Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Flesh-Eaters

“I visited with my company’s accounts-receivable manager and told him that I needed to make sure the check would clear. I tried to explain to him what it was for, but he said, ‘What in the world are you doing? Why are we going to do something like that? If there’s any question at all about it, why?’ My response was, ‘Well, we need to do it because I told him we would do it.’ Finally he said, ‘You realize this is a long-distance call?’”
Bob Phillips

I was sitting in the back of the classroom, relaxed. It was the end of the semester, and we had made it postmodernism. My students David and LeShan were up at the front giving a slide presentation on Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. I was looking forward to hearing what they had to say about it. David began with their first citation, from an article by the University of Chicago economics professor David W. Galenson in the very sober-sounding Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History 38, 4 (Fall 2005): “A survey of the illustrations in textbooks of modern art produces the startling finding that art scholars consider Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty to be the most important individual work made by an American artist during the past 150 years.” A few months later, I found myself driving down the gravel road that lead to the famous work of art.

I was on my way to enjoy some time with family at the wedding of a handsome and intelligent cousin to the lovely woman who loves him. The gate area at Thurgood Marshall-BWI was full of departing Honor Flights. They all wore red and blue caps and t-shirts. The t-shirts read, “If you can read this, thank a teacher… If you can read this in ENGLISH thank a Veteran!” Most of the veterans were in wheelchairs, some with tubes in their noses. A few were on foot. They seemed relaxed and happy to be there. “Heading back, thank goodness” said one of the escorts in reply to a question from a grey-haired passenger. One veteran carried a pink purse with white handles in his lap. A young woman among the escort party lead the passengers waiting to board the plane in a round of applause as they filed past onto the jetway.
We had come a long way from the littoral humidity and pleasant rot of Baltimore when the plane descended through the clouds into the valley. Great evaporation pools tinged chartreuse and vermillion were gridded out below. The earth was brown, and there was still snow in the high mountains.
A fire truck escorted the plane as it taxied to the terminal and a waiting bus with blue-shirted attendants. It was unlike the cubic fire trucks of the east coast. Angular and green, it looked like something out of a Lego box, or some kind of mine-clearance vehicle. A water cannon was mounted in the middle of its oblique face. It pulled around wide on the tarmac to intersect the path of the slowly rolling plane. The crew waved, and then hosed down the fuselage. The water sounded inside the plane and rolled down the outer surface of the thick, bowed windows. Everyone cheered.

“Everywhere marble: flawless, funereal (the Capitol, the organ in the Visitor Center). Yet a Los-Angelic modernity, too—all the requisite gadgetry for a minimalist, extraterrestrial comfort. The Christ-topped dome (all the Christ here are copied form Thorwaldsen’s and look like Bjorn Borg) straight out of Close Encounters: religion as special effects. In fact the whole city has the transparency and supernatural , otherworldy cleanness of a thing from outer space.
A symmetrical, luminous, overpowering abastraction. At every intersection in the Tabernacle area—all marble and roses, and evangelical marketing—an electronic cukoo-clock sings out: such Puritan obsessiveness is astonishing in this heat, in the heart of the desert, alongside this leaden lake, its waters also hyperreal from sheer density of salt. And , beyond the lake, the Great Salt Lake Desert, where they had to invent the speed of prototype cars to cope with the absolute horizontality…But the city itself is like a jewel, with its purity of air and its plunging urban vistas more breathtaking even than those of Los Angeles. “
Jean Baudrillard

I rode to Temple Square from the hotel on the local credit-card operated bike share GREENbike with my father, Bob. We watched the taping of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s “Music and the Spoken Word” in the Conference Center. The announcer informed us that the It was the July 4th program. Bunting was projected on scrims around the pipes of the great organ. The choir was divided by gender. The women in fuschia, the men in navy. At a distance, they formed two solid wedges of color under the towering brass instrument. After the program, almost everyone applauded. My father did not. We filed out to find an landscaped creek. City Creek, mentioned in the program. We rode away on GREENbikes out into the city. We drank coffee in the arts district. The sun was bright as we rode uphill past the bungalows and down the still avenues of a pre-war residential neighborhood. We ate burritos on a boulevard at a place called Barbacoa, which was just like Chipotle, except that it ran right-to-left instead of left-to-right. A small one-screen (original?) Art Deco movie house (The Tower Theater, built in 1921, is the oldest movie theater in the Salt Lake Valley) across the street was showing Shaun of the Dead. At a big intersection, a posse of motorcyclists buzzed past. A woman on the back of one of the bikes waved.

