On Reliction, Sovereign Land, And Entropy

Underlying [literally] this whole Spiral Jetty situation is the fact that Smithson constructed the Jetty on so-called sovereign land, the land under a body of water–in this case, Great Salt Lake–that is claimed by the state under Public Trust doctrine. Obtaining a state lease to build Spiral Jetty warrants only a passing mention in Smithson’s written account of the project, but it turns out to have rippled through the project over time in ways I’m not sure the artist anticipated. And it brings into the work these kind of odd/fascinating concepts that date back to civilization’s earliest attempts to establish a relationship of control over the earth.
In case you think I’m being too hyperbolic, check out this introductory explanation from the most recent draft of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Land’s Great Salt Lake Comprehensive Management Plan, the major policy and administrative initiative currently being developed, which will guide state management of the Lake for a decade or more:

1.1.2 The Public Trust over Sovereign Lands
Under A.D. sixth century Roman law and perhaps earlier, the air, sea, and running waters were common to all citizens and the separate property of none. All rivers and ports were public, and the right of fishing was common to all. Any person was at liberty to use the seashore to the highest tide, to build a retreat on it, or to dry nets on it, as long as they did not interfere with the use of the sea or beach by others. Although the banks of a river could be privately owned, all persons had the right to bring vessels to the banks, to fasten them by ropes, and to place any of their cargo there. The influence of Roman civil law carries forward through English common law to today’s Public Trust doctrine, which recognizes the special public interest in rivers, lakes, tidelands, and waters.

There’s also this explanation from the previous page:

Under English common law, the crown held title to all lands underlying navigable waterways, subject to the Public Trust doctrine. Following the American Revolution, title to such lands in the United States vested in the 13 original colonies. Under the Equal Footing doctrine, fee title to those lands also vested in each state subsequently admitted to the Union, upon admission. Utah-owned navigable waterways, known as ―”sovereign” lands, lie below the ordinary high water mark of the waterbody. These lands are referred to as Public Trust lands. The boundaries of sovereign lands are established by the location of the ordinary high water mark of a waterbody. For the ocean and most rivers and lakes, the ordinary high water mark is relatively constant and can be identified reliably from year to year. Because rivers and streams establish many important boundaries and can move over time, the common law doctrine of reliction and accretion holds that slow, gradual movement of a river or stream course over time will result in relocation of the property boundary to follow the movement. Sudden changes in course, as by flooding or other upset, will not result in the relocation of the property line.
In 1959, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) challenged the state’s claim to much of the shoreline of the lake, arguing that the declining lake level was resulting in the reliction of shore lands and the relocation of the boundary between state and adjacent federal land, to BLM’s advantage. In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the state owns all of the lands, brines, and other minerals within the bed and waters of the lake and all shore lands located within the officially surveyed meander line.

[Emphasis added for the parts which, when considered in light of Smithson’s interest in entropy and the scale of geologic time, are particularly awesome.]
I actually hadn’t thought about the meander line and reliction, and I hadn’t noticed the protracted legal battle between Utah and the federal government for ownership of the lake until just tonight. That’s when I came across a small article in the “Diggin’s” section of Survey Notes, a quarterly newsletter published by the Utah Geological and Mineral Survey. [The cover story of the Aug. 1979 issue (PDF) detailed the results of Amoco’s test drilling in the West Rozel oil field that lies under the Lake just offshore from Spiral Jetty.] That article, titled, “Who Owns Utah Lake?” is about a lawsuit between the Army Corps of Engineers and the state over a boat ramp in Utah Lake, near Provo:

The legal dispute is reminiscent of the 10 years of litigation which ended in Utah’s ownership of the Great Salt Lake and subsequent oil and gas leasing and exploratory drilling.

Which, ten years? if you start at 1959, that’s 1969, right up to Smithson’s arrival. Or go back a decade from the 1967 Supreme Court decision, and Spiral Jetty appeared smack in the middle of the court battle.
I think Smithson’s overriding concerns for building a Spiral Jetty were formalist; it needed to be a red-tinted salt lake. Plus it wasn’t Bolivia, and it was available. The depleted atmosphere created by the varied pieces of abandoned oil drilling equipment were a bonus. But the land under Spiral Jetty, and Great Salt Lake as a whole, turned out to be a site where the interpretation of ancient constructs of law, politics, and sovereign ownership were being hotly contested at the moment Smithson came along.

