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Time,

space and body


Sculpture vs. a morphed site studies

David Leal Context 3 Unit Leader: Dr. Atsuhide Ito BA (Hons) Fine Art Level 2 Southampton Solent University December 2011

Southampton Solent University David Leal

Fine Art 2/Period 1/ VIA 203

Southampton Solent University David Leal

Contents
Introduction p.3 I - Art of place p.4 II Body, object and space as one p.5 III - Experience and relation of object and space p.6 IV Impact on urban spaces p.7 Conclusion p.8 Illustrations p.9 Bibliography p.12


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Southampton Solent University David Leal

Introduction
Within this essay we find the integral comparison and highlights on common ground as well as the main contrasts, between two sculptures, Spiral Jetty (fig.1) and Sequence (fig.2) from Robert Smithson (1938-1973) and Richard Serra (1939), respectively. Before introducing the sculptures a few notions on the origin of this kind of art and its understanding are explained. I put effort in making the relation of these new works, clear, bringing up the early changes in sculptures history, when the site-specific appeared and brought along the disappearance of the pedestal as well the iconographical representation. Moreover it is discussed how two distinct works share the same purpose of existence and how they interact and change, not only the space but also the viewers perception.

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I - Art of place
By 1930s artists started to think differently and developed a new form of art, the art of place, instead of the art of time. Practice was no longer defined in relation to a given medium sculpture but rather in relation to the logical operations on a set of cultural terms (Krauss 1986). A relation formed between the new medium that now could be anything and the surrounding, which somehow expanded it. This expanded field was originated by problematizing a set of oppositions. Through the reduction of the sculptural medium into simpler volumetric structures, they reached a neuter term of the not-landscape plus the not-architecture. Obviously there was no reason not to imagine the exact opposite both landscape and architecture to what Rosalind E. Krauss (1941) refers as the complex in her structural graphic (fig.3). Structures such as labyrinths or mazes and Japanese gardens are both landscape and architecture. () They are part of a universe or cultural space in which sculpture was simply another part-not somehow, the same. Their purpose and pleasure is exactly that they are opposite and different. (Krauss 1979: 30-44) With the Partially Buried Woodshed (fig.4) at Kent State, Ohio, by Robert Smithson, the complex axis began to be occupied, which can be called as site construction. The combination of landscape and not-landscape result in on what some call marked sites that could not only be actual physical manipulations of sites like Smithson's Spiral Jetty, but other forms of marking as well. Meanwhile Serra was one of the first artists to explore the possibilities of architecture plus not- architecture. In every case of these axiomatic structures, there is some kind of intervention into the space, which consist on a process of mapping the axiomatic features of the architectural influences onto a particular given space. This method results in the reflecting the condition of the logical space as experience. Fine Art 2/Period 1/ VIA 203 4

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II Body, object and space as one


I find intriguing how two different works, in form and in process, even though being site-specific, can share a purpose. They both transform the space where theyre inserted. Spiral Jetty seems to me, a literal approach site construction to this transformation referred above, in which Smithson decides to physically modify the actual space/site itself in order to achieve this change. The sculpture was built with natural elements, such as mud, precipitated salt crystals and rocks and consists on a land spiral invading the seashore at Great Salt Lake (Utah). The unique spiral is and should be perceived as two, since it has two ways, into and outer the center. In 1970 Serra himself helped his close friend, Robert Smithson to 'lay out' Spiral Jetty. Not only does it have a physical impact in the surrounding space but on the spectators perspective and perception as well, either by walking through and allowing himself to get involved with the spiral while apprehending the surrounding space from the spirals center, or just by apprehending it from distance. I believe by crossing it, back and forth, a notion of limit is created while walking along the path towards the center, which is very much related to Serras Sequence. Both works reveal a path specially created, in which the spectator is allowed to walk, reinforcing subconsciously their notion of limitation. In Sequence, we find the same concept as the Jetty, but with a different method. Serras sculpture consists on its vertical curved metal walls instead of having a unique spiral, we find two torqued ellipses connected by an S, and the S is the passage that reverses itself right in the center of the piece. It is also a site- specific work since it is one of the three pieces particularly made for the second floor of the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and it also requires for the spectator to involve himself with the matter, very much similar to Spiral Jettys need and effect: Walking into and through around and becoming the subject matter of your own experiences is what this work has to offer. (Richard Serra 2007) According to Brancusi (1876-1957), even in spatial art, space and time cannot be separated one from another in purpose of analysis: All bodies, however, exist not only in space, but also in time. In Passages in Modern Sculpture, Rosalind Krauss (author) states that one of the striking aspects of modern sculpture is how it manifests somewhere between stillness and motion, therefore, empowering the sculptures expression, which consists on the tension created.