It was strange to find myself pulling out of the hotel garage early for local time at the wheel of a rented Toyota Corolla, heading up I-15 at 75 mph, within the speed limit. An honest-to-gosh In-N-Out Burger whizzed by. I was going somewhere specific, a numbered exit, unlike Baudrillard, and I wanted to be back by lunchtime.
Billboards for Weber State football rolled by. Billboards for natural breast augmentation, featuring a slender blonde peering down into the cups of her bra appeared in repetition.
I pulled off the highway at Corinne. I bought gas and coffee, the folks were kind.
I passed feed and seed stores, farm equipment co-ops, and industrial sites the purpose of which I did not know.
The sun climbed over the hills. The sky is leaden, fast moving clouds that seem to my eastern eyes to threaten rain and destruction. The road was dead straight and there were brown signs that said “Historic Railroad Grade.” I was approaching the Golden Spike National Historic Site. There was a sign that said Big Fill, and looking at the profile of the ground you could see that it was so. It was so early the visitor center was still closed. The road turned to gravel and meander. The hills “took on the appearance of melting solids, and glowed under amber light,” as Smithson wrote. A farm truck hauling a trailer driven by a youth boiled up behind me. I pulled over to let him pass. He cruised over a ringing cattle-guard and peeled off toward distant buildings. Signs said, “NO TRESPASSING BOTH SIDES OF ROAD.”
Baroque split-rail cattle fencing telescoped and zig-zagged in a language I could not read, integrated with painted steel machinery. They reminded me of an illustrated biography of Abraham Lincoln I had read as a boy. The skeletons and hides of two dead cows bleached in the scrub in front of one of these corrals. A three-digit ear tag rested in a pile of hair and gravel. I Instragramed their bones furtively, hit-n-run, on the way back. I’m sure I was observed, perhaps balefully.
Clear arrowed signs for the Spiral Jetty marked the way.
Jack-rabbits pelted away from the side of the road. Red-shouldered blackbirds and mockingbirds and birds I did not know flitted away symmetrically from the sound of the droning engine and sprinkling gravel.
A dike coalesced in the hazy distance. Was that it? It was dead straight and bristled with pilings. A rusted sphere lolled at groin of the dike and the shore. The lake was so low it was resting circular on the hard salt flat. The water, far off, bore some of the promised red tint. The oil rigs and shacks mentioned by Smithson are gone. A bare stone foundation. The brown hills were covered with sharp rocks I never learned the names of. Some of it must have been basalt. The jetty appeared unmistakably around the flank of a round hill of rubble. I had feared it would be underwater and invisible, it was high and dry in the grey salt; the “wine-red” water an alizarin-blue haze in the far distance. I parked the car at the end of the road.

Footsteps in the sand traced a path up a slope through the sharp and porous black boulders. The cotton-tail, black ear-tips, and yellow eyes of another jack flew off over a small cairn in the shape of the jetty and down beyond the crest of the rocks, into the strong rays of the sun. I turned and gazed down upon the jetty, my thumb on the simulated camera button of my iPhone 5.
Another silver, streamlined new rental car was parked below.

