized by the systematic use of models of baskets, a work of mixed vegetable fibres, such as those observed by Boas, for example, in the British Columbia Indians . His drawings, much like the suspended elements he installs in nature, show his interest in the manufacturing of these objects and translate the minutiae in the observation and the result, sometimes similar to certain images from the Natural History Atlas. Weaving and textile braiding have also been objects of speculation by architectural theoreticians. Semper, for example, gave the materials an essential role in the explanation of the evolution of styles and considered weaving as the origin of all architecture: “We began building at the moment weaving was born, that is, the screen, the barrier made up of branches and interlaced twigs, whose manufacturing demands a technique which is, so to speak, a gift of nature to man. The first partition created by hand is undoubtedly the first division of space. The transition between weaving branches and hemp for domestic purposes is a simple and natural one.” .
To a certain extent, we can find these speculations once again in an artist like Giuliano Mauri, who deliberately interacts with ancient times in the history of mankind. Naturally, we enter the domains of myth, sometimes with the aid of anthropology. It is rather significant that from this point of view, several myths about the origin return to the question of habitat and many architectural treaties are interested in the lives of the first humans, relating the question of the birth of civilization to questions of habitation. .
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Gilles Bruni and Gilles Babarit, two French artists who worked together at the time but who separated a few years ago, built huts in front of which they acted scenes, usually performing daily subsistence tasks, works of construction or moments of leisure (Entre le dôme et la coupe: le maïs, l'assister pour le renouveler (1989)). These actions were ephemeral and were frequently designed to be photographed.
Thus, we can group several practices of artists who work in nature under the general motif of shelter, more particularly huts, which is a special point of contact between art and nature, because it takes us back to the origins of art and civilization, invoking at the same time the development of the species and individuals.
The experience of the hut is in fact an experience of nature (Fig.1.2): a way of being, not protected from the world but outside of it. The hut, in effect, does not close or protect those who inhabit it; on the contrary, it exposes them to themselves and to nature conceived of as exteriority. In fact, if the hut is a recurring motif in contemporary creation, in artists interested in nature, we can also say that it is rarely considered as such. More than an object, it designates a space, more imaginary than real. The features which characterize it are disseminated, here and there, in creations that are, in some way, just inflections.
We have today a truly problematic relationship with nature. Its opposition to culture, which seemed as being clearly defined to us, has seemed less evident in the last few decades. The consciousness of the fragility of our planet, the feeling of belonging to a whole where each and every one is politically and ethically responsible, makes us reconsider anew our own place in nature.
Some, instead of opposition in terms of nature and culture, prefer to speak in terms of humans and non-humans, considering that between the two the exchanges of proprieties are far more numerous than thought. This is probably what artists have been predicting for a long time and this is what also makes them a priori at ease with some theoretical constructions that obey models of magical and religious thought, which, removed from their original contexts, correspond fairly well to these “new forms of sharing”, reflected today by sociologists as Bruno Latour or anthropologists like Philippe Descola , just to name a few in France.
Art playing its traditional role of anticipation also has the capability to be renewed through ways of acting and thinking, which echo very deeply in humans’ imagination, carrying them back to the very roots of their civilization.
 Michael Heizer, "The Art of Michael Heizer", Artforum, December 1969.
 Walter Benjamin, in considering Blossfeldt’s photographs, wondered if, by speaking of these natural forms as being the origin of art, we could be designating another thing: “forms that have never been simple models of art, but which since the beginning, like original forms, have been at work throughout creation?”
 Cf. D'Arcy Thompson, On Growth and Form, Cambridge University Press, 1961.
 R. Smithson, "F Law Olmstead and the dialectical Landscape", Robert Smithson, The Collected Writings, ed. by Jack Flam, University of California Press, 1996, p.157.
 “Interview with Robert Morris”, Het Observatorium van Robert Moris in Oostelijk Exhibition Catalogue, Flevoland, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1977, partially translated (into French) in Robert Morris from Mnemosyne to Clio: The Mirror of the Labyrinth, Musée d'Art Contemporain, Lyon, 2000, p. 123.
 Robert Smithson, "...The earth, subject to cataclysms, is a cruel master", Robert Smithson, The Collected Writings, op.cit, "I don't see it as an object. What you have there are really many different scale changes. Speaking in terms of cinema, you have close, medium and long views. Scale becomes a matter of interchangeable distances", pp. 253-254.
 Arthur Danto, Marc Tansey: Visions and Revisions, Harry N. Abrams, 1992, pp. 19-20; “Native Americans would ascribe meanings to it, and fit such an exceptional and vast articulation of earth into a form of life. And Tansey’s point in part must be that the “primitive” human, sentimentally situated somewhere between animals and ourselves, can no more perceive things free of interpretation and signitiveness than the “civilized” human can"; p. 20.
 Cf Alain Schnapp, La Conquête du passé. Aux origins de l'archéologie, éd Carré 1993, Livre de poche, Paris, 1998, p. 334.
 Hamish Fulton, A Conversation With Hamish Fulton at Domaine de Kerguehennec by Thomas A. Clark. (p. 19 French, p. 6 English), "Well, the intention is to be influenced by nature rather than to influence nature. [...] I'm not a sculptor, I want to leave as few traces as possible. [...] The substances and properties of nature become more and more strange. A scientist can tell you, from the scientific point of view, how a round boulder came into being but you can't find anyone in the world who saw it being born. So the boulder is actually a limitless mystery, even to the oldest living person on Earth".
 Lucy Lippard, Overlay, Pantheon book, U.S.A., p. 49. "Mendita's Rupestrian Sculptures are both modern and primal in their ferociously female symbolism".
 Ibidem, p. 57.
 Claude Levi-Strauss, La Pensée Sauvage, Paris, Plon, 1962, p. 43.
 Cf, Günter Metken, Spurensicherung, Kunst als Anthopologie und Selbsterforshung, Dumont Buchverlag, Köln, 1977, pp. 101 -112; Mel Gooding, Song of the Earth: European Artists and the Landscape. London: Thames & Hudson, 2002.
 Carl von Linné, Voyage en Laponie, presentation and translation by P A. Gette, Éd. de la Différence, 1983.
 Colette Garraud, L'idée de Nature dans l'art contemporain, Flammarion, 1994, p. 138.
 To recover the distinction by Anne Moeglin Delcroix, Esthétique du livre d'artiste, Paris, Jean-Michel, Place, 1997, p. 211.
 herman de vries (the name must always be written in lowercase) text of 1999 in herman de vries, Anthèse, Galerie Aline Vidal, Paris, 2000, p. 14.
 Anne Moeglin Delcroix, Esthétique du livre d'artiste, idem, p. 208.
 Cf. Boas, Primitive Art, Dover, London, 1927, reprinted 1955, p.20.
 G. Semper, Der Stil..., 2 éd., Munich, 1878, I, p. 213, cit. in J. Rykwert, La maison d'Adam au paradis, Paris, Seuil, 1976.
 The treaty of Vitruvius first and foremost.
 Bruno Latour, La Politique de la Nature, Paris, La Découvert, 1999; Philippe Descola, Par - delà Nature et Culture, Paris, Gallimard, 2005