Introduction – copying –
This project has evolved as a copy project and I would firstly like to very briefly consider some examples of copying. We are all copies; our DNA is identical to 50% of the DNA of each of our parents. That goes for all biological organisms and is the basis for inheritance. Copying is also inherent from the minute a baby is born- as any parent can attest- as facial expressions are mirrored back and forth.
Copying can also be found in the earliest artworks, in Neolithic carvings on ice-age rocks. Cracks and grooves of glacial action were mimicked and carved alongside the circular and cup motifs. Copying the forms of the naturally occurring world and accruing them into a lexicon of ancestral designs.
There are also devices to copy such as the camera obscura, Durer’s drawing grid, the pointing machine and the pantogtaph which have all been utilized to replicate and transfer images.
Casting rooms in art schools and art academies were filled with copies, and at different periods in time works by groups of artist were so closely aligned that differentiation between authors were impossible
Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana, depicting Jesus’ party-trick miracle of turning wine into water, was painted for a Benedictine Monastery in Venice in 1563, plundered 235 years later by Napoleon and hanging in the Louvre. This now has multiple lives; 210 years after its abduction an exact facsimile was unveiled on the original site- the refectory of San Giorgio. Here visitors can now consider an exact copy in relation to its authentic surroundings, whilst simultaneously visitors to the Louvre are experiencing the original work of art.
“When Attitudes Become Form: Bern 1969/Venice 2013”. At the Venice Biennale in 2013 – Thomas Demand and Rem Koolhaus restage a 1969 exhibition, the spatial arrangements of the works are maintained from the original show- and the white walls of the Bern Kunsthalle are imposed alongside the ornate Venetian architecture.
In The Battle of Orgreave, 2001, Jeremy Deller enlisted the help of local people and civil war reenactment society members to restage the 1984 riot between striking coal-workers and police.
These are just a few examples that are here for consideration and to help us think broadly on the subject.
Remaking as a methodology is also used in media-archeology to unearth lost ideas, to reassess defunct discourses, and so to recall Walter Benjamin’s notion of revolution as redemption-through-repetition of the past. Then remaking isn’t about describing events the way they were, but rather to unearth the hidden potentiality that was betrayed in the earlier outcome.
Are these artworks demanding reenactment to redeem the ghosts of the past?
Some practical aims – This project is important on a number of practical levels – indeed it all about the practical- taking Goethe’s premise that “it is possible neither to appreciate a painting nor speak about it until one has copied it.” – similarly here we are going to open up the subject of contemporary art practice through making.
This project is our opening opportunity to use space – to work collaboratively- to work across media, to introduce the idea of practice/studio-based research.
There are skills that you will pick up and will start to consider in relation to the development of your own art practice, and experiencing how everyone else goes about their activities will inform us all greatly.
This project is about taking the plunge- about us collectively setting out in a manner that is appropriate- which is best characterized by us collectively not knowing what will happen. None of us have done this before- that is the point – we will find out by doing- and its benefits will really only be measured in the future- so to some extent we have to suspend any prejudice – and if you are asking the question what am I doing whilst doing this project then you are doing the right thing.
So what is our project?
Robert Smithson’s Partially Buried Woodshed
There are a number of interlinking narratives here_ the time, the people, the artwork and subsequent events. All of which seems to add up to reveal something interesting and particular about making art at that point in time- and hence it will help us consider what it is like to make art at this point in time.
Robert Smithson is the artist. Known for the spiral jetty- the giant earthwork in a salt lake in Utah that submerges and reemerges into view periodically.
Smithson and his wife Nancy Holt were part of a small number of artists who had begun to challenge the gallery and museum structure of that time- taking artworks into the landscape- land art- site specificity- these terms were arrived at through their work.
His collected writings are well worth reading – coining terms such as entropy bootlegging. It is the late 1960’s early 1970’s and the USA is heading toward its first energy crisis. Entropy the scientific term used to describe the second law of thermodynamics was borrowed by Smithson– its the law that makes time a one-way street- that any closed system is always heading towards a more chaotic state- a block of ice melting in a space cannot be formed back into the block of ice- that there is one certainty- heat death- of a pool of water spreading across the floor.
In 1969 Smithson had started experimenting in the landscape in a temporal way beginning with pouring materials down slopes- works that promote decay- one can think later to Anya Gallaccio and her walls of wilting Gerberas- or Roger Hiorns and his atomized jet engine- a pile of metal dust on the floor.