The 2005 Robert Smithson retrospective installed at the Dallas Museum of Art
I was 24 and living in New York for the first time when Robert Smithson’s retrospective opened at the Whitney. I had never heard of him. The artwork was all over the place, mirrors and gravel, woodcuts, fabricated steel abstract sculptures. I had no idea what it meant. I thought I connected with the early woodcuts, already done in red-black-white.
More importantly, in photographs he exuded the downtown cool and avant-garde loucheness that I aspired to. An intense gaze (“I didn’t dare look at him, because those eyes would just melt me, and I’d be a pile of ashes,” wrote Bob Phillips, the contractor who built the Jetty) and a cigarette, all-black clothing. Sophisticated, but still an avatar of that Marlboro-man American rugged-individualism that I had admired since boyhood. He once said, “You don’t have to have cows to be a cowboy.”
I was particularly fascinated by the video of Smithson’s lecture on the Hotel Palenque at the University of Utah. He spoke effortlessly, sarcastically, confidently. He had a kind of a hyper-articulate stoned mysticism that I badly wanted to appropriate for myself. One line in particular stuck in my mind:
“As a matter of fact they had quite an interesting corn…er…agricultural processes. When they would plant corn and seed they would sacrifice a baby, and cut him all up and then plant him along with the cornseed in the ground. And then when the corn grew a little higher, they would take a young boy, and slice him all up, and plant him along with the adolescent corn sprouts. And then when it was fully grown and ready to take off they would do the same thing with an old man, so that sort of gives you the feeling that lurks in Mexico. There is something about Mexico, an overall hidden concealed violence about the landscape itself. “
It reminded me of a first-person account of the battle of Antietam I had read entitled Wisconsin Boys are Slaughtered in the Cornfield by Rufus R. Dawes.
“As we appeared at the edge of the corn, a long line of men in butternut and gray rose up from the ground. Simultaneously, the hostile battle lines opened a tremendous fire upon each other. Men, I can not say fell; they were knocked out of the ranks by the dozens. But we jumped over the fence, and pushed on, loading, firing, and shouting, as we advanced. There was, on the part of the men, great hysterical excitement, eagerness to go forward, and a reckless disregard of life, of everything but victory.”
Looking back at the lecture on UbuWeb, it’s hard to tell where Smithson’s parody ends and mere hauteur begins. The critic Greg Allen heard from a university source that Smithson was drunk. Smithson seems disdainful of his audience. He berates the projectionist. He refers to the Palenqueños as “natives” and seems tongue-in-cheek when he compliments their architecture. His claims of communicating with the “fierce” avatars of Mexican gods seem to be presumptuous cultural appropriation, and his conception of Mexico as an inherently violent place echoes the contemporary stereotype. He provides no citation for his claims about human sacrifice. According to Allen, Smithson’s estate sold the film of the lecture to the Guggenheim for “a significant but undisclosed sum” in 1999.
While searching Artstor for images of the Spiral Jetty to assist David and LeShan in their research, I came across a 1984 work by the Uruguayan Conceptual artist Luis Camnitzer, quite by accident.
The name of the piece was April 1970, from the Agent Orange Series. A photo etching, it featured a clipping from the New York Times dated April 5, 1970 and one of the Gianfranco Gorgoni photographs of the Jetty dated to April 1970. Below the Gorgoni was a quotation from one of Smithson’s 1973 letters written to a W.G. Stockton, in which he writes, “I would also add that Earth Art as part of the reclamation process would give the landscape a higher economic value in terms of real estate. Waste land is thus converted to something practical and necessary, as well as becoming good to look at. It would provide the company with a public image which go far beyond any defensive advertising. This is a kind of art that anybody can understand.”
The full headline of the New York Times clipping is “Departing Division Leaves Its Mark in Vietnam.”
“SAIGON, South Vietnam, April 4—The United States First Infantry Division displayed its colors in South Vietnam for the last time yesterday, but the division has left its mark on South Vietnamese soil for years to come.
The mark was a one-and-half-mile long, one-mile wide swath of jungle bulldozed into the form of a First Infantry Division emblem—the “Big Red One.”
To the embarrassment of top military officials here, engineers from the division spent six days in mid-February bulldozing out jungle east of the Michelin rubber plantation about 25 miles northwest of Saigon in the form of the division’s patch. Three soldiers were reportedly wounded in the operation.
