When Hikmet Sidney Loe told her adviser that she wanted to write her master’s thesis in art history on Spiral Jetty, the adviser was dubious.
“He said, ‘You’re not going to write a dead work of art. Spiral Jetty is dead, it’s gone, you can’t write about it,’” Loe recalled in a recent interview.
This was 1993, and Robert Smithson’s earthwork, built in 1970 off Rozel Point into the northern part of the Great Salt Lake, had been submerged under several feet of water for 20 years.
“I showed him pictures and said, ‘It’s just been underwater. It’s not gone. The lake level went down, and it’s still here,’” Loe said.
The adviser, William C. Agee at Hunter College at the City University of New York, replied, “Oh, that’s different. Now you can write about it.”
Thus began Loe’s nearly quarter-century fascination with the land-art masterwork, the result of which is a new book, “The Spiral Jetty Encyclo” (University of Utah Press; softcover, 384 pages, illustrated; $34.95). Loe will read passages from the book and screen Smithson’s documentary about its making, Wednesday, Oct. 4, at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in Salt Lake City.
In the book, Loe captures and comments on the varied influences on Smithson’s work — arranged alphabetically, from “aerial art” (his belief that his large land-art works should be seen from an airplane) to the poet William Carlos Williams (his pediatrician during the artist’s youth in Paterson, N.J.).
Spiral Jetty is perhaps the best-known work in the land-art movement of the 1960s and 1970s, when artists left the gallery to create large, immobile works in remote places. Smithson and his wife, Nancy Holt (who later created Sun Tunnels, in Box Elder County near the Nevada border), were among the champions of the movement.
Smithson’s gift for public relations within the art world helped make Spiral Jetty, and land art, famous. “Robert Smithson made sure it was everywhere, immediately,” Loe said. “In 1970, boom, if people hadn’t heard about the land-art movement before, they heard about it then.”
Her book opens with the supporting documents that curators and art experts say are as much part of Spiral Jetty as the rocks. One is Smithson’s 1972 essay, in which he recounts how it was built and explains some of his intentions. The other is the film “Spiral Jetty” (1970), which juxtaposes images of rippling pink water, earthmovers relocating rocks into formation, and the dirt roads leading to the remote site in Box Elder County. (The book includes a transcript of the film, with images.)
“Land art is about being at the site, and being with the work, but it’s equally about the journey,” Loe said.
For Smithson, she said, part of the journey was a failed project he, Holt and artist Michael Heizer worked on in California’s Mono Lake. The project held some of the themes — an inland sea, an alkaline lake — that Smithson developed further in Spiral Jetty. The book features words and images from a film about Mono Lake, shot in 1968 and completed by Holt in 2004.
Loe’s breakthrough in research was getting one of the first extensive interviews with Bob Phillips, the Utah contractor Smithson hired to dig the dirt and move the rocks that make up Spiral Jetty. Phillips showed Loe the papers he had saved, including Smithson’s drawings, photos and planning documents.
“He kept everything, had his own archive at home, and was very generous with me and others who were interested in Robert Smithson,” Loe said. She dedicated her book to Phillips, who died in April 2016.
Phillips, she said, particularly remembered when Smithson and Holt visited him and his wife, Judy, in 1972. The Smithsons wanted to go out to the jetty, but the Phillipses begged off the trip.
“Bob Phillips always was very regretful of that, because that was the last time he ever saw Robert Smithson,” Loe said. Smithson died in 1973, at age 35, in a small-plane crash while surveying a site for an earthwork near Amarillo, Texas.
The waters of the Great Salt Lake rose soon after Spiral Jetty was completed. The work disappeared in 1972, reappeared briefly in 1980 and wasn’t seen again until 1993. It was visible for a few years, was swallowed up again in 1997 and has been visible ever since. At its highest, in 1987, the water rose 16 feet above where Smithson built the jetty.