On And Around Rozel Point

As you might expect, I’ve been going deep into the history and context of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty lately. I’m in Salt Lake City right now, meeting folks and listening and trying to gather some firsthand perspectives on the issues and dynamics around the Jetty and Great Salt Lake: things like land use, lake management, State leasing, oil and mineral exploration, tourism, climate and ecosystem, and so forth.
While I’m obviously trying to figure out how best to approach the current lease situation, I’m also trying to get a handle on the history of the lake and Rozel Point in the Spiral Jetty era.
petrohunter_blackpearl.jpg
And so I come across things like these oil field maps from a 2007 press announcement by BlackPearl, the Canadian heavy oil specialists who partnered with and then acquired Petrohunter’s leases to the West Rozel field. It was the inadvertent discovery in 2008 of Pearl’s drilling applications, execution of which apparently had to happen by 2008-9 to keep the leases valid, which set off an environmentalist, art blogger, and art world protest. And yet, the transfer of the leases from American Oil to Petrohunter in 2006 and Petrohunter’s detailed plans for drilling test wells, were part of the company’s regular SEC filings in 2006.
Which is not exactly the point right now. I’m just kind of caught off guard by the beauty of these maps [well, 3 out of 4.] T8N on the left side of the West Rozel map I recognize: Township 8 North, the same State map page as the Spiral Jetty‘s site. The contour lines are, I believe, surface topography, while the green forms are the oil deposit or field structures, and black lines are faults or other subterranean geographic features? I haven’t looked it up yet.
They remind me of Oil Seeps at Rozel Point, a mid-1960s Utah Geological Survey report of the area that Smithson owned, which makes a cameo in his Spiral Jetty film. I bought a copy years ago. Really should dig it out by now. [They also remind me of passages in a Julie Mehretu painting, maybe with a bit of Bochner thrown in. It’s got to mean something that Spiral Jetty made its public debut In Kynaston McShine’s 1970 MoMA exhibition, “Information,” but what, I can’t say just yet.]
The other unexpected discovery also relates to the form of the West Rozel field, only this time, it’s language. Specifically, the abstract for “Heavy-Oil Deposit, Great Salt Lake, Utah: Section V. Exploration Histories,” a 1987 report for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, by Louis C. Bortz. It’s just fantastic writing, an incredibly dense bit of information encoded in the highly specialized language of the petroleum geologist. It also echoes with Smithson’s writing and film about Spiral Jetty. Which is a good reminder that this context of geology and geologic time and structure was important for Smithson, as was the oil drilling and hunting history of Rozel Point. Anyway, here’s the whole thing:

The western portion of the Great Salt Lake contains two large Neogene basins, informally called the “North” and “South” basins. These basins are separated by an arch that trends northeast between Carrington Island and Fremont Island. Both basins are filled with Miocene, Pliocene, and Quaternary sediments and volcanic rocks. Each basin has an estimated maximum thickness of over 4300 m (14,000 ft) of Tertiary rocks. Palynology indicates the oldest Tertiary sedimentary rocks present in both basins are Miocene, but a radiometric date indicates the presence of Oligocene rocks. Structurally, the basins are slightly asymmetric, deeper on the east with an obvious boundary fault zone on the east flank of each basin. Faulting is present on the western flanks but of a lesser magnitude. The most common structural traps found in these basins are anticlinal closures, faulted noses, and fault closures. These structures are probably the result of continued differential subsidence of pre-Miocene blocks throughout Neogene time. A total of 13 exploratory wells was drilled by Amoco in the Great Salt Lake, from June 1978 to December 1980, resulting in an oil discovery at West Rozel and oil and/or gas shows in eight other wildcat wells. The West Rozel oil field produces from fractured Pliocene basalts at a depth of 640-730 m (2100-2400 ft). The trap is a faulted, closed anticline covering approximately 2300 acres. The discovery well, Amoco No. 1 West Rozel Unit (NW NW Sec. 23, T8N, R8W, Box Elder County), has an oil column of 88 m (290 ft) but produced at rates of only 2-5 BOPH with a gas-lift system. The oil is 4° API gravity, 12.5% sulfur, and has a pour point of 75°F. Two development wells that have smaller oil columns (No. 2, 26 m [85 ft]; No. 3, 60 m [194 ft]) were equipped with a downhole hydraulic pump and produced oil at rates up to 90 BOPH. Additional development of the field was not initiated because of the high water cut and the high cost of operating an “offshore” field.