Like a proud boy who had carved his initials in a tree, the officals of the First Infantry Division were about to publicize their achievement at the departure ceremony yesterday, but public relations officers at Army headquarters in Longbinh vetoed the publicity.
The idea to carve their emblem in the jungle was reportedly approved by Maj. Gen. Albert E. Milloy, the division’s commanding general. Division officers had reportedly rejected an idea to stage a divisional march down Highway 13 to Longbinh as a parting gesture because of the chance that one enemy rifle shot could turn the whole affair into a public-relations debacle.
Although many sections in the area have been bulldozed clear of jungle growth for tactical reasons, the “Big Red One” patch is believed to be without tactical value since there are no clear entrances to it that would allow tanks to enter it with minimum risk of an enemy ambush. Generally, such tank passageways in the jungle involve numerous zigzag cuts to allow for travel in all directions. The “Big Red One” cut has no tactical entrances or exits.
An Army photographer sent to photograph the emblem was reported to have had to fly to an altitude of 6,000 feet to get the entire patch in camera focus with a 28-mm lens.
Army officials today claimed ignorance when asked about the patch and directed all queries to the First Infantry Division information office, Fort Riley, Kan., where the division is to take up residence next week.”
El Viaje, detail
In 1991, Camnitzer made a piece called El Viaje. “The title of the wall installation refers to the Atlantic voyages of Christopher Columbus, on which he set in motion the discovery of America and thus changed the continent forever. Camnitzer has etched the name of each of the three ships—the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria—in which Columbus set sail in 1492 into each of three knife-blades projecting menacingly from the wall. The blades are also decorated along the side with shiny Christmas ornaments, an allusion to Christianity.”
Camnitzer’s attitude towards Smithson’s work is perhaps indicated by this statement on his early artistic formation: “My crisis coincided with the culmination of Minimalism in the US, something that may have contaminated my work in spite of my beliefs. Around that time I attended the Whitney Museum Biennnial. The visit was important because it dawned on me that the average cost of production of the Minimalist works was more than the annual wages of a Bolivian miner, an example that was not arbitrary. I had gone to New York on a Guggenheim grant, and the Guggenheim Foundation was funded with money that the American Smelting and Refining Company had made by exploiting Bolivian tin mines.”
Perhaps one could draw a line from The Golden Spike westward to the Michelin Rubber Plantation as an illustration of the path of Manifest Destiny, the “Big Red One” being the highwater mark of that Saxon migration. Et in Vietnam ego. I failed to locate any trace of the divisional emblem on Google Earth. The earthwork seems almost like a caricature of what Lacan might call the “resistant ego,” the shield-like form protecting the phallic digit that hollowly proclaims its uniqueness as the (en?)tropic landscape swallows it up.
Smithson was aware of the proximity to the Golden Spike Site, he mentions it briefly in his Spiral Jetty essay. His declared reason for first visiting the site was that he heard that the water “was the color of tomato soup.” Jennifer L. Roberts argues that Smithson’s selection of a site close to the Golden Spike Site may have been intentional, as he “had long been exploring what he called ‘the crystalline structure of time,” and this spiraling growth pattern became an essential part of his understanding of that structure...”
Spiral Jetty functions in part as Smithson’s specific response to the Golden Spike and the model of history and memory that it embodies. That model centers around a desire to orchestrate a return to a privileged point in historical space. The original ‘wedding of the rails’ ceremony in 1869, captured most famously by Andrew J. Russell’s photograph, fostered the illusion of punctuality: it purported to produce a single point of adequation where the entire nation would be present to itself, a single “now” that would be centered and marked with the clang of hammer on spike.
By the time Smithson arrived in Utah to begin building Spiral Jetty in 1970, the regular reenactment of this golden historical moment had become part of Golden Spike’s mission of historic interpretation…”
“One of the essential assumptions underlying the metaphorical basis of much historical discourse (including the spectacle of reenactment at the Golden Spike Site) is that history is retrospective, that it enables a looking back. Time is understood as a transparent medium or atmosphere which allows the historian to peer back “through” it (even if darkly) to an event in the receding past. As theorists from Edmund Husserl to Elizabeth Deeds Ermarth have argued, this optical model of historical endeavor drives ultimately from Renaissance systems of perspectival organization and subtends all modern historicism.”

