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Site Specific: Spiral Jetty

Site Specific: Spiral Jetty

October 13th, 2009  |  Published in Uncategorized

3 Questions

What was Smithson’s audience? It’s fairly clear historically, geologically and geographically why he was interested in the Great Salt Lake, but it’s unclear to what degree he intended for his work to engage those who live in the area.

On one level the work accelerates/intervenes in a natural process that a human being might never witness – namely geological transformation. Yet in its use of powerful machinery to achieve something so dramatic so quickly, it seems more like a sort promethean defiance of a natural order. Was this intentional, or an oversight that might be answered in the more subtle work of Andy Goldsworthy?

Presently there is a lot of talk of conservation efforts that might restore the Jetty to its original appearance by adding more rocks to counter the effects of salt/erosion that have changed its shape and color. On one level this would destroy an effort to intervene in a geological timeline by interrupting the work’s ability to commune with the processes determining the fate of the lake/surroundings. Yet on another level it would sustain the defiant action mentioned in the above question. Which decision do we think is more akin to Smithson’s original vision? (worth considering: the 20 year lease of the Jetty and how temporary a work it was intended to be)

3 Ways to use this in a project

Not all narratives are ones we have a chance to watch unfold, and geology is one of them that is inevitably rooted in a sort of myth (scientific as it may be). We might explore this possibility farther in locating a timeline that is essentially in accessible to us (say taking a cue from the manahatta project) and make an effort to access it and intermingle with it.

Taking a cue from the promethean undertones of the Jetty, we might look at another theme of transformation many people dreading, and others are impatient for: gentrification. It is a sort of geological transformation, yet in many ways it has a closer resemblance to an earthquake – in the pieces of urban fabric it demolishes – or a volcano – in those pieces of landscape it suddenly and violently deposits on top of what was previously there. Perhaps we could take on the persona of an antagonist with relation to gentrification, using the Bronx Museum as its ground zero, and attempt to tease it out and expose itself in a timeline far enough removed to let us inhabit the uncanny.

Yet perhaps there are also tones here that might best be understood as a bizarre sort of homage – an attempt to pay respects to the mythic and sublime forces that shape our present. We’ve spoken very little of the impact Robert Moses, by way of low-income housing, highways, and a love of the automobile violently transformed the Bronx. It is only natural to resent the timeline he set into motion, but perhaps that timeline inevitably forces us to look at the Bronx retrospectively. Maybe by paying homage to those aspects of the present we truly admire, that are truly indebted to the forces of migration, real estate speculation, discrimination and crime that have shaped the borough, we could take a greater ownership of the present in all its glory and dysfunction.

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