Category:spiral jetty

obama_heizer_reid_ovalofc_dinatitus.jpg

If I had to make a list of photo ops I could never imagine, Michael Heizer standing alongside Pres. Obama and Sen. Harry Reid would be right up there. And yet here we are.

Heizer, along with LACMA director Michael Govan and others, gathered to celebrate the designation of the Basin & Range National Monument, which protects 704,000 acres of Nevada wilderness, ranchland, and Heizer's decades-long project, City, from oil extraction or encroaching development.

Spiral Jetty's on 10 acres. Lightning Field's on a few thousand, plus DIA's bought up 9,000+ surrounding acres to protect the view. With 700K plus a high-powered entourage at the White House, it's as if Heizer has out-Earthworked all the Earthwork artists with the biggest Earthwork on Earth.

[via @RepDinaTitus]

December 9, 2014

Jetty With A View

Jetty, dir. Skylar Nielsen, starring Julian Sands

RadioWest, the local public radio talk show on KUER in Salt Lake, devoted an hour to Spiral Jetty this morning. Most of the time was spent talking with art historian Ann Reynolds, Dia's Jetty curator and Utah liaison Kelly Kivland, but there were segments from local earthwriter Terry Tempest Williams and director Skylar Nielsen. It was the debut of Nielsen's short film Jetty, commissioned by KUER, that was the hook for the discussion. Jetty had been conceived and shot one morning in September when the actor Julian Sands was coming to town to do Pinter, and he wanted to visit the artwork, which he'd heard about from his friend in LA, Michael Govan.

But this is all backing into the story. Which nonetheless feels necessary, because it was a fascinating and perplexing conversation that, the main guests' credentials notwithstanding, felt utterly detached from the art [historical] context, and its theoretical discourses. Instead of that construct, Spiral Jetty exists, in a public place, in the open, in a culture, and that is Utah. Utah is the site. Which makes the art world the non-site, I guess?

First, they didn't discuss Robert Smithson's film Spiral Jetty at all. Reynolds made one reference to a photo of oil derricks, but that was it. Which is amazing. In 1993, the last year before it resurfaced, curator Robert Sobieszek wrote of Spiral Jetty "coevally manifesting itself as a sculpture, a film, and a text," In practice, though, for two decades, the film was the work; the site was irrelevant. This perspective reflected the physical reality of the submerged, i.e. basically lost/destroyed, sculpture, far off in BF Utah, which, New York and the art world were central, check out the view from up here, and Utah's marginality was the self-reinforcing reason Smithson had picked it. With the re-emergence of the jetty, the enlightened pilgrimage through the chain restaurant cultural desert to the abandoned, entropic wasteland kicked in.

If this morning's discussion was any indication, Spiral Jetty has been pulled to Utah's bosom and squeezed, hard. Redeemed from its oil-drilling & tar-seeping failures, it is a manmade monument at one with nature that offers spiritual solace and communion with the land, sky, and water. It is experiential above all, an engine of personal transformation and enlightenment for all who walk or contemplate it. Reynolds' top tip for visiting Spiral Jetty is to camp out there. And if you can't at least spend 24 hours. Kivland, whose first visit to Spiral Jetty was in October 2011, with Nancy Holt, as part of the lease renegotiation process, agreed, and committed to visiting for the long haul. [Note: there are no facilities for camping at Spiral Jetty, and all the land you hike on is privately owned. Is Dia contemplating some infrastructure to turn Spiral Jetty into a more Lightning Field Experience?]

Smithson's pseudo-mystical writing is used to support this reconfiguration of Spiral Jetty into a devotional labyrinth for psychic discovery. Tempest-Williams gave perhaps the most highly evolved expression when she talked about how the submerged Jetty gave her solace when her mother died in 1987, and how it walking its re-emerged path with her adopted Rwandan son gave courage that life will go on when she finally visited it, in 2011. Which, I'm two degrees from Tempest-Williams and respect her and her work, but this strikes me as a pristine example of her ability to refit something, anything, into a deeply felt reflection on the landscape of her self.

sands_jetty_through_the_lids.jpg

Or maybe the apotheosis here is actually the Jetty film, created seemingly on a whim, with a helicopter and a dronecam, when the radio folks heard their famous actor/guest wanted to visit the site. In 3-minutes Nielsen puts Smithson's film through a Fincher filter, with distorted titles, non-spatial edits, and Sands trudging around the landbound jetty, literalizing the Smithson text he intones in a voiceover:

On the slopes of Rozzle Point

[AERIAL SHOT OF SLOPES]

I closed my eyes and

[CUT TO FAST ZOOM ON SANDS STANDING AT APEX OF JETTY, EYES CLOSED, ARMS OUTSTRETCHED TAKING IN THE]

the sun burned crimson through the lids.