While the jetty was underwater, interest in the art world faded. “There were scholarly papers and the like, but they were at a remove,” Loe said. “Once it came back, people locally saw it first.”
The evolving nature of Spiral Jetty was in keeping with Smithson’s philosophy of land art.
“Smithson said that every time you go to the Spiral Jetty, you’re going to have a different experience. He relished the changeable nature of the environment,” Loe said. “Time becomes this pretty potent medium that is embedded in the Spiral Jetty.”
‘The Spiral Jetty Encyclo’
Art historian Hikmet Sidney Loe will read from her new book, “The Spiral Jetty Encyclo,” and screen Robert Smithson’s 1970 documentary “Spiral Jetty.”
Where • Utah Museum of Fine Arts, 410 Campus Center Drive, Salt Lake City
When • Wednesday, Oct. 4, 7 p.m.
Admission • Free
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(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The Spiral Jetty earth works on the North edge of the Great Salt Lake created by ... (Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The Spiral Jetty in 2008. (Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The Spiral Jetty earth works on the North edge of the Great Salt Lake created by ... (Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The Spiral Jetty earth works on the North edge of the Great Salt Lake created by ... (Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The Spiral Jetty earth works on the North edge of the Great Salt Lake created by ... (Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The Spiral Jetty earth works on the North edge of the Great Salt Lake created by ... (Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo)The Spiral Jetty earth works on the North edge of the Great Salt Lake created by a... (Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The Spiral Jetty earth works on the North edge of the Great Salt Lake created by ...
(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The Spiral Jetty earth works on the North edge of the Great Salt Lake created by artist Robert Smithson in 1970 is visible on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The Spiral Jetty in 2008.(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The Spiral Jetty earth works on the North edge of the Great Salt Lake created by artist Robert Smithson in 1970 is visible on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The Spiral Jetty earth works on the North edge of the Great Salt Lake created by artist Robert Smithson in 1970 is visible on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The Spiral Jetty earth works on the North edge of the Great Salt Lake created by artist Robert Smithson in 1970 is visible on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The Spiral Jetty earth works on the North edge of the Great Salt Lake created by artist Robert Smithson in 1970 is visible on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo)The Spiral Jetty earth works on the North edge of the Great Salt Lake created by artist Robert Smithson in 1970 is visible on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013.(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) The Spiral Jetty earth works on the North edge of the Great Salt Lake created by artist Robert Smithson in 1970 is visible on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013 as seen through a unique lens with an extreme shallow depth of field.
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(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) In this 2011 file photo, Bob Phillips is pictured in his Ogden home holding a giant ph... (Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Artist Robert Smithson gave Bob Phillips this signed photograph of the Spiral Jetty... (Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bob Phillips looks over photos and original designs for the Spiral Jetty in his Og... Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bob Phillips looks over the original drawings for the Spiral Jetty in his Ogden, Ut...
(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) In this 2011 file photo, Bob Phillips is pictured in his Ogden home holding a giant photograph, taken by photographer Gianfranco Gorgoni of the Spiral Jetty. Phillips was the contractor who built the Spiral Jetty for artist Robert Smithson.(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Artist Robert Smithson gave Bob Phillips this signed photograph of the Spiral Jetty. Phillips was the contractor who built the Spiral Jetty for Smithson.(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bob Phillips looks over photos and original designs for the Spiral Jetty in his Ogden home Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011. Phillips was the contractor who built the Spiral Jetty for artist Robert Smithson.Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bob Phillips looks over the original drawings for the Spiral Jetty in his Ogden, Utah Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011. Phillips was the contractor who built the Spiral Jetty for artist Robert Smithson.
Earth art is related to minimalism in its "unitary" forms and bold, aggressive character. While the earth artists share a fundamental aimto extend the limits of art-the need to break away from the buyable/ sellable commodity aspect of the gallery system was not a motivating force for all of them, as is clear from the Avalanche discussion below.