Here we are approaching some of the territory covered in Lacan’s interpretation of the Ambassadors from Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. The Lacanian scholar Margaret Iversen notes “a distinct if unexpected, link between Post-Minimal art in the United States and psychoanalytic practice in London during the 1950s and 1960s” in the form of Anton Ehrenzweig’s book The Hidden Order of Art. “Smithson referred to Ehrenzweig’s book frequently and used its key concept of “dedifferentiation” as synonym for his concept of entropy.”

Iversen asserts that Spiral Jetty “is an attempt to render the death drive visible.”
“The death drive according to one of its definitions, has to do with unbinding. In Freud’s final formulation of the organization of the drives, binding is characteristic of the life instincts. He wrote that ‘the aim of Eros,’ which includes self-preservation, self-love, and sexuality, “is to establish ever greater unities and to preserve them thus—in short to bind together; the aim of the destructive instinct is , on the contrary, to undo connections and so to destroy things.’ The ego is closely associated with the process of binding. Lacan repeatedly attacked the sovereignty of the ego, which he thought let people to greater isolation and so also to greater aggression, and he naturally turned with interest to the power of the death drive to unbind, or undo, the ego...”

Quoting Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Iversen continues, “The drive is summed up in that paradoxical and bewildering phrase, ‘the aim of all life is death.’ The initial formulation relates to the drive as such: ‘an instinct is an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things which the living entity has been obliged to abandon under the pressure of external disturbing forces.’ This aim, internal to the subject, is related to the cosmic principle of entropy, whereby organized forms tend to revert to less organized ones, organic life to inorganic, and so on. The death drive exerts a constant pressure to breach the protective crust of the ego. We have already noted the problem caused for Freud by the fact that the reduction of tension seems to be the goal of both homeostatic satisfaction and the death drive. To avoid confusion, one needs to be clear about the very different effects these functions have one the ego. While pleasure as satisfaction diminishes tension to protect the ego from being overwhelmed by stimulation, the death drive aims to eliminate tension to the point of abolishing an individual’s sense of separate existence—Nirvana. Lacan reformulates Freud by assigning the binding, homeostatic function to the ego and by understanding all drives as repetitive, unrealistic, and destructive. Approaching the satisfaction of the drive, which if accomplished would be deadly, is experienced not as pleasure but as jouissance.”

Smithson wrote about the moment of genesis for 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 curve, and explosion rising into 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 landing in Salt Lake City, I headed directly west on I-80 towards Grantsville and Stansbury Island. I was looking for petroglyphs. A PayPal transaction provided GPS coordinates to plug into my smartphone. I passed by a truckstop that had a Del Taco. A Morton saltworks rose up on the right, with great mountains of salt and a strange exoskeleton for transferring it to waiting rail cars. I got off at the exit for Grantsville. The road heading towards Stansbury Island was gravel, so I took the paved road into Grantsville to buy water. There was a Donner Street and a Donner-Reed museum (Per the museum website: One hundred and twenty five years after the Donner-Reed Party crossed the salt desert, their trail is still etched in the salt and is easily seen. The ruts left by the narrow wagon wheels, and tracks left by the people and oxen have been filled. The salt deposited in the depressions, in the sunlight, is a different color than that which was not disturbed). I recalled traveling across the country one summer with my folks. One of the places we camped was Donner Pass. I remembered that one of the party's diarists, Virginia Reed, had written “Don’t never take no cut-offs, and hurry along as fast as you can,” after reflecting on the experience.

I headed past the Wal-Mart distribution center back to the gravel road, three cold plastic bottles rolling with comforting sloshes in the passenger seat. Over the railroad tracks, the road became a causeway through diked evaporation ponds. During a subsequent return with two intrepid relatives, semis triple-trailered with salt were hauling ass down the causeway. Out on the island, the road became much worse. Mockingbirds in a low tree pestered a sitting hawk. The ravens were huge. Four-wheeler tracks tailed off into the hills. Along the top of the hills, there was a horizontal line that seemed to trace the shore of an ancient sea. The particle-board ruins of what looked like big-screen TVs collapsed into the scrub.