[ZOOM TIGHT ON HIS FACE]

I opened them

[SUDDENLY OPENS EYES]

and the Great Salt Lake was bleeding scarlet streaks.

Then "improvising as he saw fit," Sands begins reciting lines from "The Windmills of Your Mind":
Like a circle in a spiral
like a wheel within a wheel
never ending of beginning
on an ever-spinning reel
It reminds me of nothing so much as Sands' portrayal of George Emerson in A Room With A View, who climbed a Tuscan tree to shout his creed and the Eternal Yes to Nature herself.

Actually, I saw A Room With A View as an impressionable freshman in Salt Lake City, though I wanted to be Freddie. And I was the only one in the packed theater to laugh out loud at Daniel Day-Lewis's garden party scene. I may have to reshoot this movie.

rwav_poppy_field_kiss.jpg

Oh man, or just mash it up.

"Mr. Sands, Mr. Nielsen, and Mr. Fletcher fly out in helicopters to see a view. Utahans fly them."

"I have a theory," said Judi Dench's Eleanor Lavish, "there is something in the Rozel Point landscape that inclines even the most stolid nature to romance."

Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty [radiowest.kuer.org]
Jetty, dir. Skylar Nielsen, starring Julian Sands [vimeo]
Behind the Scenes | Spiral Jetty [vitabrevisfilms]

August 15, 2014

l'Autre Jetée

image.jpg

We went exploring the Camargue today, and came across these giant mounds of salt being processed south of Salin de Giraud, which looked a lot like the ones in Doug Aitken's app, commissioned by Maja Hoffman's LUMA Foundation in Arles. It turns out to be next to some evaporation fields which are the color of The Great Salt Lake at Rozel Point, the color which inspired Robert Smithson to choose the site for his most famous work. This panorama shows these two artists' fields together for the first time.

image.jpg

The obvious thing, then, is to combine the two landscapes, creating a spiral jetty out of mounds of pure salt in the pink evaporation ponds. It won't last, of course, but that's what entropy's all about, and public art. To the extent such a word is applicable in this site and situation, the LUMA Foundation is the obvious partner and platform to make this Phantom Spiral Jetty appear.

Last summer I wondered about finding and visiting Walter de Maria's Las Vegas Piece, three miles of trench bulldozed into the Nevada desert in 1969. [Technically, I wrote about the Center For Land Use Interpretation's account of leading curator Miwon Kwon's graduate seminar on a hunt for Las Vegas Piece, and about how the artist prepped people for visiting the piece, and about just recreating the damn thing already, we have the technology! Did you know Sturtevant worked on plans to make a double of Double Negative? On the ravine on the Mormon Mesa right next to Michael Heizer's fresh original? Holy smokes, people, read Bruce Hainley's book. But that's another post.]

Yes, the piece is supposedly lost, and now de Maria is, too. And so all we're left with is his description of Las Vegas Piece from his 1972 oral history interview with Paul Cumming.

But no, there is another. The late curator Jan van der Marck wrote about visiting Las Vegas Piece in the catalogue for an exhibition of "instruction Drawings" from the Gilbert and Lila Silverman collection at the Bergen (NO) Kunstverein in 2001. van der Marck was a founding curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and was involved in organizing artists' response to the police violence at the 1968 Democratic Convention. But that's another post, too. Here's van der Marck's crazy story of what amounts to an Earth Art junket: [with paragraph breaks added for the internet]:

Earth art turned into a personal experience for me in February 1970 when Virginia Dwan invited me and a few German art writers and museum directors to join her and the artists Michael Heizer and alter De Maria on a quick inspection of some new works in the Nevada Desert. From the Las Vegas airport our small band traveled ninety-five miles in north-northeastern direction on unpaved roads, in the back of Heizer's pickup truck.

