PUBLIC ART ALERT: Vasquez Rocks Workshop

Learn About the Vasquez Rocks and Didier Hess’ Workshop

On August 18 and 19, join L.A.-based artist team Didier Hess (Jenna Didier and Oliver Hess, who also run Materials & Applications in Silver Lake), for an art-making workshop at Vasquez Rocks, the iconic and much filmed geological site used in several movies and television shows like Star Trek. The couple has been commissioned by the L.A. County Arts Commission’s Civic Art Program to create a sculpture in front of the new LEED Platinum-certified Vasquez Rocks Interpretive Center, which will be completed later this summer.

The workshop will instruct participants on how to construct “rammed earth time capsules,” which will then be used in the construction of Didier Hess’ massive 20-foot-long sculpture (see below for more details). Rammed earth is an ancient sustainable building method utilizing packed earth mixed with a little concrete. The artists want participants to bring personal objects of their own to transform the rammed earth bricks into time capsules, which will eventually erode and expose not only the participants’ objects, but also a bronze sculpture created by Didier Hess underneath. “In 100 years,” says Oliver Hess, “the secret sculpture will be revealed. During that time, the workshop participants’ personal effects will be revealed.”

“I’ve known Vasquez rocks since I was a kid watching Star Trek,” continues Hess. “It is the most iconic rock formation in the world to me, but as I have aged, the geology has become more interesting.” He also notes “the temporary nature of our lives within the spans of geological time and the durability of art to transcend time scales” served as conceptual influences for the artwork. “It’s difficult as a sculptor not to be intimidated by the awesome scale and natural beauty of Vasquez Rocks,” says Jenna Didier. “It is impossible to rival the geological formations out there but equally impossible to ignore them, and so we seek a way to make their scale more comprehensible—especially as it relates to our perception of time and illusion of permanence in the natural world surrounding us.”

“In order to convey the idea that even something that seems immutable like the monumental permanence of geological formations at Vasquez Rocks is in fact in a state of flux, we chose a medium that would behave like stone but would be a little more easy to erode, so that the effects of weather upon it would be more visible over our lifetime,” says Didier of the decision to used rammed earth as a medium for the work.

The artists also chose this method to diminish the work’s carbon footprint, as they will utilize leftover dirt excavated during the construction of the Interpretive Center, which “will feature the park’s Native American history, geology, animals, flora and fauna, filming history and homesteading period as well as an area displaying local artifacts from the Tataviam, the Native Americans that live in the area,” says Civic Art Project Manager and green public art consultant Rebecca Ansert of the building’s eventual usage. “Six terrariums will house reptiles native to the area as well.”

“The geometry of the artwork’s initial appearance is meant to reference the many forces on site, its context and its relationship to casual observers,” says Hess. “The sculpture references the architecture of the structure; it is a geometric translation of the natural environment. It is also meant to suggest a piece of furniture, perhaps for a different form of person. And finally the sweep of the end is meant to reference the angle of Vasquez Rocks itself.”

Didier notes that this work is also a response to the Tataviam Indians, who use to live in the area and make their own art there as well. Says Hess: “The scale of geological force and time, overlaid with the fascinating and poignant recent human history of the Tataviam Indians, was irresistible to us. We knew that we could breathe fresh life into the site and in so doing, contribute to the archaeological significance of the site going into the future.”

The workshop will take place August 18 and 19, from 9am to 3pm each day. Bring a sack lunch, sunscreen, a hat, plenty of water and your own artifact to include the time capsules. During lunch, experts will speak on local pre-history, ancient rock art and geology. Registration required: or 323-913-0915.

Didier Hess at the Vasquez Rocks, courtesy of Didier Hess.