Robert Smithson 1938-1973
Spiral Jetty (1970)
SPIRAL JETTY, 1970, by Robert Smithson (36 minutes) color
This film, made by the artist, Robert Smithson, with the assistance of Virgina Dwan, Dwan Gallery & Douglas Christmas, Director, Ace Gallery, (the aforementioned Dwan & Christmas also assisted Smithson financially with the making of the Spiral Jetty), is a poetic and process minded film depicting a "portrait" of his renouned earth work -- The Spiral Jetty, as it juts into the shallows off the shore of Utah's Great Salt Lake. A voice-over by Smithson reveals the evolution of the Spiral Jetty. Sequences filmed in a natural history museum are integrated into the film featuring prehistoric relics that illustrate themes central to Smithson's work. A one minute section is filmed by Nancy Holt for inclusion in the film as Smithson wanted Holt to shoot the "earth's history". This idea came from a quote Smithson found ..."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". Smithson and Holt drove to the Great Notch Quarry in New Jersey, where he found a facing about 20 feet high. He climbed to the top and threw handfuls of ripped pages from books and magazines over the edge of the facing as Holt filmed it.
"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 and moving. And the movie editor, bending over such a chaos of "takes" resembles a paleontoligist 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, out-takes overexposed and underexposed, masses of impenetrable material. The sun, the spiral, the salt buried in lengths of footage. Everything about movies and moviemaking 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 dinasaurs.
The film 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 nowhere in particular. The disjunction operating between reality and film drives one into a sense of cosmic rupture.
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 a 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 lake became the edge of the sun, a boiling 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."
Quotes from Smithson's "The Spiral Jetty, 1970, published in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, edited by Nancy Holt, New York University Press, pp. 109-113