That afternoon was going to be devoted to De Maria's Las Vegas Piece, which he would describe to us only as "an extensive linear work on a flat valley floor." An hour before sundown we arrived at our destination and were gripped by the stillness of the landscape. Before us stretched a freshly dug, eight-foot deep ditch in the sage brush-covered desert soil, in the distance loomed the purplish mesas.

We had to lower ourselves into the bulldozed trench, which wind and erosion already had given a natural look, and we were to start walking. Other trenches would branch of, the artist warned us, and choices had to be made, but it would not take us long before the layout could be deduced from the turns with which we were faced. The first man or woman able to draw a mental map was encouraged to shout and would be declared the winner. And, by the way, De Maria added, 'don't go the full three miles, because if you do, you are not much of a mathematician!" The configuration we were to discover for ourselves in the least amount of steps was a one-mile incision into the landscape meeting another one-mile incision at a right angles [sic]. At the midpoint of each one-mile stretch a set of half-mile ditches branched off, meeting each other at a right angle and forming a perfect square. Walter De Maria's Las Vegas Piece, long reclaimed by the desert and inaccurately described in the literature, was seen by a hand-full [sic] of people.

Yes, let's take things in order. First, the hilarious image of Michael Heizer blazing down a dirt road in BF Nevada with a truckload of German museum directors. This is a thing that happened.

Next, "declared the winner"? De Maria apparently positioned the experience of his piece as a game and a competition, a mathematical mystery that visitors were supposed to calculate with their bodies and draw in their heads. What is that about? And anyway, who is going to judge this competition? If a curator cracks an earth art mystery in the desert, and no one's within a mile of them to hear it, do they make a sound?

There's a big point I'll get to, but let's jump to the end, where van der Marck calls out [in the footnotes] Carol Hall's 1983 paper "Environmental Artists: Sources & Directions" for an inaccurate description of Las Vegas Piece. Well, my diagram above would need correcting, too. According to van der Marck, the two mile-long lines in Las Vegas Piece met, and each was bisected by a half-mile trench, which met in turn to form the square. Which would look more like a right angle bracket, like this:

demaria_las_vegas_piece_revised.jpg

But the artist himself needs correcting, too. Because the diagram I drew was based on de Maria's explanation to Cumming. And the biggest difference of all, of course, is that de Maria told Cumming the trench was "about a foot deep, two feet deep and about eight feet wide." Yet van der Marck said it was eight feet deep and that they had to lower themselves into it. This is a non-trivial difference. If it was the former, then visitors would be in constant sight of the surrounding landscape and each other. If it's the latter, they're completely cut off. From everything. All they have is the view along the trench, and the darkening sky. It's the difference between a meditative labyrinth path, and an actual FPS-style labyrinth.

Also, if De Maria's piece was really eight feet deep, it would relate more directly to Heizer's nearby Double Negative--and it would still almost certainly be visible, or at least findable.

And now the fact that as august a scholar as Miwon Kwon relied on as ambiguous a guide as CLUI tells me that no one actually knows what the deal is with Las Vegas Piece. Except, perhaps Virginia Dwan.

UPDATE: Indeed. Virginia Dwan donated her gallery's archives to the Smithsonian, but they are currently closed for processing. According to Margaret Iversen's 2007 book on post-Freudianism, Dwan told Charles Stuckey in an 1984 interview that De Maria forbade any photographs or documentation of Las Vegas Piece, partly to abjure the work's commodification.

demaria_las_vegas_piece_aerial_bw.jpg

Yet an unsourced, undated aerial photo reproduced on this French webpage seems to depict Las Vegas Piece. The scale is about right. And when I flipped it 180-degrees, the geographic features look like they match the area just to the right/east of the map marker above. But what are we actually seeing? Isn't that top line a road? And there's a diagonal line. Yet if they're not Las Vegas Piece, who would take this picture here, and why? If it's really credible, I'd guess that the photo was the source of CLUI's coordinates, identified by the same method I just did: by eyeballing.

