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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The short answer is yes, Dave Hickey's writing was even more off-the-wall in the Seventies, and you really might just as well scroll straight down to the song.
Otherwise, I just brought home a stack of old Art In Americas, including the Sep/Oct 1971 issue with Hickey's long, lyrical essay, "Earthscapes, landworks and Oz." [As in Wizard of, not Australia, though I did check before I bought it.]
Hickey makes some interesting points about visiting earthworks, including hearing his art-shunning, contractor father-in-law go on about
his most Roman topic (the favorite of all adult males west of Fort Worth): the ravages of nature upon the works of man. He would like driving out to the site in his white jeep, wearing his narrow-brimmed Stetson, his khaki slacks and jacket and his Gokey boots The more difficult the trip, the more completely it would reinforce his serene pessimism. would be his idea of going to see some art; mine, too in proper company.
And how "In big country you do not see in the ordinary way. There is no 'middle distance,' only 'near' and 'far,' the dust at your feet and the haze on the horizon."
Of earthworks in the nothing-space in between, Hickey declared
I do know that privative pieces--those which involve cutting away, digging out or marking--have much more authority and intimacy with the country itself than the additive pieces like Smithson's Spiral Jetty or Heizer's Black Dye and Powder Dispersal, which are dwarfed in a way that even smaller privative pieces are not. Smithson's Jetty, particularly, has a beaux-arts look about it, more related to other sculpture than to the lake.
At least, that's the concept. Because it's not that Hickey had actually been to any of these works himself; in 1971, it seems like it was enough to drive in and out of Austin a lot. Hickey namechecks some art world folk who actually "have been out to see Double Negative, and have returned with (literally and figuratively) breathless accounts. If this keeps up, he pretend-complains, "we shall soon need a kind of National Geographic for Esthetes.
It's actually Hickey's incisive identification of the media-mediated Land Art experience that I found most interesting:
The question is: Why have the national art magazines both overrepresented and misrepresented the earthworks movement and its related disciplines, choosing to portray them as a kind of agrarian Children's Crusade against the art market and the museum system, when this is obviously not the case? First: the work is marketable--anything is marketable, as St. Paul so aptly demonstrated. Second: the museum have proved a god source of commissions for these artists. And third: even if the work weren't marketable and the museums were rejecting it, an esthetic trench in Utah is going to have about as much effect on the object market and museum endowments as admission figures at the Grand Canyon.
The answer might be: It is not the Earth artists who are challenging the market and the museums, but the magazines themselves. Earth art and its unpackageable peers cannot hurt the market, but extensive magazine coverage can, since not as much object art will get exposure. The magazines have found in this unpackageable art a vehicle through which they can declare their independence from the art dealers who invented the critical press, nurtured it, and have tended to treat it like a wholly owned subsidiary. Now there is an art form ideally suited to presentation via magazine. Work consisting of photographs and documentation is not presented by journalism, but as journalism--a higher form, needless to say.
The people on the magazines must believe (and I think rightly) that these indefinite art forms might do for the magazines what Pop Art did for the dealers--lend a certain institutional luster, and with it a modicum of arbitrary power.
An artist who makes documents needs an editor, not a dealer.
I had some lucid commentary of my own about Hickey's glib comparison of Earth Art & Pop--and his silence on Conceptual Art, which goes unmentioned, or at least uncapitalized, even though I think Hickey's making specific, unspoken reference to Walter de Maria's project in the May 1972 issues of Avalanche and AiA rival Arts Magazine, which zeroed in on the difference between art experience, concept, and media, oh wait, never mind. 1972? I forgot I'm still talking about 1971 here. Actually, I think my brain was just involuntarily ctrl-alt-del rebooted.
Because I just found out that the Terry Allen lyrics Hickey ends his essay with are from an actual song, and listening to it just now has wiped all unsaved art information from my head. And that's just fine with me.
So stop whatever you're doing and listen to Terry singing his masterpiece, "A Truckload of Art." Y'all come back now, y'hear?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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