Developed in the mid 60’s, conceptual art is an art form that shifts the intentional content or meaning of the created work away from tangible objects, like a drawing, painting or sculpture, to a concept or idea that motivates the expression. Conceptual art is the art form of ideas. In this arena, the artist might make art objects, but they exist solely to support the art idea as the focus of the work. When experiencing a work of conceptual art, the viewer will most likely be reading a description and looking at documentary photographs or other such evidences of the idea.
Malcolm chose this form because it was the only arena that could handle the gravity and scale of the art idea that he wished to express. That idea can be easily understood by following his philosophic thought progression:
A. Meaning and human values do not exist without consciousness.
B. Art is a human word. All art, whether by creation or designation, has that status conferred on it by consciousness.
C. Since there is significant objective evidence that humanity originated on Earth, it is safe to conclude that all of our primary aesthetic expressions, visual or otherwise, have originated from our Earth-based experience. The Earth is, therefore, the source of all art.
D. In the past, we humans have believed that the Earth's resources were inexhaustible, and we consumed them accordingly. Now, amid one of the greatest extinctions in Earth's history, it is very apparent that we are using up our biosphere of origins faster than it can recover. It is past time to reorient our values and aesthetic expressions to credit that which sustains all of us.
E. We humans have already established ethical and conservation standards for preserving those things we value most. Irreplaceable art masterpieces should be protected from destructive environmental hazards; they should be maintained and enjoyed in safe, peaceful places; and they should be restored in the event of damage.
F. Should we not have the same regard for our planet of origins? Should we not endow it with the same long-term conservation status that we give our most priceless and irreplaceable art treasures?
G. Humanity's tenure is provisional. If the sum of humanity chooses to value most only that which pleases their immediate fancy, nature will ensure our passing. If the sum of humanity chooses to value most the Earth that sustains us all, nature will help us remain.
In consummation of these ideas, on the 20th of April 1987, Malcolm Childers formally declared and signed this conceptual art expression:
In order to give his conceptual expression both credible material and aesthetic evidence, he created the U.S. 111th Meridian Project. Malcolm chose the U.S. land between the 110th and 112th American meridians as an E Pluribus Unum sample of the Planet Earth because it encompassed more diversity of landform and culture than any other national meridian corridor.
He decided to place monuments at both Canadian and Mexican borders on the 111th Meridian and photograph the terrain, environment and culture within that corridor to demonstrate adequately the gravity of his conceptual art expression.
It took Malcolm four months to assemble the needed funding for the 111th Meridian Project before he packed his gear and drove from Tennessee to Montana. On the 2nd of June 1987, at 2:00 p.m., he planted a time capsule on the Canadian border junction with the 111th Meridian, in Liberty County, Montana.
During that month he made his way south, crossing back and forth, along his Meridian corridor through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona toward the Mexican border, taking both aerial and ground photographs.
On the 25th of June 1987, Malcolm buried a second capsule on the U.S.-Mexican border, describing the philosophy of his planet sampling effort. During that inaugural journey, he took over 3,000 photographs.
A collection of photographs from that first trip along with images from subsequent 111th Meridian journeys can be seen by clicking on U.S. 111th Meridian Gallery. Images from the 111th Meridian corridor are found in many other galleries on this website.
Although his conceptual work was sufficiently documented when the second time capsule was set on the 25th of June, he has continued to photograph his Meridian sample. For Malcolm, this corridor epitomizes “the art” that is the Earth.
Before Malcolm began this conceptual work, he was confronted by the futility of making more visual art while what he considered to be the inspirational source of all art was at significant risk of degradation and destruction. By declaring the planet Earth a work of art, he revalues and reorients the arts in their service to humanity. Faced with our continuing threat to and extinction of other species, Malcolm has chosen to refocus his ideas about what ought to be included under the heading of a priceless or irreplaceable art treasure.
In the wake of his 111th Meridian experience, he says that he can’t even talk about current “art issues” without feeling “like a guy with a brewski in his hand, arguing football scores while his house burns down around him.”
The task of getting us to place our highest aesthetic values on the real natural beauty of the living Earth is well beyond the scope of any one man. Thankfully, there are many other voices that realize the gravity of this aesthetic imperative. Malcolm figures this work of art will be finished when every human treats the living Earth as though it were a masterpiece--with the regard that will allow it to sustain its rich diversity of life indefinitely. The dark side of that mandate is simple. If we don't change our aesthetic values, art will not matter, and neither will we.