170 AMERICAN ARTISTS ON ART
My concern with salt lakes began with my work in 1968 on the Mono Lake Site-Nonsite in California.' Later I read a book called Vanishing Trails of Atacama by William Rudolph which described salt lakes (salars) in Bolivia in all stages of desiccation, and filled with micro bacteria that give the water surface a red color.... Because of the remoteness of Bolivia and because Mono Lake lacked a reddish color, I decided to investigate the Great Salt Lake in Utah.
... I called the Utah Park Development and spoke to Ted Tuttle, who told me that water in the Great Salt Lake north of the Lucin Cutoff, which cuts the lake in two, was the color of tomato soup. That was enough of a reason to go out there and have a look.... We visited Charles Stoddard ... a well-driller ... one of the last homesteaders in Utah.... He was kind enough to take us to Little Valley on the East side of the Lucin Cutoff. . . . lie showed us photographs lie had taken of "icebergs," and Kit Carson's cross carved on a rock on Fremont Island. We then decided to leave and go to Rozel Point.
' Dialectic of Site and Nonsite
1. Open Limits
2. A Series of Points
3. Outer Coordinates
5. Indeterminate Certainty
6. Scattered Information
9. Some Place (physical)
Ali Array of Matter
No Place (abstract)
Range of Convergencebetween Site and Nonsite consists of a course of hazards, a double path made up of signs, photographs and maps that belong to both sides of the dialectic at once. Both sides are present and absent at the same time. The land or ground from the Site is placed in the art (Nonsite) rather than the art placed on the ground. The Nonsite is a container within another container--the room. The plot or yard outside is yet another container. Two-dimensional and three-dimensional things trade places with each Other in the range of convergence. Large scale becomes small. Small scale becomes large. A point oil a map expands to the size of the land mass. A land mass contracts into a point- Is the Site a reflection of the Nonsite (mirror), or is it the other way around? The rules of this network of signs are discovered as you go along uncertain trails both mental and physical....
2 "in spite of the concentrated saline quality of (lie water, ice is often formed on parts of the Lake. Of course, the lake brine does not freeze; it is far too salty for that. What actually happens is that (Iiirit'g relatively calm weather, fresh water from the various streams .. flowing into the lake 'floats' oil top of the salt water, the two failing to mix. Near months of rivers and creeks this floating condition exists at all times (hiring calm weather. During the winter this fresh water often freezes before it 'nixes with the brine. Hence, an ice sheet several inches thick has been known to extend from Weber River to Fremont Island, making it possible for coyotes to cross to the island all(] molest sheep pastured there. At times this ice breaks loose and floats about the lake in the form of 'icebergs"'-David E. Miller,Great Salt Lake Past and Present, Pamphlet, Utah History Atlas, Salt Lake City, 1949.
EARTH AND PROCESS ART .171
Driving west on H ighway 83 ... we passed through Corinne, then went on to Promontory. just beyond the Golden Spike Monument, which commemorates the meeting of the rails of the first transcontinental railroad, we went down a dirt road in a wide valley. As we traveled, the valley spread into an uncanny immensity unlike the other landscapes we had seen. The roads on the map became a net of dashes, while in the far distance the Salt Lake existed as an interrupted silver band. Hills took on the appearance of melting solids, and glowed under amber light. We followed roads that glided-away into dead ends. Sandy slopes turned into viscous masses of perception. Slowly, we drew near to the lake, which resembled an impassive faint violet sheet held captive in a stoney matrix, upon which the sun poured down its crushing light. An expanse of salt flats bordered the lake, and caught in its sediments were countless bits of wreckage. Old piers were left high and dry. The mere sight of the trapped fragments of junk and waste transported one into a world of modern prehistory. The products of a Devonian industry, the remains of a Silurian technology, all the machines of the Upper Carboniferous Period were lost in those expansive deposits of sand and mud.