“Geological-- and hence metaphysical—monumentality, by contrast with the physical attitude of ordinary landscapes. Upturned relief patterns, sculpted out by wind, water, and ice, dragging you own into the whirlpool of time, into the remorseless eternity of a slow-motion catastrophe. The very idea of the millions and hundreds of millions of years that were needed peacefully to ravage the surface of the earth here is a perverse one, since it brings with it an awareness of signs originating, long before man appeared, in a sort of pact of wear and erosion struck between the elements. Among this gigantic heap of signs—purely geological in essence—man will have had no significance. The Indians alone perhaps interpreted them—a few of them. And yet they are signs. For the desert only appears uncultivated… a magical presence, which has nothing to do with nature (the secret of this whole stretch of country is perhaps that it was once an underwater relief and has retained the surrealist qualities of an ocean bed in the open air). You can understand why it took great magic on the Indians’ part, and a terribly cruel religion, to exorcize such a theoretical grandeur as the desert’s geological and celestial occurrence, to live up to such a backdrop. What is man if the signs that predate him have such power? A human race has to invent sacrifices equal to the natural cataclysmic order that surrounds it.”
Jean Baudrillard

Great Basin Curvilinear Style?
Baudrillard, like Smithson, provides no citations to back up his claims about pre-Columbian religion. Perhaps he exposes a blindspot for his own chauvinism. I found the petroglyps after a short hike along a canal feeding the evaporation ponds. Grasshoppers scattered into the fragrant brush, and insect song rose from the lakeside. After a period of frustrated seeking, they appeared in succession heading up a knife of sharp rock in the crest of a hill. They were mostly aligned to the west. Stansbury Island is not listed in Polly Schaafsma's The Rock Art of Utah (Originally published in 1971). From the photographs and maps in that book I would guess them to be in the western Fremont style known Sevier Style A, with maybe superimpositions of Great Basin Curvilinear Style, but the truth is I have no idea who really made them or what they mean. There didn’t seem to be anything severe about them, but maybe I’m just projecting.
Sevier Style A?


“My idea about the Spiral Jetty, in its earthwork, prose, and film forms, is that it enacts a symbolic ritual allowing temporary sway to the death drive. In the film, Smithson performs the rite, running like mad the length of the spiral, chased by the noisy helicopter/camera hovering above him like some prehistoric bird of prey. He gets to the innermost circle and stops at the center of the labyrinth, where he survives death, like Theseus in his confrontation with the Minotaur. He then turns around and walks back, clockwise, returning to his workaday world, but now better able to sustain an ethical position beyond the narcissistic ego, beyond the pleasure principle. This about-face is a performative realization of the ‘depressive’ moment in Ehrenzweig’s conception of creativity: having suffered the vertigo of dedifferentiation, Smithson is called to his sole, differentiated, contained self.”
Margaret Iversen

I could see a small figure near the second silver car, picking its way down to the jetty. I had wanted to experience the Jetty alone, so I assumed the figure below did, too. I lingered at the top of the hill, not wishing to intrude on the other. The water was so low, the figure cut directly out to the center of the jetty on the crust of dried salt and on to the edge of the red water.
After a short time watching the figure take photographs, I lost patience and descended. I was ready to dedifferentiate, damn it. I had my own pictures to snap as well. I picked my way back down the hill and out onto the jetty. I followed the path laid out by the basalt boulders, even though the level of the lake made in unnecessary (Blame that Puritan obsessiveness). The man had started back from the edge of the lake. We met as a I reached the end of the spiral.
I can’t remember his name, or where he was from, or where he was going. He was wearing a straw fedora. I took pictures of him with his camera, he took pictures of me with my phone. We explained entropy to each other. He asked if it was worth the climb up the hill. I recommended it, and he turned up the trail. I looked down to see a graffito scratched in the salt at the point of dedifferentiation. It read, fittingly, “YOUR MOM.”


