Fictioning The Landscape: Robert Smithson And Ruins In Reverse
TAKE on art|July - December 2017

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 form of spacetime travel), but also, as laid out in the essay, to summon forth Mayan deities.2

Smithson’s other writings on the artists that were his contemporaries also involve a particular kind of fictioning of their work. For example “The Crystal Land” (1966) on Don Judd where the references are as much to a writer like J. G. Ballard as they are art historical: “The first time I saw Don Judd’s ‘pink plexiglass box’, it suggested a giant crystal from another planet. After talking to Judd, I found out we had a mutual interest in geology and mineralogy, so we decided to go rock hunting in New Jersey” (Smithson 1996a: 7). Smithson alerts us to something ‘alien’ about the box and, indeed, other of Judd’s ‘specific objects’ (should they also be called ‘science fiction objects’?). They have a certain otherworldly and ‘non-artistic’ character (especially for audiences at the time). The essay (and others like it) offer a kind of counter history of minimalism to those more sanitised accounts that ‘explain’ these new kinds of industrially produced objects in reference to art history, spectatorship and an all-too-human phenomenology. Smithson’s account fictions this new kind of art as arriving from some other space-time.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM TAKE ON ARTView All

Falling In Love (Again): India's Weaves Story

India’s love affair with handwoven cloth shows no signs of abating. Open any fashion magazine or newspaper and weaves get ample play. Designers up and down the country extol the virtues of weaves, proudly brandishing their innovative work with weavers to contemporise motifs and palettes. This is laudable but hardly surprising.

4 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

Regal Renaissance: The Royal Opera House Re-opens

The Royal Opera House Mumbai is widely touted as ‘Mumbai’s cultural crown jewel’ and India’s only surviving opera house. The original idea for the space was conceived of in 1908. It was inaugurated in 1911 by King George V, and eventually completed in 1916. The design incorporated a blend of European and Indian detailing.

3 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

Technologies Of Elegance

As soon as you enter the exhibition space in Bikaner House, the display ahead sort of takes your breath away. It’s a carefully crafted mise-enscène, filled with dangling screens, suspended sequins, overflowing jewellery boxes, glass displays, and more. And yet, in spite of the exquisite setting, and the props that inhabit it, your focus never wavers from the clothes, which form the essence of the exhibition.

6 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

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”

6 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

Kerala Boy

The Kerala boy stands alone, facing the sea or what looks like the sea. Water is never far from his feet. His eyes are dark and his hair is blacker than the best Tellicherry pepper. He is an inch taller than most and a little long in the tooth. He likes the language of protest. He likes the flavour of a season called ‘Left’.

4 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

Ghosts Of Ghan-Town

Landing gracefully on a rock, the camel tucked in its wings And wondered if this was perhaps Miryam Springs? This parched and desolate landscape was not what he hoped to find What of the flourishing settlement he had once left behind? 

1 min read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

Delicate Animals

The humidity is sabotage and my skin is undone. I’ve always had a preference for dryness. While other women fear wrinkles, I never mind the beginnings of a crease. They seem cleaner, those intersecting lines. But then I’ve never been afraid of getting older, of being an abstraction.

5 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

The Smuggler: A Mural By Sadequain

The story goes that Sadequain (1930 – 1987), living in Karachi, was exhausted and in poor health. He was offered a stay at a government rest house at Gadani in 1958, so that he could recover. Gadani is located in the province of Balochistan on the Arabian Sea, a few kilometers west of Karachi. It must have felt quite remote from the city back then. The western coastline of Pakistan has long been infamous for underdevelopment and for unregulated trade activities with West Asia.

4 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

Complete Love

It’s 2011, late summer. All over Europe, young people are occupying central public squares to demonstrate for more social justice. In Berlin, their agenda is different. The completists gathered at Alexanderplatz aspire for justice primarily on an intimate level. They believe that only when the redistribution of material wealth includes equal chances of finding sex and love — no matter how elderly, disabled, or ugly you are — communism will become real.

10 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017

A Writer's Discourse

There are two moments in Plato’s dialogue Phaedrus that I come back to often. The first is an epitaph that Socrates uses to explain bad writing, which he recites (and I will now quote) in full:

4 mins read
TAKE on art
July - December 2017
RELATED STORIES

THE DROP WITH STEVE AOKI

We're sure that we have all been listening to a lot more music as we have navigated these past few months as it's a way to transport ourselves to another level even when our environment may look way to familiar at this point.

10+ mins read
Athleisure Mag
October 2020

JOHN SINKANKAS

Award-Winning Mineralogist, Gemologist, Mentor, and Military Veteran

8 mins read
Rock&Gem Magazine
November 2020

Ants in Action

A world behind glass at the National Zoo

3 mins read
Muse Science Magazine for Kids
July/August 2020

Recipe Spotlight

Take Fresh Peaches To a Whole New Level

1 min read
Central Florida Ag News
May 2020

Interspecies Ethic

In probing the relationship between humans and nature, two major exhibitions question the very foundations of design practice.

6 mins read
Metropolis Magazine
November/December 2019

Everett Raymond Kinstler: An Artist's Artist

On May 26, beloved portrait painter Everett Raymond Kinstler passed away peacefully in Bridgeport, Connecticut, surrounded by family and friends.

6 mins read
American Art Collector
August 2019

WONDER WOMAN 1984 12A

back in time NO MORE WAITING FOR GADOT…

4 mins read
Total Film
January 2021

Mono Material Demand in Food Packaging

Global flexible packaging and lidding films supplier KM Packaging is meeting the demand for mono-material food packaging with mono polymer structure lidding films.

2 mins read
Food Marketing & Technology - India
November 2020

ONCE UPON A RICH LEGACY... UMANG HUTHEESING

A FAMILY LINEAGE DATING BACK A THOUSAND YEARS, ARTWORKS SPANNING EVERY PERIOD OF INDIAN HISTORY, THE CULTURAL CUSTODIAN TELLS HELLO! ABOUT GROWING UP AROUND ART AND THE IMPORTANCE OF PRESERVING HIS RICH LEGACY AS A NATIONAL TREASURE FOR POSTERITY

5 mins read
Hello! India
March 2020

Lindsey Adelman's New York City Showroom

The famed industrial designer launches her gallery, where she showcases her sculptural lighting creations in a welcoming, loft-like space.good to know

2 mins read
Home & Decor Singapore
January 2020