Two dilapidated shacks looked over a tired group of oil rigs. A series of seeps of heavy black oil more like asphalt occur just south of Rozel Point. For forty or more years people have tried to get oil out of this natural tar pool. Pumps coated with black stickiness rusted in the corrosive salt air. A hut mounted on pilings could have been the habitation of "the missing link." A great pleasure arose from seeing all those in-coherent structures. This site gave evidence of a succession of man-made systems mired in abandoned hopes.
About one mile north of the oil seeps I selected my site. Irregular beds of limestone dip gently eastward, massive deposits of black basalt are broken over the peninsula, giving the region a shattered appearance. It is one of few places on the lake where the water comes right up to the mainland. Under shallow pinkish water is a network of mud cracks supporting the jig-saw puzzle that composes the salt flats. As I looked at the site, it reverberated out to the horizons only to suggest an immobile cyclone while flickering light made the entire landscape appear to quake. A dormant earthquake spread into the fluttering stillness, into a spinning sensation without movement. This site was a rotary that enclosed itself in an immense roundness. From that gyrating space emerged the possibility of the Spiral jetty. No ideas, no concepts, no systems, no structures, no abstractions could hold themselves together in the actuality of that evidence. My dialectics of site and nonsite whirled into an indeterminate state, where solid and liquid lost themselves in each other. It was as if the mainland oscillated with waves and pulsations, and the lake remained rock still. The shore of the lake became the edge of the sun, a boiling
172AMERICAN ARTISTS ON ART
Curve, an explosion rising into a fiery prominence. Matter collapsing into the lake mirrored in the shape of a spiral. No sense wondering about classifications and categories, there were none.
After securing a twenty year lease on the meandering zone,' and finding a contractor in Ogden, I began building the jetty in April, 1970. Bob Phillips, the foreman, sent two dump trucks, a tractor, and a large front loader out to the site. The tail of the spiral began as a diagonal line of stakes that extended into the meandering zone. A string was then extended from a central stake in order to get the coils of the spiral. From the end of the diagonal to the center of the spiral, three curves coiled to the left. Basalt and earth was scooped up from the beach at the beginning of the jetty by the front loader, then deposited in the trucks, whereupon the trucks backed up to the outline of stakes and dumped the material. On the edge of the water, at the beginning of the tail, the wheels of the trucks sank into a quagmire of sticky gumbo mud. A whole afternoon was spent filling in this spot. Once the trucks passed that problem, there was always the chance that the salt crust resting on the mud flats would break through. The Spiral jetty was staked out in such a way as to avoid the soft muds that broke up through the salt crust, nevertheless there were some mud fissures that could not be avoided. One could only hope that tension would hold the entire jetty together, and it did. A cameraman was sent by the Ace Gallery in Los Angeles to film the process.
The scale of the Spiral jetty tends to fluctuate depending on where the viewer happens to be. Size determines an object, but scale determines art. A crack in the wall if viewed in terms of scale, not size, could be called the Grand Canyon. A room could be made to take on the immensity of the solar system. Scale depends on one's capacity to be conscious of the actualities of perception. When one refuses to release scale from size, one is left with an object or language that appears to be certain. For me scale operates by uncertainty. To be in the scale of the Spiral jetty is to be out of it. On eye level, the tail leads one into an undifferentiated state of matter. One's downward gaze pitches from side to side, picking out random depositions of salt crystals on the inner and outer edges, while the entire mass echoes the irregular horizons. And each cubic salt crystal echoes the Spiral jetty in terms of the crystal's molecular lattice. Growth in a crystal advances around a dislocation point, in the manner of a screw. The3 Township 8 North of Range 7 West of the Salt Lake Base and Meridia'i: Unsurveyed land on the bed of the Great Salt Lake, if surveyed, would be described as follows: Beginning at a point South 3000 feet and west 800 feet from the Northeast Corner of Section 8, Township 8 North, Range 7 West; thence South 45' West 651 feet; thence North 60' West 651 feet; thence North 45' East 651 feet; thence Southeasterly along the meander line 675 feet to the point of beginning. Containing 10,000 acres, more or less (Special Use Lease Agreement No. 222; witness: Mr. Mark Crystal).
