Marguerite Humeau’s art stems from her deep appreciation of science, knowledge, and nature. So when Englewood’s Black Cube Nomadic Art Museum, a nonprofit that produces public art around the country, asked her to be a fellow in 2021, the artist chose the San Luis Valley for her next piece, “Orisons.” Located in the town of Hooper, Colorado, the 160-acre earthwork—a form of art made directly into or with the land—is a meditation on the valley’s fragile ecosystem and Colorado’s growing water crisis. But unlike many other earthworks, which can transform sweeping stretches of land, Humeau used a light touch and only added a few significant sculptures to the site in order to focus visitors’ attention on the valley itself. “To understand that the region has an environmental crisis, we need to perceive it first,” she says. Ahead of its opening, we spoke with Humeau about the intersection of art and conservation.   

Editor’s note: The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.      

5280: Why did you choose the San Luis Valley?
Marguerite Humeau: During the pandemic, I began studying different bodies of knowledge surrounding weeds, specifically one called the Doctrine of Signatures, which is an ancestral theory that connects plants with human body parts and how we can use [plants] medicinally. All of that research eventually led me to study agriculture, which led me to the San Luis Valley and the droughts in Colorado. I’m fascinated by how the plants and animals there live in such harsh conditions, and I think we have a lot to learn from them.

The valley is a vast, diverse place. What did it take to learn its intricacies? 
We worked with the local community. I’ve connected with soil specialists, the farmers who are hosting me on their land, and sandhill crane experts. Most recently, I’ve been talking with geomancers [human beings who have the gift of clairvoyance and can do land readings]. They told me about human histories that happened on “Orisons,” humans who had died and were now trapped on “Orisons,” where the water ley lines were, where there were twists or sensitive feelings on the land. I am following their advice to place the art in very specific areas. I like to think of the land as my host, and I am its guest.

How does “Orisons” depict the region’s environmental woes?
There are two components. First is a series of sculptures of giant sandhill cranes where you can actually lay down on their wings. Birds are found in mythologies around the world flapping their wings for rain, so I felt they were an important part of the valley. Then, I positioned dozens of small musical instruments around the land so they have maximum impact while still being tiny. To make them, I foraged for some weeds and plants in the valley, studied them, and made the instruments in their image. Some of them sound like raindrops while others sound like leaves rustling in the wind. All of it serves as a call for rain.

(Left) Marguerite Humeau in “Orisons,” 2023. (Right) “Orisons” by Marguerite Humeau, 2023, curated and produced by Black Cube, A Nomadic Art Museum. Photos by Julia Andréone and Florine Bonaventure, courtesy of the artist and Black Cube Nomadic Art Museum

Why was it important for the instruments to be so small and placed so strategically? 
It was a huge conceptual shift for me to think of an earthwork as small, rather than a huge art piece. But I realized that the land is the artwork. That’s why I like to think of my art as acupuncture: It has to almost be invisible while still having an impact. The tiny instruments I have created are very small, but they have maximum impact. This project isn’t so much about what I’m bringing there, but rather highlighting what’s already there.

How would you like visitors to engage with the piece? 
Exploring “Orisons” should be an adventure. There are no gallery walls, so I hope that viewers will realize the art is all around them. It’s in the clouds, the wind, the weather patterns, the plants, and the animals. It’s about encountering all of these beings and being able to connect them with one another. The experience should begin as you drive up and it should not end when you drive away.

“Orisons” is on view from July 30 to June 30, 2025. The site is open seven days a week from sunrise to sunset, April to October. Tickets are free, but one advance reservation per car is required and can be made here.

Barbara O'Neil
Barbara O'Neil
Barbara is one of 5280's assistant editors and writes stories for 5280 and