Earth, Wind and Fire: Ali Beletic’s Expansive Art

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Through her paintings, sculptures and environmental installations, Ali Beletic searches for our latent empathy with nature. Driven by an unwavering conviction that our humanity is best reflected by the natural environment, Beletic uses air, earth, fire and water in combination with organic materials like metal and wood. Weaving ephemeral, sensory elements like light and sound into her installations, she creates physically immersive experiences. 

Her 2015 Illuminated Passage installation in the Mojave Desert guided visitors on a path through a jumble of ancient boulders that seemed to be lit from within, while visitors to her 2013 installation, Pray for Rain, walked a mile through the Sonoran Desert at dusk to encounter rectangular cisterns made of glass and wood filled with rainwater. As the light weakened and the full moon rose, drummers hidden from view played a rhythmic score, filling the rock-rimmed wash with echoing drums.

As a physics student, Beletic found academia’s reliance on constructed knowledge too restrictive, and she longed to find a more open approach to understanding the world. Her interests led her to naturalist and wilderness awareness training with mentors like Tom Brown, Jr. and Jon Young. A child of avid outdoor enthusiasts, Beletic was already comfortable outside, and her naturalist training quickly began to dovetail with the art and music she was making in her studio. Reaching a critical juncture in her practice and inspired by the Earth Art pioneers of the 1960s, such as Nancy Holt, Walter de Maria and Robert Smithson, Beletic left Brooklyn for Arizona. Her subsequent protracted engagement with the wide open desert yielded an ongoing series of artwork situated in remote landscapes, as well as paintings on paper made with ground mineral pigments and functional sculptures modeled on ancient stone fire bowls and other ritualistic objects.

Leaving her high desert studio, Beletic wanders the desert, occasionally settling in to be still and take it all in. The regular practice of untethering herself from the familiarity, comfort and relative safety of her studio gives her a perspective on nature’s boundlessness and her necessarily impermanent place within it. Respect and humility are side effects of these meanderings, and so are her expansive temporary sculptures. “I like the aspect of my work being so demanding of my sense of independence. Everything depends on me, my skill level, my awareness, my ingenuity and my knowledge of the interdependence of nature.”

Beletic has developed a conversation between the artwork she makes in her studio and outdoors, which reflects her own conversation with the natural world. Perhaps if more of us connect with nature, our obligation to protect it will grow. Beletic’s art suggests such a homeopathic remedy for the Internet age.

This article was originally published in RANGE Magazine Issue Five.

xx Corrina Peipon