Last January, artist Sonja Hinrichsen stood on a frozen reservoir in Colorado with 60 volunteers in snowshoes and gave them a set of simple instructions to make a work of art. “I just knew that I wanted to get from one end of the lake to the other,” she says. “It wasn’t mapped out; it’s really intuitive.”
Hinrichsen, who has drawn patterns in the snow for the last five winters, was invited to the reservoir to remind Coloradans that the area, now dammed, used to be a free-flowing river. “We came up with this idea that we would re-draw the actual Yampa River on top of the frozen lake,” she says.
The volunteers streamed across the lake from four directions, recreating the swirls and eddies of the current with footprints.
The next day, Hinrichsen saw the results. “The outcome is really unpredictable with all of the snow drawings,” she says. “I see it for the first time up in the airplane the next day. From the ground, especially if it’s a flat area, there’s no way to see it. So it’s always a surprise. When we were walking on the Yampa River, I was really questioning it, thinking it wasn’t working. But the group really managed to bring across the idea of water.”
On a sunny day, the snow drawings don’t last long. But the point of the art is as much about the experience for the volunteers as the result. “All of these projects are about people reconnecting to nature,” she says.
“It’s a little meditative being out there and having this huge landscape in front of you, and walking through the snow that makes this crunching sound,” she adds. “There was kind of a front of people marching through that lake–it was really beautiful, actually. I wish we could have photographed the process.”
Later that winter, Hinrichsen traveled to a small lake in upstate New York to make another snow drawing, and then spent two weeks in the French Alps creating a giant drawing that took days. This winter, she’ll travel to Finland to make a snow drawing on the frozen North Sea, and then to Denali National Park in Alaska.
When people see the photographs, she hopes they’ll think about the beauty of the natural world. “I hope that it inspires an awe or appreciation for the environment,” she says. “Then, when something comes up like fracking–issues that are about communities standing up for what they think to be important–I hope they’ll think more. My work isn’t overt, but I hope that in a between-the-lines sort of way I make people think about the preciousness of nature.”
Hinrichsen’s newest set of completed photographs, from the project in the Alps, are currently on display at Chandra Cerrito Contemporary in Oakland.