Materiality

over 7 years ago

In a way, Smithson saw and treated the world as an enormous text, reminiscent of the library in Borges's "Library of Babel," which is synonymous with the universe itself, "composed of an indefinite and perhaps an infinite number of hexagonal galleries"--which seem to prefigure the crystalline structures that Smithson himself favored. Borges's library, moreover, is defined as "a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere." Significantly, in a 1968 citation of Pascal's statement, Smithson added "or language becomes an infinite museum whose center is everywhere and whose limits are nowhere." Indeed, Smithson treated written texts as if they too--like his plastic works--were made of solid materials; as if words were not only abstract signs for things and concepts, but also a form of matter. Asked in 1972 whether his writing affected the development of the things he made, Smithson answered that "language tended to inform my structures. In other words, I guess if there was any kind of notation it was a kind of linguistic notation ... But I was interested in language as a material entity, as something that wasn't involved in ideational values." This materiality, he felt, distinguished his work from conceptual art, which he characterized as "essentially ideational." When asked what he meant by the "material" quality of language, Smithson elaborated: "Well, just as printed matter--information which has a kind of physical presence for me. I would construct my articles the way I would construct a work." [...] Moreover, Smithson saw words themselves as containing a crucial (if usually overlooked) physicality which, through a slight shift in perceptual emphasis, could be seen to contain its own network of meanings: "Words and rocks contain a language that follows a syntax of splits and ruptures. Look at any word long enough and you will see it open up into a series of faults, into a terrain of particles each containing its own void." This kind of byplay between thing and idea lies at the core of Smithson's whole undertaking as a writer and as an artist. "My work is impure," he asserted in 1969, "it is clogged with matter. There is no escape from the mind. The two are in a constant collision course. You might say that my work is like an artistic disaster. It is a quiet catastrophe of mind and matter."

Find Source Up