I love it. And I love trying to make enough sense of it to visualize the field in my mind.
The other point, though, is Amoco. In 1978. They were exploring for oil, mapping the field and drilling test wells beginning in 1978, eight years after Smithson completed the Jetty and five years after his death. And I think they were doing it right next to the Jetty, which was submerged and apparently forgotten, ignored, or unknown. It’s been called the Amoco jetty, so I think the utility jetty just east of Spiral Jetty was built at this time, and used for as the base for exploration activities. Chew on that for a while. Right next door.
But in Artforum in 2002, Nico Israel tracked down Ken Pixley, another onetime oil leaseholder at Rozel Point, who said that he and his father had built that oil jetty in 1980. There are period state documents which show the 500m jetty cutting through a 40-acre “Pixley lease”; I think documenting this site history and activity is going to take some doing.

Site Specifics: Why I’m Bidding On The Lease For The Spiral Jetty Site

Spiral Jetty sign
I’ve begun speaking to enough people on the ground that it wouldn’t have gone unnoticed for much longer, but now word’s got out that I’ve established a foundation to bid on the site of Robert Smtihson’s Spiral Jetty, a 10-acre parcel of State-owned lakebed in Great Salt Lake. In the simplest terms, I’m bidding for the lease because it seems irresponsible not to.
Several weeks ago, it was reported that the Dia Foundation’s lease had expired, and it was not immediately clear that the Utah Department of Natural Resources would grant Dia a new lease as a matter of course. When I called the Department to ask to be notified if the State decided to open the lease for competitive bidding, I was told I’d be added to the list. At that moment, it occurred to me that parties other than Dia were expressing interest in the lease.
As weeks passed, with no resolution, the possibility that Dia might not automatically get a new lease grew, along with the uncertainty of Spiral Jetty‘s fate. Once I received assurance that submitting an application would not automatically trigger an open bidding situation, I felt the responsible thing to do was to present apparently undecided State officials with the most constructive, credible set of choices: the status quo, or an independent, locally based institution whose purpose is to manage the site and collaborate with the artwork’s owners as they fulfill their own missions.
Let me underscore their continued involvement, because it was also important, whatever the status of the lease or the site, that there was an acknowledgement in the process of Dia’s undisputed ownership of the Spiral Jetty artwork, and the Smithson Estate’s ownership and control of the intellectual property rights associated with it. Any responsible proposal, I felt, should endeavor to support and facilitate Dia’s stewardship of Spiral Jetty, not usurp it.
In trying to craft the most effective alternative to the status quo ante, the importance of local engagement came quickly and repeatedly to the fore. There are many significant issues that directly impact Spiral Jetty in its site. To constructively address them, increased local engagement seems critical: environmental, land use, and lake management initiatives; economic development, tourism and energy issues; and art and cultural institutions within the State.
jetty_fndn_lg.png
The Jetty Foundation’s mission is three-fold:

  • Support the wise stewardship of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty artwork in accordance with artist’s vision.
  • Facilitate informed, productive engagement among Spiral Jetty stakeholders, including the artist’s Estate and the Dia Foundation; State and local government entities; lake and land use, tourism, economic development, environmental and community organizations; and arts, museum and cultural institutions within Utah and beyond.
  • Support and encourage a greater appreciation of Spiral Jetty in the specific context the artist chose for it: in Utah, in Great Salt Lake, at Rozel Point.