Man of Sorrow, 1961
In his essay Cosmic Exile: Prophetic Turns in the Life and Art of Robert Smithson, Thomas Crow makes a connection between Spiral Jetty and some of Smithson’s early Catholic-themed paintings that were exhibited in the Rome gallery of one of Smithson’s American collectors. (“Conventional wisdom in art history has relegated the entire episode around the Christian-themed paintings—and the apparently overheated attitudes that went with them—to a minor or nonexistent positon in the artist’s record”). Crow says the spiral “makes its initial appearance as an element and emblem of this same agonized self-reflection. In both Feet of Christ and Man of Sorrow, one finds pinwheel forms like spiral nebulae radiating from the point where the flesh is pierced, standing in place of both wound and blood. The extremities in Feet of Christ simultaneously constitute a mask where the wound-spirals (red circles at their center) replace the eyes.” The strange poem that Smithson wrote and insisted to his dealer be the sole catalogue copy for the 1961 Rome show contains these lines:

Here is the chopped meat of paradise,
A voice from the whirlpool of Blood
Is crying out for vengeance.
A voice from the West is crying out;
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
In the colors of White, Red and Black.
Action against Passion.
Passion against Action.
This is the Divine Agony, the Blood
Drenched Spirit and the Wound of the Infinite Joy”

Bob Phillips the contractor described completing the Jetty: At that point, it was a spiral with a bulb on the end of it, or an island on it. I looked at it and said, “It’s done,” and Smithson, said, “You did a good job.” We didn’t have a get-together or a celebration or anything like that. Everybody just went home. About a week later, I got an anxious call from Smithson. “It’s not right. It’s just not right.”—“What?”—“Well the jetty, we’ve got to fix it. It’s all wrong. We need to fix it.”
I replied, “We looked at it , you said it was fine.”—“Well it’s fine, but it’s not right. You need to look at it. Where can I meet you?” We made an appointment for the next day, and I spent a long night trying to find another way to say no. I remembered the first day when we broke through the salt into the mud. That was at the edge of the lake—what would it be like to go through out in the middle? I didn’t think I could get Boozie back and he had done such a good job ripping the rock in the Jetty, it would be very difficult to get material or equipment back out there. The contract was completed as agreed, and I was not being unreasonable to decline.
So we met. He had a Polaroid picture and a ballpoint pen. He was trying to write on the picture, trying to make another loop on the Jetty. “It’s not right, We need to take that out and continue the Jetty around. You understand? We need to pull that out.” I kept saying “No, it’s okay—it’s as per contract.” “No. we need to pull that…” He just pressed harder and harder, trying to make the pen write, and it wouldn’t. As I stared at it the ballpoint pen went right through that card. As I look at that, I expected blood to come running out. And I looked at it and looked at it, and I didn’t dare look at him, because those eyes would just melt me, and I’d be a pile of ashes.”
Bob Phillips

“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. Ray 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.”
Robert Smithson

As I left Spiral Jetty I passed by the now-open Golden Spike visitors center. Cars were in the parking lot, and a small crowd was formed around one of the steaming replica trains. The second train was not yet visible. I passed on without stopping, and did not look back.

“It wasn’t but a year later that we got a call to look in the Newsweek or Time, ‘Your friend Bob Smithson was killed in an airplane crash.’ I got the magazine and read it, and, sure enough, there it was—a picture of Smithson and the Spiral Jetty…
But I’ve always been-- I don’t know whether the word’s grateful—but with all the trouble I gave him in getting Spiral Jetty built, at the end, he thanked me for helping him do it.”
Bob Phillips

Works Cited:

Smithson, Robert, and Jack D. Flam. Robert Smithson, the Collected Writings. Berkeley: U of California, 1996. Print.

Baker, George, Lynne Cooke, and Karen J. Kelly. Robert Smithson: Spiral Jetty: True Fictions, False Realities. Berkeley: U of California, 2005. Print.

Smithson, Robert, Eugenie Tsai, Cornelia H. Butler, Thomas E. Crow, Alexander Alberro, and Moira Roth. Robert Smithson. Berkeley: U of California, 2004. Print.

Baudrillard, Jean. America. London: Verso, 1989. Print.

Iversen, Margaret. Beyond Pleasure: Freud, Lacan, Barthes. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 2007. Print.

Schaafsma, Polly, and Donald Scott. The Rock Art of Utah: A Study from the Donald Scott Collection. Salt Lake City: U of Utah, 1994. Print.

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