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Fictioning The Landscape Robert Smithson And Ruins In Reverse Image Credit: TAKE on art
Fictioning The Landscape Robert Smithson And Ruins In Reverse Image Credit: TAKE on art

Fictioning The Landscape: Robert Smithson And Ruins In Reverse

That zero panorama seemed to contain ruins in reverse, that is – all the new construction that would eventually be built. This is the opposite of the ‘romantic ruin’ because the buildings don’t fall into ruin after they are built but rather rise into ruin before they are built.

–Robert Smithson, “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey”

Simon O's Sullivan

There is a case to be made that Robert Smithson’s expanded practice is a form of mythopoesis that involves a very particular ‘fictioning’ of the landscape (when this names a re-imagining of what’s already there and a foregrounding of other, often non-human temporalities). A work like Spiral Jetty for example – when this includes the film and essay as well as the actual jetty in the Great Salt Lake – operates as a complex myth-making machine (one that is accentuated through the jetty’s disappearance and relatively recent reemergence) that activates its particular context whilst also producing a particular scene in which past and future co-exist. As far as the past goes, Spiral Jetty resonates with ancient earthworks and other prehistoric monuments and markings (which Smithson was interested in); in terms of the future, the essay and film of Spiral Jetty borrow tropes from science fiction (Smithson was himself a fan of the genre). But also, in the narrative they construct, operate as a form of Science Fiction (or science fictioning) themselves. 1 Other of Smithson’s essays on his own work also have this character, for example, “Incidents of MirrorTravel in the Yucatan, which records a mythic journey Smithson and his partner, the artist Nancy Holt, made through the Yucatan landscape and the insertion of small mirrors into this landscape in order to both foster mirror travel (a for


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