I’m delighted to hear that a special screening of Robert Smithson’s films are being organised by film curator Aoife Desmond next week in Dublin.
US artist Robert Smithson was a seminal figure in the early Land Art movement in the late 1960s. The screening next week will focus on Smithson’s most famous work, Spiral Jetty, a large earth work he created in material form, on film and in writings and drawings.
Smithson’s Land Art concerns were not ecological. Rather he had a strong interest in entropy (the order/disorder, change or chaos) in land and other material processes. He is also widely known for taking art out of the gallery and his practice across theory, filmmaking and land interventions, has widely influenced contemporary art practitioners and curators.
Personally I’ve not always found a lot to connect with in Smithson’s work; big machinery moving tonnes of earth has always seemed overly blunt and an arrogant gesture towards any land base. But I have in recent times admired his methods, his efforts to move completely away from the gallery and art market, realising that “‘nature’ is a modern fiction”. His efforts too in engaging in filmmaking, writing and land interventions, whilst all the while acknowledging the instability in any representations of ‘the natural’ world. A recent academic study of his work by Amanda Boetzkes in her book ‘The Ethics of Earth Art‘ describes Smithson as
‘drawing a parallel between works, rocks, text and earth. Smithson presumes the actual sites were unstable in the first place and thus vulnerable to being overwritten’ (2010, p.72)
Spiral Jetty was created to decay over time although ironically efforts have been made in recent years to preserve it since it has achieved such an iconic status in the contemporary art world. My favourite Smithson film however is not Spiral Jetty but his more intriguing Swamp (1971) experimental film above. Smithson and his partner Nancy Holt ‘viscerally confront issues of perception and process’ which I find effective in conveying the difficulty of pinning down any representations of ‘nature’.
RUINS & ENTROPY PART I
Part I of a two part programme curated by Aoife Desmond
6.30pm / 30 January 2013
- Agnes Denes: ‘Sculptures of the Mind: 1968 to Now’ (nytimes.com)
- Spiral Jetty (americanscientist.org)