Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Robert Smithson in Wales

Robert Smithson was an American artist best known for his Land Art. In fact, his piece Spiral Jetty (1970) is probably the single most famous example of such art on the planet. It still exists today though it is often submerged due to fluctuating lake levels. The year before Smithson completed Spiral Jetty he made a trip to Wales with his wife Nancy Holt, herself an esteemed artist. After passing through Stonehenge and Cerne Abbas amongst other places they headed across the border into the Welsh Valleys. Apparently Smithson had a bit of a thing for industrial areas and brought with him a book on Welsh coal mines. Somewhere on the outskirts of Tredegar he did an artwork Untitled (Zig-Zag Mirror Displacement). Holt later recalled: “The coal mines in Wales were like that too. These so-called depressing, forgotten places that fall within the gaps of one’s consciousness are often described negatively. But if you look at them with a neutral eye, you start to see them differently; you begin to see a beauty in their entropic condition. What I remember most about being in Wales was the language. Often the people we met didn’t speak English, or spoke with a heavy accent that made it difficult for us to understand them. The road signs in the back country were mostly in Welsh – we often didn’t know where we were going, which could be useful when we couldn’t understand a ‘no trespassing’ sign.” Later the pair made their way across Wales to Pentre Ifan, in Pembrokeshire, where Holt took this photograph of Smithson wearing shades. Unfortunately Smithson died in a plane crash in 1973. Because of his early and untimely death relatively few examples of his Earthworks are in existence.