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[image of Spiral Jetty]Spiral jetty could be considered one layer within the spiraling crystal lattice, magnified trillions of times.
This description echoes and reflects Brancusi's sketch of James Joyce as a "spiral ear" because it suggests both a visual and an aural scale, in other words it indicates a sense of scale that resonates in the eye and the ear at the same time. is a reinforcement and prolongation of spirals that reverberates up and down space and time. So it is that one ceases to consider art in terms of an "object." The fluctuating resonances reject "objective criticism," because that would stifle the generative power of both visual and auditory scale. Not to say that one resorts to "subjective concepts," but rather that one apprehends what is around one's eyes and ears, no matter how unstable or fugitive. One seizes the spiral, and the spiral becomes a seizure.
After a point, measurable steps ("Scale skal n. it. or L; It. Scala; L Scala usually scalae pl., 1. a. originally a ladder; a flight of stairs; hence, b. a means of ascent"') descend from logic to the "surd state." The rationality of a grid on a map sinks into what it is supposed to define. Logical purity suddenly finds itself in a bog, and welcomes the unexpected event. The 11 curved" reality of sense perception operates in and out of the "straight" abstractions of the mind. The flowing mass of rock and earth of the Spi ral jetty could be trapped by a grid of segments, but the segments would exist only in the mind or on paper. Of course, it is also possible to translate the mental spiral into a three-dimensional succession of measured lengths that would involve areas, volumes, masses, moments, pressures, forces, stresses, and strains; but in the Spiral jetty the surd takes over and leads one into a world that cannot be expressed by number or ratioliality. Ambiguities are admitted rather than rejected, contradictions are increased rather than decreased-the alogos undermines the logos. Purity is put in jeopardy. I took my chances on a perilous path, along which my steps zigzagged, resembling a spiral lightning bolt. "We have found a strange footprint on the shores of the unknown. We have devised profound theories, one after another, to account for its origin. At last, we have succeeded in constructing the creature that made the footprint. And to! it is our own."' For mv film (a film is a spiral made up of frames) I would have myself filmed from a helicopter (from the Greek helix, helikos meaning spiral) directly overhead in order to get the scale in terms of erratic steps.
Chemically speaking, our blood is analogous in composition to the primordial seas.
5 A. S. Eddington, quoted on p. 232 in Tobias Dantzig's Nurnber, the Language of Science, New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1954.EARTFI AND PROCESS ART 175
Following the spiral steps we return to our origins, back to some pulpy protoplasm, a floating eye adrift in an antediluvian ocean. On the slopes of Rozel Point I closed my eyes, and the sun burned crimson through the lids. I opened them and the Great Salt Lake was bleeding scarlet streaks. My sight was saturated by the color of red algae circulating in the heart of the lake, pumping into ruby currents, no they were veins and arteries sucking up the obscure sediments. My eyes became combustion chambers churning orbs of blood blazing by the light of the sun. All was enveloped in a flaming chromosphere; I thought of Jackson Pollock's Eyes in the Heat (1946; Peggy Guggenheim Collection). Swirling within the incandescence of solar energy were sprays of blood. My movie would end in sunstroke. Perception was heaving, the stomach turning, I was on a geologic fault that groaned within me. Between heat lightning and heat exhaustion the spiral curled into vaporization. I had the red heaves, while the sun vomited its corpuscular radiations. Rays of glare hit my eyes with the frequency of a Geiger counter. Surely, the storm Clouds massing would turn into a rain of blood. Once, when I was flying over the lake, its surface seemed to hold all the properties of an unbroken field of raw meat with gristle (foam); no doubt it was due to some freak wind action. Eyesight is often slaughtered by the other senses, and when that happens it becomes necessary to seek out dispassionate abstractions. The dizzying spiral yearns for the assurance of geometry. One wants to retreat into the cool rooms of reason. But no, there was Van Gogh with his easel on some sun-baked lagoon painting ferns of the Carboniferous Period. Then the mirage faded into the burning atmosphere....
