Monday, June 15, 2009

spiral seed

I very much wanted to write about the difference between the Lightning Field and Spiral Jetty - but I had no spiral jetty to hand today.   So I had to find a spiral... here is a spiral of bird seed on the back porch.   I set it up around lunchtime (it's curled the opposite way round from the SJ, but that's not deliberate - probably linked to my innate tendency to do things counter-clockwise, which made my mother decide when I was about six, and stirring cake mixture widdershins, that I might be a witch) and then photographed it every hour - each time it was a little bit more ravaged by housefinches and some untidy mocking birds.   This evening, after going out for dinner (hi there, UCI gang!), it looks as though something heavy has sat on it.   Probably a rabbit.

For I had intended to explore how the SJ, for me, is a very playful piece of art work - it knows, I felt, that land art is going to seem small and insignificant when set against the grandeur and scale of nature, and wants to have fun with the concept.   Hence its glorious inutility, its acknowledgement that it is decorative, and not in any kind of rivalry.   It's also something that though its stem, the root of the curly lizard tongue, is attached to land, draws the eye on past it to the sparking, crackling salty wastes of its surroundings.

Whereas the Lightning Field is uncompromisingly there.   It makes no concessions to us.   It's indifferent to us, its spectators.   Its poles recede into the night, and are still there, emerging as thin pale grey stripes in the dawn.   It mocks us - you expected an art work to relate to you, humor you, draw you in?   Forget it.   It doesn't have to - any more than nature does.   It takes from nature - at least in daylight - all the time, reflecting (or, for much of the middle of the day) refusing to reflect natural light.   It joins heaven and earth - sometimes in a very secular and pragmatic way, sometimes in a far more glorious and transcendental one.   But we, as viewers, aren't in any kind of control about when this happens - it's up to the art work's interaction with light, not with us.    It belongs to the air and sky, despite being rooted in the ground.

The spiral, on the other hand, is all about the land: made of rocks and sand, and laid flat on the earth.   Or so I thought.   But I was wrong - I watched a five minute excerpt from Robert Smithson's 1970 film about the Jetty today (I am so excited - the whole thing is going to be shown in Albuquerque in August) and in fact, he was inspired by the sun, by its radiant white heat, by the fact that this sun, the source of light - the source of what makes a photograph, one might say - is "a vast spiral nebula of innumerable suns".   His own spiral is, for him, a "circle curling out of the sun."   So it is far closer to forms traced by light than I ever thought (and this has pushed me to learn, as I've been intending to do, more about it - you've not heard the end of spirals, even if this particular one will have been eaten).

This image is from 4.30 p.m. - the hour in which the shadows of the curved chair backs had themselves crept round to add to the spiral's trajectory.

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