If lease evaluations or bidding proceeds, the Foundation will expand its board to include leaders and stakeholders in Utah as well as recognized figures from the larger art and museum community.
If the State awards The Jetty Foundation the site lease, the board will have responsibility for managing the lease and for identifying and addressing issues that affect the site, in collaboration with the owners of the artwork, who would remain the key stewards of the artwork itself. The details of the board makeup and how the Foundation would support and work together with Dia and the Estate are all things to be figured out if or when it’s necessary.
As for the no-doubt invigorating conceptual implications any such arrangement might entail, I will not speculate. It was precisely the recognition that the administrative uncertainty surrounding Spiral Jetty called for more action and less sideline rumination that compelled me along the current course.
If the State decides that administration of the site by a locally engaged institution is preferable to the previous set-up, I want to make as certain as I can that such an organization operates wisely, effectively, and with respect for Dia’s and the Estate’s standing regarding the artwork. Should the State decide to award Dia a new lease on the site, I would hope that the Foundation’s role will be constructive and catalytic in bringing the importance of site and local engagement to the fore for the decades ahead.
Stay tuned.

1994 Calling: Spiral Jetty

jetty_artforum_sum94.jpg
We’re consolidating storage spaces between New York and Washington, and it’s given me a chance to reorganize a bit. I found a couple of boxes my 1994 self apparently just threw stuff into, sealed up, and shipped off, almost like Warhol-style time capsules.
At least, that’s the positive spin on them. I’m sure Hoarders has a different take.
Anyway, one of the things I found was a stack of old Artforum magazines, including this one, from Summer 1994, which was something of a Donald Judd tribute issue. The cover image of a Judd study for a 1985 wall work collaged from paint chips jumped right out of the box at me.
The next thing I noticed when I picked it up was how thing and light it was: just 120 pages, plus a 32-page Bookforum inset. Adorable.
And then, flipping through it, I saw this:
jetty_artforum_94.jpg
A two-page photospread, dropped into the issue in the Artforum equivalent of breaking news, which announced to the art world the re-emergence of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. Summer 1994, people, just like I said it did.
The 1993 aerial photo on the left is by Atsushi Fujie; it’s hard now to remember the time–even though it was most of the Jetty‘s first two decades of existence–when the only way to really see it was from the air. [Whoops, Fujie’s photo is dated here from the 1970s.]
In any case, the two contemporary photos on the right are by Carol van Wagoner of the Salt Lake Tribune, the paper which first published news of the Jetty‘s appearance in the Spring of 1994, before the snowmelt, when Great Salt Lake was at its low point.
The brief text by Parisian art historian Jean-Pierre Criqui, which opens “Spiral Jetty is back, and it doesn’t look like itself,” is a nice time capsule, suitable to mark the transition in the Jetty‘s history. The moment when the archetypal work of Land Art stopped being just a sign of itself–a concept, a state of mind, really–and reasserted its massive physical presence, and its inextricable link to its site:

The jetty’s vicissitudes, then–disappearance, reappearance, transformation–are clearly relevant to the nature of the work as it was conceived by its (co-) author. Any attempt to restore or to reconstruct it would run counter to its concept. Should the Spiral Jetty someday disappear forever, what would take its place beneath its title would be no less powerful: an entire network of signs, visible or not–a text, a film, photographs, drawings, and numerous subjective elaborations, including those of the author of this article, who has never been to Utah yet would say, without hesitation, that Spiral Jetty is among his favorite works of art.

As one who drove out to the Jetty for the first time that Summer, I can say without hesitation that it’s among my favorite works of art, too.

