08. Jun. 2013 – 25. Aug. 2013

Monuments

  • Lawrence Weiner
  • Robert Smithson
  • Peter Buggenhout
  • Dan Holdsworth
Detail: Dan Holdsworth, Forms, cg 01, 2013, C-Print, 97 x 77 cm, 3 + 2 AP


Monuments have long been problematic. Any monument must be able to carry the weight of what it signifies, to do justice to that celebration or commemoration; it should represent many but speak to the individual.

Anthropologist Michael Taussig suggests that we build monuments in an attempt to assert some control over death, ‘postponing the end to the story that was a life’. If the need to build monuments is a constant, the task for the contemporary architect or designer becomes ever more difficult, faced with, yes, monumental tragedies or events to be remembered and increasingly diverse audiences.

Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, 1970, is probably the best-known work of the Land Art movement. A jetty of rocks and mud assembled by dumper truck and later encrusted in salt leads into the Great Salt Lake in Utah, beginning with a straight line that curls left into a spiral. While the piece was being constructed Smithson and his wife Nancy Holt shot the 32-minute film of the same name, documenting the jetty against the red algae bloom of the saline lake in bright sunshine. These images are interspersed with shots of dinosaurs in a museum and ripped pages from a history book, while a narrator speaks of spiral nebulae and other inspiration. With open-air works like Spiral Jetty Smithson left the privileged site of the art gallery that elevates the work of art but equally encumbers it with expectation. His film documents the work for those who will never be able to visit the work, but filming from a helicopter, the camera swoops low towards the lake surface and points into the sun, refusing to offer an overview that can be neatly compartmentalised and historicized.

In his essay ‘Entropy And The New Monuments’ Smithson describes the need for a response to deathly post-war modernism, evinced architecturally in suburban sprawl and faceless inner city blocks and seen also in a loss of faith in mechanical and electrical technology. Smithson’s and his peers, including Donald Judd and Sol Le Witt, worked in opposition to these phenomena, creating new kinds of monuments that existed in the immediate present, their attempt to refashion and restructure time.

Dan Holdsworth’s new work Forms, 2013, is constructed from a series of aerial photographs taken at Crater Glacier, Mount St. Helens. This is the world’s youngest glacier, which has formed over the past 33 years since the catastrophic eruption of the Mount St. Helens volcano in Washington State in 1980.Holdsworth's compositions negate clear orientation points like sky or water, and in addition, Holdsworth shows each image twice: each pairing containing an image that has been rotated 180°, in the process the surface’s appear to take on the physical form of positive and negative spaces with a perceived depth. What in one image stands proud becomes a depression in the other. The artist plays with a phenomena known to cartographers and astronomers as ‘false topographic perception’, when a landscape cannot be judged to be concave or converse. (These phenomena are most frequently experienced when observing the remote terrain of planets, where valleys or mountain ridges are difficult to differentiate.) Through this inversion and distancing of the image Holdsworth also imbues the work with a history of aesthetics that brings to mind the late 18th century invention of the Claude Glass and a practice where-by artists and travellers of the day would use a small slightly concaved black mirror to view/ re-view the landscape, abstracting the reflected landscape from its surroundings in order to achieve a painterly quality to the view. But rather than the imagery of 18th century landscape the trajectory of Forms evokes a visual field more akin to the communications that might be broadcast by a Mars lander. Holdsworth creates images of sculptural form from a rare example of perceived reverse entropy on a massive scale, which looks as if it exists in a state of suspension. What Smithson wrote in his essay in relation to Dan Flavin’s work rings true here: ‘Rather than saying “What time is it?”, we should say “Where is the time?”.’

Peter Buggenhout’s sculptures respond to the current crisis of the monument, which could be seen as a counterpoint to contemporary bureaucracy and design by committee. His medium is the waste of modern life, organic and processed materials, which he fashions into large and disorderly sculptures. The work The Blind Leading The Blind (2012) is a dark, grey mass on stilt-like legs. It looks as though it could have been spewed out by an eruption from the earth, for it has no clear centre or base. The title and muddy surface suggest apocalypse, but there is also joyful baroque excess in the work’s detail and miscellaneous materials.

Smithson was killed in a plane crash three years after completing Spiral Jetty, and could not have foreseen that in the following decades the work would periodically disappear, submerged, and reappear as lake levels vary. Lawrence Weiner’s 1999 wall drawing THINGS THEMSELVES ON TOP OF OTHER THINGS ON TOP OF SOMETHING ELSE NOW & THEN celebrates such changes wrought by time. The line is applied in Weiner’s own font, which he created when dissatisfied with other typefaces and their connotations. Weiner’s method is to apply short lines, writ large, onto walls using this font. In so doing simple thoughts are granted significance; a momentary pause is created in which these ideas can be contemplated. In general there is no apparent author of the text, it is not a statement from an authority but suggests self-evidence. While Weiner the artist is a larger than life personality, his works, like those of Smithson in remote Utah, are grand but not heroic. The profound and surprisingly reassuring work tells us that history is inevitable – there was a then, we are in the now.