Smithsons legacy extends too into media studies Prof Jussi Parikka in his most recent book A Geology of Media considers his earthworks as examples of media discourse- connecting the brain and the earth in a shared process and structure enabling a different way to understand technology – not restricted to actual technological devices but encompassing the wider field of materials. ‘Soil is media’, Parikka states quoting Smithson
“The strata of the Earth is a jumbled museum. Embedded in the sediment is a text that contains limits and boundaries which evade rational order and social structures which confine art. In order to read rocks we must become conscious of geologic time, and of the layer of prehistoric material that is entombed in the Earth’s crust. When one scans the ruined sites of pre-history one sees a heap of wrecked maps that upsets our present art historical limits”
The Artwork and the surrounding events
In the winter of 1970 Smithson visited Kent State University School of Art he was a visiting tutor and as is often the norm in American art schools he was contracted to teach for a week, to give tutorials and crits etc. The professor’s at the art school had also persuaded Smithson to make a piece of work- to do a mud pour, one of the works he had been experimenting with a year earlier but it was bitterly cold in Ohio and the mud wouldn’t pour. Smithson had also come down with flu, he was staying with one of the Professor’s and was planning to go home to New York, but the students pestered and persuaded him to stay, refusing to leave until they talked about what else they could do. Smithson said he had always liked the idea of burying a building, and a plan was hatched. There was a woodshed on an isolated section of the campus, and they managed to get permission and the work began.
Whilst the woodshed was cleared – Smithson drew and photographed the proceedings making preparatory sketches. The university photographer was brought in to document the process capturing the event and choreographing the scenes so as to appear with the students out of shot.
In all twenty loads of earth were shoveled onto the shed at a certain point there was a sound of a crack as the central beam of the shed broke- Smithson took that to be the signal for the end to the piece of work.
And on January 22nd Smithson part jokingly gave it a monetary value of $10,000 and donated it to the University, a way to stop the piece being immediately bulldozed by the University once Smithson had left.
A little over three months later an anti-war demonstration against the American invasion of Cambodia was being held on the University Campus, the tension between the demonstrators and city officials had been escalating and there was a growing level of desperation with how to deal with the demonstration. Ohio National Guardsmen had been drafted in and violence was escalating between the protestors. It was on this third day when the guardsmen opened fire – firing 67 rounds in 13second into the unarmed crowd killing four students and wounding nine others. There is differing testimony to the event and its aftermath of the crowd thinking the Guardsmen were initially firing blanks before panic then shock before anger.
In the aftermath the campus closed and universities across the country went on strike, the Nixon administration struggled to adequately respond becoming ever more beleaguered.
The journalist John Filo photographed Mary Anne Vechio kneeling over one of the dead students – Jeffrey Miller- which won the Pulitzer prize- interestingly the image was retouched to remove the fencepost and is often used in this doctored format.
During the campus closure the bold white letters “May 4 Kent 70” had been inscribed on the beam of the woodshed transforming the woodshed into a memorial for the dead. The poetry of the piece- of a structure weighed down until its central beam cracked – had now been aligned to a political position. Nancy Holt later said that Smithson had always seen the piece as being prophetic.
For the next couple of years the piece existed as a site for remembrance and also a place where art classes were held, periodically photographs were taken of its drift and decay, but from 1973 onwards (the year of Smithson’s death in an airplane crash whilst surveying one of his earthworks.) the Partially Buried Woodshed was earmarked for elimination by the university- it was considered an eyesore- the area where the woodshed was located had become the gateway to the University Stadium and the broken lintel daubed with the graffiti was being seen by a growing number of visitors, the area was then landscaped to barricade the work from view.
The piece survived in its isolated status for another decade until the early 1980’s acting as the focus for a diminishing number of art projects. No one knows when the piece actually stopped surviving. The university ground staff were routinely taking away any fragments that fell off the artwork and it was finally not-noticed in February 1984. At this point the Max Webber Gallery who represented his estate valued it $250,000, though quite what is valued in this instance is debatable. It certainly tells us that Smithson after his death had a growing value in the art market, and that a gallery wanted to protect the value of his work.
And in May 2004 Mike Nelson exhibited a reconfigured version of The Partially Buried Shed at Museum of Modern Art Oxford as part of his sprawling installation Triple Canyon Bluff.
Which leaves us with what we are going to set out to do.
We are going to break ourselves down into teams- into hive organisms if you like.
There are going to be several practical avenues to explore
Firstly we are going to be remaking the piece itself and working with both the Smithson and Nelson works-
Working out how to build something with a beam to snap- how to make something with the visual impact of both versions. Making consideration towards it as burial chamber, with this in mind we will also be recording the process- as an archaeological process.
Drawing ad documentation team – Smithson’s drawings are a fascinating part of the story. That he sketched during the preparation should not be overlooked. His drawings are not conceptual in that they are there to visualize what is possible- yet to be made- however they follow flights of fancy.
Sound Team- The sound of the braking beam is integral to the finishing of the work.
Performance Team- looking at the events that followed the making of the partially buried shed which were then ascribed back on to the piece
The opening and Symposium
The Partially Buried Shed will open to the School on Fri 9th October- a schedule of performances will be followed by a symposium with guest speakers.
Please use the rest of your time to research and create work in relation to this project