The helicopter maneuvered the sun's reflection through the Spiral jetty until it reached the center. The water functioned as a vast thermal mirror. From that position the flaming reflection suggested the ion source of a cyclotron that extended into a spiral of collapsed matter. All sense of energy acceleration expired into a rippling stillness of reflected heat. A withering light swallowed the rocky particles of the spiral, as the helicopter gained altitude. All existence seemed tentative and stagnant. The sound of the helicopter motor became a primal groan echoing into tenuous aerial views. Was I but a shadow in a plastic bubble hovering in a place outside mind and body? Et in Utah ego. I was slipping out of myself again, dissolving into a unicellular beginning, trying to locate the nucleus at the end of the spiral. All that blood stirring makes one aware of protoplasmic solutions, the essential matter between the formed and the unformed, masses of cells consisting largely of water, proteins, lipoids, carbohydrates, and inorganic salts. Each drop that splashed onto the Spiral jetty coagulated into a crystal. Undulating waters spread millions upon millions of crystals over the basalt.
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The preceding paragraphs refer to a "scale of centers" that could be disentangled as follows:
(a) ion source in cyclotron (b) a nucleus (c) dislocation point (d) a wooden stake in the mud (e) axis of helicopter propeller (f) James Joyce's ear channel (g) the Sun (h) a hole in the film reel.
Spinning off of this uncertain scale of centers would be an equally uncertain "scale of edges"
(a) particles (b) protoplasmic solutions (c) dizziness (d) ripples (e) flashes of light (f) sections (g) foot steps (h) pink water.
The equation of my language remains unstable, a shifting set of coordinates, an arrangement of variables spilling into surds. My equation is as clear as mud-a muddy spiral.
Back in New York, the urban desert, I contacted Bob Fiore and Barbara Jarvis and asked them to help me put my movie together. The movie began as a set of disconnections, a bramble of stabilized fragments taken from things obscure and fluid, ingredients trapped in a succession of frames, a stream of viscosities both still arid moving. Arid the movie editor bending over such a chaos of "takes" resembles a paleontologist sorting out glimpses of a world not yet together, a land that has yet to come to completion, a span of time unfinished, a spaceless limbo on some spiral reels. Film strips hung from the cutter's rack, bits and pieces of Utah, outtakes overexposed and underexposed, masses of impenetrable material. The sun, the spiral, the salt buried in lengths of footage. Everything about movies and moviernaking is archaic and crude. One is transported by this Archeozoic medium into the earliest known geological eras. The movieola becomes a "time machine" that transforms trucks into dinosaurs. Fiore pulled lengths of film out of the movieola with the grace of a Neanderthal pulling intestines from a slaughtered mammoth. Outside his 13th Street loft window one expected to see Pleistocene faunas, glacial uplifts, living fossils, and other prehistoric wonders. Like two cavemen we plotted how
EARTH AND PROCESS ART 177
to get to the Spiral jetty from New York City. A geopolitics of primordial return ensued. How to get across the geography of Gondwanaland, the Austral Sea, and Atlantis became a problem. Consciousness of the distant past absorbed the time that went into the making of the movie. I needed a map that would show the prehistoric world as coextensive with the world I existed in.