When Dwan accompanied Calvin Tomkins on a visit to Las Vegas Piece in 1976, they followed a map De Maria made, but never located the work itself. This despite Dwan's having visited the site before. Lawrence Alloway made it, though, for his October 1976 Artforum article, "Site Inspection." [Both accounts are only online as excerpts in Iriz Amizlev's 1999 dissertation, "Land Art: Layers of Memory," from the Universite de Montreal. (pdf). Amizlev also ID's Carlos Huber of Kunsthalle Basel and John Weber in the back seat of Heizer's pickup.]

July 7, 2012

'Jetty'

jetty_whitney.jpg

Why yes, that is what that is. A spiral "Jetty," in fact.

February 2, 2012

On Jetty Time

Spiral Jetty sign

I've kept quiet and hopeful for six months, but now I think it's time to congratulate Dia Foundation, the Utah Department of Natural Resources, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College on the renewal of Dia's lease for the Spiral Jetty site; and on the newly announced, three-way collaboration managing stewardship of the artwork. I think it's fantastic, reassuring for those who know and care about Smithson's work already, and encouraging for the many people in Utah and beyond who will discover it going forward.

When I founded The Jetty Foundation in Salt Lake last summer and submitted an application to DNR to lease the state land under Spiral Jetty, I proposed a similar partnership, where local stakeholders would support Dia's stewardship of the work by engaging on the crucial environmental, development, educational, and political issues that impact the Jetty. The Foundation also very explicitly affirmed the importance of Dia's undisputed role as owner of the artwork and the designated steward of Smithson's estate.

I don't mean to claim any credit for creating the solution that DNR developed in its negotiations with Dia. On the contrary, I think the concept of local institutional engagement on the Jetty's behalf has been gaining traction in Utah in the years years since the artwork re-emerged. If the Foundation's proposal encouraged Utahns' vision for a stronger, more engaged future for the Jetty, then the weeks I spent basically lobbying with local politicians, government officials, and other community leaders was well worth it.

LittleMtn_01_d17_A-555850.jpg

One of the startling images Alan Taylor included from the EPA's DOCUMERICA collection is by Bruce McAllister. The caption:

A train on the Southern Pacific Railroad passes a five-acre pond, which was used as a dump site by area commercial firms, near Ogden, Utah, in April of 1974. The acid water, oil, acid clay sludge, dead animals, junked cars and other dump debris were cleaned up by several governmental groups under the supervision of the EPA. Some 1,200,000 gallons of liquid were pumped from the site, neutralized and taken to a disposal site.
Hmm, is that the only photo McAllister took of railroads and toxic industrial dumps near Ogden in the early 1970s?

No.

EPA-01_412-DA-2268.jpg

"THE UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD'S CAUSEWAY ACROSS THE GREAT SALT LAKE THREATENS THE ECOLOGICAL BALANCE OF THE LAKE, 07/1972"

McAllister's acid pond is "near Ogden," but it turns out it was even nearer the Great Salt Lake. The site was called Little Mountain Salvage.

Following on from the multiple installments of archival World War II images on hisphotoblog In Focus, Alan Taylor has assembled selections from another remarkable public photo archive, this time from the Environmental Protection Agency. In the early 1970s, the newly formed EPA sent photographers around the US to document the environmental and physical state of the country. The project, titled DOCUMERICA, rivals the Depression-era Farm Security Agency's photo effort in scope and scale; more than 100 photographers produced over 80,000 images, and the Corcoran and Smithsonian organized DOCUMERICA exhibitions that toured the country until 1978.

In setting out to "systematically record the ills of the 1970s American landscape," EPA project director Gifford Hampshire consciously patterned DOCUMERICA on the FSA's photo program, consulting with FSA veteran Arthur Rothstein on setting it up and selecting photographers.

Christo_412-DA-2350.jpg

Around 16,000 have been digitized and are available on the National Archive's website, and I've just barely started poking around. The least interesting of the two things I've found so far, both from photographer Bruce McAllister, is documentation of what I believe is the first installation, on October 10, 1971, of Christo & Jeanne Claude's Valley Curtain in Rifle Gap, Colorado.