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III - Experience and relation of object and space


Sequence requests a confinement of space and an evident definition of the architectural structures around, otherwise, pieces with that scale and being site- specific would get lost on the open space, according to Serra. Smithson believed as well it was better to disclose reality of confinement rather than freedom. Serras sculpture may even confuse the viewer in making him believe that hes lost and walking the same path as before, which is very much similar to the symptoms some might feel while experiencing Spiral Jetty. He also believes the experience derived from his work is new, and each person perceives it differently, since it has no representational theme nor subject matter, as well as no iconographical figuration. Moreover this piece can change what people see and think, being merely based on self-experience. The same can be applied to Smithsons work. Both Sequence and Spiral Jetty have a function, without being functionally useful, not needing for the observer to understand the history of sculpture, which is to awaken an unknown personal experience within the subject. Nevertheless, they demand an intense concentration and time of the viewer. One of Sequences magnificent consequences is while walking along it is affects the sense of gravity of the particular subject, shifting and distorting it, due to its curved and inclined vertical tall metal plates. The scale of these plates and their organic form somehow absolve all the involving architecture and surrounding space so that the sculpture itself becomes the site and making the spectator ignore or annihilate what surrounds it, therefore changing it. In spite of not being a literal modification to the site like Spiral Jetty, Sequence achieves and shares the same purpose of existence as Smithsons work, only by interfering with its magnitude, always depending on the surrounding architecture/site. Proof of that are other two projects by Smithson and Serra, the Spiral Hill (fig.5) and Spin Out (fig.6). For example, in Smithsons Hill what happens is that after time and the lands natural growth, the work seems to be part of the site, almost camouflaging itself, in addition the work changes along with the weather seasons as we can see on Spiral Hills different stages (fig.7).The same happens with Serras Spin Out1, only with a little twist. The discrepancy between both works, like in the main comparison of this document between Spiral Jetty and Sequence, is that in Spin Out theres an object interfering with the site, rather than having natural elements alone, but even though, similar to what happens in Spiral Hill, after some time, nature takes its place and not only does it change the three plain metal plates materially turning them from a bright/shiny new texture into a green/brown rusty texture but also casting shadows of the surrounding elements, such as tree branches and leaves, allowing the piece to blend into the space as if both, space and object, were one (fig.8). 1 Built in memory of Robert Smithson. Fine Art 2/Period 1/ VIA 203 6

Southampton Solent University David Leal These natural causes are essential to both artists, especially to Smithson, who defended that the returning of his works to an undifferentiated matter represented the inescapable process of decay, which meant the defeat of technology. Despite approving some limited measures to maintain and preserve his works, which I perceive as an attempt to slow down time, he didnt want the deterioration to be entirely arrested, due to hes interest in natures long process of taking control. Contrarily, Serra takes advantage with what Smithson somehow despises, the technology breakthrough. With the help from the materials characteristics and the way the sculpture is built, Serra manages to suggest tension. How both pieces are made is another important aspect. Without the evidence of the process they would become sculpturally weaker, in my point of view. In Serras case, the steel is what shapes the place. If we had the same object built in various materials such as plastic, wood or even glass, it would transmit a different experience as the one we get. The importance of the piece is not only on the created object, but on how it will shape the space in which it is inserted as well. But how did Serras works invade the urban public space? If someone refused to experience the sculpture there would be no purpose, it would be null.