I found an oval map of such a double world. The continents of the Jurassic Period merged with continents of today. A microlense fitted to the end of a camera mounted on a heavy tripod would trace the course of "absent images" in the blank spaces of the map. The camera panned from right to left. One is liable to see things in maps that are not there. One must be careful of the hypothetical monsters that lurk between the map's latitudes; they are designated on the map as black circles (marine reptiles) and squares (land reptiles). In the pan shot one doesn't see the flesh-eaters walking through what today is called Indo-China. There is no indication of Pterodactyls flying over Bombay. And where are the corals and sponges covering southern Germany? In the emptiness one sees no Stegosaurus. In the middle of the pan we see Europe completely under water, but not a trace of the Brontosaurus. What line or color hides the Globigerina Ooze? I don't know. As the pan ends near Utah, on the edge of Atlantis, a cut takes place, and we find ourselves looking at a rectangular grid known as Location NK 12-7 on the border of a map drawn up [by] the U.S. Geological Survey showing the northern part of the Great Salt Lake without any reference to the Jurassic Period.. the earth's history seems at times like a story recorded in a book each page
of which is torn into small pieces. Many of the pages and some of the pieces of each page are missing....I wanted Nancy to shoot "the earth's history" in one minute for the third section of the movie. I wanted to treat the above quote as a "fact." We drove out to the Great Notch Quarry in New Jersey, where I found a quarry facing about 20 feet high. I climbed to the top and threw handfuls of ripped-up pages from books and magazines over the edge, while Nancy filmed it. Some ripped pages from an Old Atlas blew across a dried out, cracked mud puddle....
The movie recapitulates the scale of the Spiral jetty. Disparate elements assume a coherence. Unlikely places and things were stuck between sections of film that show a stretch of dirt road rushing to and from the actual site in Utah. A road that goes forward and backward between things and places that are elsewhere. You might even say that the road is
178 AMERICAN ARTISTS ON ART
'Thomas H. Clark & Colin w. Stern, Geological Evolution of North America, New York: Ronald Press, n.d. p. 5.
nowhere in particular. The disjunction operating between reality and filmdrives one into a sense of cosmic rupture. Nevertheless, all the improbabilities would accommodate themselves to my cinematic universe. Adrift amid scraps of film, one is unable to infuse into them any meaning, they seem worn-out, ossified views, degraded and pointless, yet they are powerful enough to hurl one into a lucid vertigo. The road takes one from a telescopic shot of the Sun to a Quarry in Great Notch, New Jersey, to a map showing the "deformed shorelines of ancient Lake Bonneville," to The Lost World, and to the Hall of Late Dinosaurs in [the] American Museum of Natural History.
The hall was filmed through a red filter. The camera focuses on an Ornithominus altus embedded in plaster behind a glass case. A pan across the room picked up a crimson chiaroscuro tone. There are times when the great outdoors shrinks phenomenologically to the scale of a prison, and times when the indoors expands to the scale of the universe. So it is with the sequence from the Hall of Late Dinosaurs. An interior immensity spreads throughout the hall, transforming the lightbulbs into dying suns. The red filter dissolves the floor, ceiling and walls into halations of infinite redness. Boundless desolation emerged from the cinematic emulsions, red clouds, burned from the intangible light beyond the windows, visibility deepened into ruby dispersions. The bones, the glass cases, the arinatures brought forth a blood-drenched atmosphere. Blindly the camera stalked through the sullen light. Glassy reflections flashed into dissolutions like powdered blood. Under a burning window the skull of a Tyrannosaurus was mounted in a glass case with a mirror under the skull. In this limitless scale one's mind imagines things that are not there. The bloodsoaked dropping of a sick Duck-billed Dinosaur, for instance. Rotting monster flesh covered with millions of red spiders. Delusion follows delusion. The ghostly cameraman slides over the glassed-in compounds. These fragments of a timeless geology laugh without mirth at the time-filled hopes of ecology. From the soundtrack the echoing metronome vanishes into the wilderness of bones and glass. Tracking around a glass containing a "dinosaur mummy," the words of The Unnamable are heard. The. camera shifts to a specimen squeezed flat by the weight of sediments, then the film cuts to the road in Utah.
[From Ellen Johnson, American Artists on Art]