Christo_412-DA-2358.jpg

I'm guessing it's the first, because McAllister's photo captions mention how "it was ripped to shreds by canyon winds in 24 hours." Christo tried again on August 10, 1972, but that time, a storm forced the curtain's early removal. Which makes McAllister's stated date of 05/1972 incorrect. On the other hand, sundresses and October in the mountains don't normally go together, do they? Either way, as ills of the American landscape go, Valley Curtain was little more than a 24-hr flu.

Alan Taylor's 46 favorite images from DOCUMERICA [theatlantic.com]
DOCUMERICA: Snapshots of Crisis and Cure in the 1970s [archives.org prologue magazine]
Search the Archives Research Catalog for "Christo Javacheff" [archives.gov]

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit I didn't read it earlier, and I have to read it now, obviously, now that it's finally been published in the US. But I wonder if my first short film may be an inadvertent adaptation of Geoff Dyer's 1994 essay on World War I and the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval, France.

The Millions has a nice interview with him about it:

TM: You write in the book, "The issue, in short, is not simply the way the war generates memory, but the way memory has determined - and continues to determine - the meaning of the war." Can you describe the meaning of the war?

GD: Always in the book I'm just trying to articulate impressions of it. It's certainly not a history book. I always have faith in this idea that if I remain honest and open about my own confusion, the blurriness of my impressions - it's not because I'm short-witted or stupid - the chances are those feelings will be shared by other people. And I just had this very distinct sense of the First World War as being something rather buried in its own memory. There's so much discussion, as the war is going on, about how it will be remembered, or if it will be forgotten. So right from the start it just seems preoccupied with how it will be remembered. The other crucial thing is that distinction I make with the Robert Capa pictures of D-Day, where it all seems to hang in the balance and there's a great sense of immediacy. With the First World War there's no immediacy to it. It comes buried in so many layers of myth and memory.

Hmm, actually, maybe not. Or maybe the opposite. In 2001-2, I was looking at what a place of horrible destruction was like when there was no one left who did remember it. The difference between remembering and knowing, perhaps. Or the past and the experience of the present.

Also, Spiral Jetty first re-emerged in 1994, not 1999. I'd have thought the New Yorker would've caught that.

The Millions Interview | Geoff Dyer on the London Riots, the Great War, and the Gray Lady [themillions.com]
The Missing of the Somme (Vintage) [amazon]

Robert Smithson, "Conversation in Salt Lake City," 1972:

There's a word called entropy. These are kind of like entropic situations that hold themselves together. It's like the Spiral Jetty is physical enough to be able to withstand all these climate changes, yet it's intimately involved with those climate changes and natural disturbances. That's why I'm not really interested in conceptual art because that seems to avoid physical mass. You're left mainly with an idea. Somehow to have something physical that generates ideas is more interesting to me than just an idea that might generate something physical.
Nic at A Young Hare has had some great posts lately about the not-legendary-enough Italian artist/architect Gianni Pettena, which made me revisit Pettena's discussion with Robert Smithson. The interview took place in January 1972, the day after Smithson had delivered his "Hotel Palenque" lecture at the University of Utah, where Pettena was a visiting professor. It was originally published in Domus in Nov. 1972, and included in Smithson's collected writings.

In the same conversation, Smithson also mentioned his preference for working in "a site that is free of scenic meaning," one with "views that are expansive, that include everything..." In referring to the Spiral Jetty's site:

The Salt Lake piece is right near a disused oil drilling operation and the whole northern part of the lake is completely useless. I'm interested in bringing a landscape with low profile up, rather than bringing one with high profile down.
I'd argue that the lake's utility has only increased since Smithson saw it, and that his installation of the Spiral Jetty has certainly raised its landscape's profile.

Meanwhile, 185 francs. That's the price written inside my copy of the 1996 reissue of Smithson's writings. I bought it at the Musee d'Art Moderne de la ville de Paris, which has [had?] an awesome bookstore. Is it still awesome? I haven't been for a couple of years now, though I expect I'll be back before the franc is.

And from the end of the conversation:

Smithson:...I developed that somewhat with the non-sites, where I would go out to a fringe area and send back the raw material to New York City, which is a kind of center--a big sprawling night mare center, but it's still there. Then that goes into the gallery and the non-site functions as a map that tells you where the fringes are. It's rare that anybody will visit these fringes, but it's interesting to know about them.

Pettena: You always show the places from which you are coming, if you are sincere.

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Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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