IV - Impact on urban spaces


In Serras case, at first, the impact on the conventional society wasnt very good; on the contrary, it generated a lot of controversy, even though he believed there was no need for past knowledge about art, like explained before. He relies on people and their personal experiences although he doesnt consider arts function to be pleasing; Art is not democratic. It is not for the people- he said. Obviously something had to be done and the sculptor decided to seduce the audience with something new. After ten years, Serra applied curves to his works, instead of the angles and straight lines which made peoples opinion and reaction drastically change to a general acceptance, leading the artist to where it stands today. Fine Art 2/Period 1/ VIA 203 7

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Conclusion
In my point of view there is a clear and strong connection between time, space and body, being the body in both cases the experience generated by the objects; Movement through and around the works is what connects all these elements, which is how the body knows and registers the space. The key thought, is that the human perception and the human experience are embodied along with the radical transformation of the context in which they are placed. Art allows us to grow as individuals, by activating and awakening our most personal and deep experiences. If not for the object nor the subjects apprehension, there would be no outcome whatsoever, very much like the question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? The answer is no, because sound is "something that you hear" and since no one is there to hear it, there is no sound. This thought can be applied and adapted to either Spiral Jetty or Sequence. If no one is around, does it originate experience? The answer remains the same, no. So we can conclude the object and subject activate each other and the experience is real, only when a dialogue between him and its environment is initiated. This phenomenological aspect is what manifests inside the conscience based on perception, in order to conceive that same experience. Those are the fundamental concepts of the sculptural space and their conforming bases. Lastly I find that the main beauty about this particular type of works resides on taking a closer look to the relation between object and viewer, considering that the sculptures are alive. While these works are new, a certain tension is generated between nature and mankind, which reflects into an inside conflict within the observer, the key-element like when Spiral Hill was recent (fig.9). In time that tension becomes loose and all characteristics turn into something else. They become old, like we (humans) do. This long morphing process of ageing decay is as if the sculptures their selves were alive, and therefore, like all living beings, eventually they die. The compulsive urge for a connection between the spectator and the piece is a struggle for survival. Their life is instable due to the constant changes of existence. On one hand, when alone they are dead, while on the other, when providing experience and connected to the viewer they are once again reborn.

Fine Art 2/Period 1/ VIA 203

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Illustrations

Fig.1 Spiral Jetty (1970).

Fig.2 Sequence (2007). Fine Art 2/Period 1/ VIA 203

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Fig.3 Diagram explaining the Expanded Field.

Fig.4 - Partially Buried Woodshed (1970).

Fig.5 Spiral Hill (1971).

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Fig.6 Spin Out (1973).

Fig.7 Spiral Hills different states during the weather seasons.

Fig.8 Spin Out blended in space. Fine Art 2/Period 1/ VIA 203 11

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Bibliography Books:
Enrich Martin, Rosa Mara. 1995. Conceptos Fundamentales del Espacio Escultrico. Publicaciones Universidad Del Pas Vasco. Hopkins, David. 2000. After Modern Art 1945-2000. Oxford Paperbacks.


Krauss, Rosalind E. 1981. Passages in Modern Sculpture. London: The MIT Press. Krauss, Rosalind E. 1979. The Originality of Avant-Garde and Other Modernists Myths. London: The MIT Press. Roberts, John. 1990. Postmodernism Politics and Art. Manchester University Press.

Films:

BBC Open University Production Centre, Modern Art: Practices And Debates, Smithson And Serra: Beyond Modernism? (1994). Rose, Charlie, A conversation with artist Richard Serra (June 2007), http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/8534 MoMA Exhibitions, Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years (September, 2007), http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2007/serra/flash.html Fine Art 2/Period 1/ VIA 203 12

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