Unreal Nature

June 22, 2015

Cosmic Implacability

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:05 am

… It becomes not so much about schematic truth in its freshness as about an aged sense of mystery and distance.

Continuing through Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock by Kirk Varnedoe (2006):

… Simplicity, wholeness, order, process and materials — these become the watchwords for a new generation of artists who were about to transform minimalism.

… [Writing in the 1960s, George Kubler] has a pessimistic belief that the invention of form is a zero-sum game, that what has been made before reduces the possibilities of what can be made now. Kubler speculates — in a way that I think many people in the late 1960s may have found appealing — that instead of the modernist notion that we have in front of us an endless series of options, we may in fact be approaching the end of a set of possibilities, that there may be much more invention behind us than there is in front of us.

Heizer_ComplexOne
Michael Heizer, Complex One / City, 1972-74

Kubler’s ideas are in sync not only with the formalism of the minimalist and postminimalist generations but also with the pessimism that becomes increasingly apparent in the end of the 1960s. “Part of my art is based on an awareness that we live in a nuclear era,” Heizer says in an interview in 1984. “We’re probably living at the end of civilization.” His project in the Nevada desert, a great monumental series of abstract forms, equates the erosive force of centuries — the blunting of ruins and grand residues of past societies — with the explosive force of the present. He makes clear that Complex One is situated close to a nuclear blast site, and that its angled front wall is designed to serve as a blast shield, deflecting the power of a nuclear bomb. Heizer’s elemental forms collapse time into a view colored by a millennial almost apocalyptic sense of the present. He uses reduction as a way of hunkering down against the forces of history. Heizer’s expanded concept of time — of vast eons that will stretch after us and that have stretched before us — is linked to the idea of scale, of making things big and making things in open space. Simplicity, then, becomes associated with monumentality in Heizer’s work in a very specific way.

ChichenItza_GreatBallCourt
the Great Ballcourt from El Castillo at Chichin-Itza (a pre-Columbian city)

[ … ]

… originally, [Robert Smithson] had thought of having a small theater next to the Spiral Jetty, where the film [about the making of the work] would be constantly projected.

The film promotes both the micro and macro aspects of the earthwork. On the micros side is the crystallization of the Great Salt Lake: the salt crystals forming on rocks, a kind of incrustation in which the salt of the lake will, like rust, engulf the Spiral Jetty, forming a piecemeal blanket over the form that he has made. On the macro level, from overhead, we see a primal form in the spiral of ambiguous growth and decay: the helical pattern of a nautilus shell on the one hand, and of water going down the drain on the other. What we do not see in these views of Smithson’s jetty is that it constantly makes intercuts between bulldozers pushing rocks and dinosaurs. Again the relationship between a deep lost and destroyed past and the violence and force of contemporary society — so apparent in Heizer’s Complex One — is replayed by Smithson in another way. Close up the Spiral Jetty is power, jumble, violence, and slow, fragmentary accretion; from above it is only a great, blank, desolate, cosmic implacability.

Smithson_spiralJetty
Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970

… Objectivity at a distance and overhead becomes not about the new man but about things primordial, that is, lost civilizations like those who made the Nazca lines in Peru. It becomes not so much about schematic truth in its freshness as about an aged sense of mystery and distance.

Nazca_monkey
Nazca lines

My most recent previous post from Varnedoe’s book is here.

-Julie

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