WTF SPIRAL JETTY PAPERWORK MAYHEM

Holy smokes, this is like something out of Land Art Kafka. Tyler Green points to a just-published report by the Salt Lake Tribune’s Glen Warchol: the Utah Department of Natural Resources is claiming the Dia Foundation’s 20-year lease on the 10 acres of state land under the Spiral Jetty is not being renewed. Dia was “tardy” in making its $250 lease payment, and that the Foundation had not responded to an automatically generated notice of the end of the lease sent in February.
Dia’s deputy director had no idea about the situation when the Tribune reporter called for comment. Yet the report also includes multiple sources from the state, and other local experts familiar with state land leases.
The story is just flabbergasting, the dismissive quotes in particular. Oh, and the land use attorney who finds the non-renewal “unusual” and who notes that it’d be “unheard-of” for the state to fail to renew a mineral extraction company’s lease.
Robert Smithson leased 10 acres of sovereign land at Rozel Point to build the Spiral Jetty in 1970. The original payment was $100/year. The artist’s estate gave the Jetty to Dia in 1999, which implies that the estate had renewed it at $250/year around 1990.
Reading the report again, this paragraph jumps out at me:

The Spiral Jetty would continue to be protected as state land and the public access would remain the same, [Forestry and State Lands spokesman] Curry said. “Dia’s not holding the lease is not going to change anything regarding the Spiral Jetty.”

On the one hand, it could sound like an attempt or decision by the state to take control of the Jetty itself. On the other, neither Warchol nor the state spokesman seems too steeped in the nuances of ownership and authorization of an artwork. [Which obviously happens to be site-specific, but still.]
It’s an early report of a fragment of a complicated situation with [literally] monumental consequences.
Control of iconic sculpture Spiral Jetty in dispute [sltrib via @tylergreendc]

Hilton Kramer: TMI

God bless him, even if he’s on the wrong side of [most of the intervening 40 years of] contemporary art history, you gotta love Hilton Kramer’s eviscerating takedown of MoMA’s 1970 conceptualist exhibition, Information, curated by Kynaston McShine:

The exhibition is, in its way, amusing and amazing, but only because it upholds an attitude one had scarcely thought worth entertaining: an attitude toward the artistic process that is so over-weeningly intellectual that it is, in its feeble results, virtually mindless. Here all the detritus of modern printing and electronic communications media has been transformed by an international gaggle of demi-intellectuals into a low grade form of show business. It leaves one almost nostalgic for a good old-fashioned hand-made happening.

Though he only mentioned one artist by name in his NY Times review [Hans Haacke], Kramer did note the “great many blowups of junky photographic materials…of earthworks,” which I assume is a reference to the four Gianfranco Gorgoni photos that introduced the just-completed Spiral Jetty to the public.
Show at The Modern Raises Questions, July 2, 1970 [nyt archives]

Wanted: Smithson’s Movie Treatment For Spiral Jetty Poster

smithson_jetty_poster.jpg
I’ve been working on a shot-for-shot remake of the Spiral Jetty film for a while, and so I’m quite familiar with the storyboard-like drawings Smithson did for it. Familiar with them as drawings, that is. He called them Movie Treatments.
It’s a little embarrassing to admit I didn’t realize Smithson had used a treatment/storyboard for the flyer/poster of the 1970 Dwan Gallery exhibition of Spiral Jetty until I read it in Kathleen Merrill Campagnolo’s essay on the Jetty and its camera imagery in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art Journal. But there it is:

DWAN 29 WEST 57 STREET NEW YORK OPENING OCTOBER 31 TO NOVEMBER 25
A 16 MM, 35 MINUTE COLOR AND SOUND FILM ON THE SPIRAL JETTY WILL
BE SHOWN DAILY AT 2:00 IN THE GALLERY FOR THE DURATION OF EXHIBITION.

The Dwan exhibition consisted primarily of Gianfranco Gorgoni’s large-format photos of the Jetty, eight of which were included in Kynaston McShine’s historic “Information” show at the Museum of Modern Art that summer.
Given the iconic aspects of the photos and the powerful influence of the film–not to mention the experience of visiting the Jetty itself–it’s somehow odd to think of encountering the Jetty first in terms of Smithson’s site/non-site paradigm, as a situation represented in a gallery.
It’s also interesting to note that the film only played once a day, not on a continuous loop as is often the case now. It was an event more than an installation.
Anyway, I would like you to send me one of these posters, please. If you have one you don’t need, or perhaps some extras. It need not be signed. Thank you.

