Spiral Jetty Artem spirilius jettia
During my first week as a freshman at art school, I learned of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. As an icon for Earth/land art, this piece crosses boundaries of art and environmentalism. In 1970, Smithson completed Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake when activists protecting the Earth were beginning to make themselves known. In his own right, Smithson was making a bold statement as well.
With Spiral Jetty, Smithson attempts to take into account conditions of the everyday habit of this site; therefore, much of this artwork’s history has been underwater. Only in the last decade or two has significant drought caused the piece to be exposed for a long period of time. Though environmental activists may have boldly targeted human atrocities to nature, Smithson’s work spoke to curated site and natural habitat in an abstract manner. Parks, as Smithson describes in his writing, Cultural Confinement, are nature idealized. Smithson believed sites, in relationship to art, should speak to “physical contradictions inherent in natural forces.” He thought that large national parks and many other places idealized by Americans and environmentalists caused ambiguity in undesirable sites such as garbage dumps or polluted rivers. Perhaps Spiral Jetty attempted to speak to this ambiguity in that it would only be experienced at times when the lake was too low to be an alluring site to visit. It’s possible that Smithson wanted us to pause and understand Earth and its inhabitants from a more complex standpoint- one that appreciates both the natural destruction and contradiction that inherently infiltrate our everyday lives on this planet.