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Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Industrial Wasteland

Some descriptions of Spiral Jetty mention that it is located near the remnants an old industrial site. I had also been prepared for this by the directions I was using to find my way there. They said:

At this gate the Class D road designation ends. If you choose to continue south for another 2.3 miles, and around the east side of Rozel Point, you should see the Lake and a jetty (not the Spiral Jetty) left by [an] oil drilling exploration in the 1920s through the 1980s. As you approach the Lake, you should see an abandoned, pink and white trailer (mostly white), an old amphibious landing craft, an old Dodge truck...and other assorted trash.

From this location, the trailer is the key to finding the road to the Spiral Jetty. As you drive slowly past the trailer, turn immediately from the southwest to the west (right), passing on the south side of the Dodge, and onto a two-track trail that contours above the oil-drilling debris below. This is not much of a road! Only high clearance vehicles should advance beyond the trailer. Go slowly! The road is narrow, brush might scratch your vehicle, and the rocks, if not properly negotiated, could high center your vehicle. Don't hesitate to park and walk. The Jetty is just around the corner.

It would have been possible to miss a turn or a fork in the road out on the plain, but this landmark is impossible to miss.

Since the directions to the site were written (since, even, last summer based on pictures I've seen from 2003), the trailer has moved one step closer to being just a pile of rubble. The walls are gone, and pieces of the appliances are strewn about. It's now little more than a room with a view. Quite a view.

The refuse on the site isn't limited to the trailer. And it's clear that the junk here isn't going anywhere soon.

It's fitting that the most prominent landmark on the drive to Spiral Jetty is the decaying traces of industrial activity. Smithson was interested in what he called the "entropic landscape," a landscape marred by human industrial intervention that exhibits signs of decay and degradation. This interest provides the conceptual basis of his earlier Non-site works. In a 1972 interview with Paul Cummings for The Archives of American Art, Smithson had this to say about his move to working out-of-doors and his selection of locations based on their use as industrial sites:
CUMMINGS: But by the late sixties everybody worked out[side] of the buildings.
SMITHSON: Yes. Well, there was always this move toward public art. But that still seemed to be linked to large works of sculpture that would be put in plazas in front of buildings. And I just became interested in sites.... I guess in a sense these sites had something to do with entropy, that is, one dominant theme that runs through everything. You might say my early preoccupation with the early civilizations of the West was a kind of a fascination with the coming and going of things.... And I became interested in kind of low profile landscapes, the quarry or the mining area which we call an entropic landscape, a kind of backwater or fringe area.
Smithson sited Spiral Jetty in exactly one of these landscapes, a fact that is important to the work but that is usually glossed over in discussions of it.

Interesting, as well, is the fact that Smithson's is not the only jetty in the area. The oil drilling operation had used a jetty before Smithson and his construction crew arrived on the scene. This jetty, a non-spiraled jetty, stretches out into the Great Salt Lake for over a quarter mile. It's still very much present and still shows traces of how it was used. There is a parking area at its foot, a drivable roadway running onto it, and more industrial detritus strewn around it.

This jetty is a mere half mile east of the site Smithson selected for his work and is clearly visible from Spiral Jetty. The satellite photo included in the Sculpture article on Spiral Jetty shows how closely situated these two objects are and how much larger than Smithson's this jetty is.

Seen in the context of its location, the significance of Spiral Jetty becomes more layered and nuanced. Smithson combined an archetypal symbol (the spiral) used by early civilizations of the West with the vernacular of this "entropic landscape" (the jetty) to create a piece that both complements and comments on the anthropological and industrial history of the site. Smithson's jetty, though, unlike its cousin to the east, curves back in on itself, goes nowhere, and exists not for the purpose of extracting energy from the Great Salt Lake but for the purpose of contemplation. Seen through the lens of Kantian aesthetics, it's as pure an art work as any object can be.

But unlike most works of art, you can walk on this one. And, as the directions say, Spiral Jetty is just around the corner from here.

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