The Not So Spiral Jetty

spiral_jetty_v09.jpg
For a generation of art watchers, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty existed primarily as an image, via the making-of film and Gianfranco Gorgoni’s iconic aerial photographs, which were exhibited at MoMA’s seminal Information show and were published in Smithson’s Artforum essay on the work. This mediated encounter with the work inevitably affected its interpretation. But similarly, the 16 years of visibility and visitability since the Jetty’s re-emergence from the Great Salt Lake can lull you into a sense of complacency that you now know the work. And by you, of course, I mean me.
The latest issue of the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art Journal includes an excellent essay, “Spiral Jetty through the Camera’s Eye,” by doctoral candidate Kathleen Merrill Campagnolo, which looks at how Smithson used photography and film to shape not only the reception of the Jetty, but its conception and evolution as well.
For example, at first, and even until a week after it was supposedly completed, it wasn’t actually a spiral. The image above is from a contact sheet Gorgoni took in April 1970. It shows the Jetty:

…with a single, simple curve to the left, creating a hook shape with a large circle of rocks at the end…In a recently published account of the construction of the sculpture, the contractor Bob Phillips reveals that Smithson considered this first curved jetty, as seen in Gorgoni’s photographs, to be complete, but about a week after the construction crew had been sent away, he called them back to alter the configuration…
…Not surprisingly, the early version of the sculpture was not included in any of Smithson’s Spiral Jetty works. In fact, by the time he had finished his essay in 1970-71, the text reads as if the form the jetty took was a foregone conclusion from his first arrival at Rozel Point.

Campagnolo’s article has another Gorgoni photo, of Smithson and Richard Serra looking at a lost/destroyed sketch of Jetty v1.0 with v2.0 superimposed on it.
To see the sketch, you should really read the article. But I am reproducing the top half of the image here because I am in awe of Serra’s impressive Jewfro.
serra_jewfro_gorgoni.jpg
PDF: Vol 47: 1-2, The Archives of American Art Journal [aaa.si.edu via the Archives of American Art Blog Really? Yes. It’s awesome. [blog.aaa.si.edu, probably via tyler green, since it mentions hockey]

Everyone’s An Earth Artist: Lamanites

amazon_earthwork_antiquity.jpg
I guess if God can appear to a backwoods New York farmboy, send an angel to groom him for four years, and then command him to translate a sheaf of golden plates into the Book of Mormon, He can also guide Robert Smithson to build the Spiral Jetty in Utah; lure me out to visit it within a couple of months of its reappearance in 1994; and start me a-bloggin’ years ago about Earth Art and Google Maps; so that, when it’s on Discovery Channel, there’ll be someone to point out that the Pre-Columbian geometric earthworks in western Amazonia are–duh–Lamanite-era copies of Nephite-style forts.
But since that would require paying even a little attention or credence to the archaeology-based school of Book of Mormon apologists I’ll pass.
It’s enough for me to think of the headaches these earthworks will give to Michael Heizer.
‘Astonishing’ Ancient Amazon Civilization Discovery Detailed [discovery.com]
Pre-Columbian geometric earthworks in the upper Purús: a complex society in western Amazonia [antiquity.ac.uk]

Convergence

jetty_ball_art21.jpg
If I’m a little high right now, it’s just because these conservators just hit like every art button I have:

To photo-document Spiral Jetty, we used a tethered helium balloon about 8-10 feet in diameter, attached to a digital camera that would take an image every few seconds until the camera’s memory card filled up. Each of us let out string from a spool and sent the balloon up anywhere from 50 to 600 meters, depending on what we were trying to capture and other factors such as wind and amount of helium to give lift. The results were absolutely amazing! Now I have a low tech, low cost way to take aerial images of the sculpture — something I plan to do on an annual basis. These images can be paired with data that we collected using a Total Station survey instrument in order to create scaled 3D maps and diagrams of the Jetty and its materials.

Extending the Conservation Framework: A Site-Specific Conservation Discussion with Francesca Esmay [art21.org via man]

For the Record, The Spiral Jetty First Re-Emerged In 1994.

Not 2004 when the state put up a sign pointing to it. Not 2002, when my sister first took a college date out to see it but Artforum’s Nico Israel couldn’t find it. 1994.
After a Salt Lake City artist friend, Patrick Barth, told me that Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty was partially visible in mid-summer 1994, I drove to the Jetty in my sister’s car–no way I’d take my own car–in early August 1994. The larger rocks were visible, forming a fragmentary outline of the structure. They were all covered in glistening salt crystals.
So please, enough with the, it re-emerged whenever the New York Times first found out about it nonsense.

On Dean On Ballard On Millar On Smithson

Who knew? Tacita Dean writes in the Guardian about her late friend JG Ballard’s shared interest in Robert Smithson:

My relationship to Ballard had begun a little earlier, with our mutual interest in the work of the US artist Robert Smithson. In 1997, I tried to find Smithson’s famous 1970 earthwork, Spiral Jetty, in the Great Salt Lake of Utah. I had directions faxed to me from the Utah Arts Council, which I supposed had been written by Smithson himself. I only knew what I was looking for from what I could remember of art school lectures: the iconic aerial photograph of the basalt spiral formation unfurling into a lake. In the end, I never found it; it was either submerged at the time, or I wasn’t looking in the right place. But the journey had a marked impact on me, and I made a sound work about my attempt to find it. Ballard must have read about it, because he sent me a short text he had written on Smithson, for an exhibition catalogue.
It was the writer, curator and artist Jeremy Millar who became convinced Smithson knew of Ballard’s short story, The Voices of Time, before building his jetty. All Smithson’s books had been listed after his death in a plane crash in 1973 – and The Voices of Time was among them. The story ends with the scientist Powers building a cement mandala or “gigantic cipher” in the dried-up bed of a salt lake in a place that feels, by description, to be on the very borders of civilisation: a cosmic clock counting down our human time. It is no surprise that it is a copy of The Voices of Time that lies beneath the hand of the sleeping man on the picnic rug in the opening scenes of Powers of Ten, Charles and Ray Eames’ classic 1977 film about the relative size of things in the universe.

As it happens, I’m reading Millar’s book about Fischli & Weiss right now. And Massimiliano Gioni and the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi are opening a nice retrospective of Dean’s work in Milan in a couple of weeks. As soon as my copy of Ballard’s just-published interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist arrives, the loop will be complete.
The cosmic clock with Ballard at its core [guardian, thanks stuart]

Visiting Artist [sic], Parts 7 & 7: Robert Smithson


These are the last two segments from the lecture I gave at the University of Utah School of Art in 2007, titled Visiting Artist [sic]. They’re both about Robert Smithson. The first [above] is about Smithson’s own 1972 slideshow lecture at the UofU, “Hotel Palenque,” which he also published as an Artforum article, and which his estate eventually sold to the Guggenheim as a multimedia installation piece of art.
I love “Hotel Palenque,” and took its irreverent challenge to the orthodoxy of art and art criticism as part of the inspiration for some of my own talk. In preparation for my own lecture, I tracked down some people who were present at Smithson’s original lecture, to see what the artist may have said or indicated at the time.
Unlike the Guggenheim, I am deeply unconvinced that the lecture is a work of art per se. But I find it useful asking how and why treat this thing [sic] an artist made/did/said differently depending on whether it is or isn’t Art.

The second clip is the hometown favorite, the Spiral Jetty. In 2007, the big questions surrounding the Jetty concerned its recognition as a tourist attraction. The state government decided to do a big cleanup of the industrial detritus and abandoned machinery on Rozel Point [they arbitrarily classified wood and stone structures as “historic,” while removing all metal.] And then Smithson’s widow Nancy Holt made offhand comments about how it’d be fine with Bob to rebuild the Jetty, because that wasn’t the kind of entropy he meant, anyway. So I riffed on what kind of entropy might be best for a once-obscure, once-abandoned, now-popular Earthwork.
All Visiting Artist [sic] posts:
Parts 2 & 3: On Dan Flavin
Parts 4 & 5: On Throwing Art Away
video of Part 6: On Joep van Lieshout, which I apparently didn’t post here
Parts 7 & 7 [sic] on Robert Smithson