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SELECTED WRITINGS BY ROBERT SMITHSON

A Provisional Theory of Non-Sites

By drawing a diagram, a ground plan of a house, a street plan to the location of a


site, or a topographic map, one draws a "logical two dimensional picture." A "logical
picture" differs from a natural or realistic picture in that it rarely looks like the thing
it stands for. It is a two dimensional analogy or metaphor - A is Z.

The Non-Site (an indoor earthwork)* is a three dimensional logical picture that is
abstract, yet it represents an actual site in N.J. (The Pine Barrens Plains). It is by this
dimensional metaphor that one site can represent another site which does not
resemble it - this The Non-Site. To understand this language of sites is to appreciate
the metaphor between the syntactical construct and the complex of ideas, letting
the former function as a three dimensional picture which doesn't look like a picture.
"Expressive art" avoids the problem of logic; therefore it is not truly abstract. A
logical intuition can develop in an entirely "new sense of metaphor" free of natural
of realistic expressive content. Between the actual site in the Pine Barrens and The
Non-Site itself exists a space of metaphoric significance. It could be that "travel" in
this space is a vast metaphor. Everything between the two sites could become
physical metaphorical material devoid of natural meanings and realistic
assumptions. Let us say that one goes on a fictitious trip if one decides to go to the
site of the Non-Site. The "trip" becomes invented, devised, artificial; therefore, one
might call it a non-trip to a site from a Non-site. Once one arrives at the "airfield",
one discovers that it is man-made in the shape of a hexagon, and that I mapped this
site in terms of esthetic boundaries rather than political or economic boundaries (31
sub-division-see map).

This little theory is tentative and could be abandoned at any time. Theories like
things are also abandoned. That theories are eternal is doubtful. Vanished theories
compose the strata of many forgotten books.

*Non-Site #1. Smithson changed the title for this text which was initially "Some
Notes on Non-Sites." It has been partially excerpted by Lawrence Alloway in
"Introductions 1: Options, Milwaukee Art Center, 1979, p. 6

from Unpublished Writings in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, edited by


Jack Flam, published University of California Press, Berkeley, California, 2nd Edition
1996
Earlier, I invoked Smithson, and of specific relevance is his notion of the dialectic of site and
non-site. It is here - in Smithsons perpetual relay between here and there, open and closed, edge
and centre - that any such model locates its history and derives its logic.

Smithson made his first non-sites in 1968, transporting rocks, slate fragments or mica from
geological sites into the gallery or the museum. Arranging these substances in the sort of rigid,
geometric containers made familiar by minimalism, Smithson found a way to muddy up the
white cube while playing at accommodation. 12 Like scale-models, these receptacles mimicked
the gallerys desire for containment; yet Smithson continually transgressed their borders with
photographs and maps which pointed the way out, toward the site from which the rocks or
fragments were taken.

The notion of the map is crucial to Smithsons work. Many of his essays are constructed as
travelogues, with the map operating as a key component - a specific object in which a particular
place is diagrammed, approximated and rendered into symbolic language. If the map is a two-
dimensional arrangement of lines and forms which evokes a three-dimensional space, the non-
site is, as Smithson has described it, a three-dimensional map of the site. Like the map, it offers
a synthesis between representation and abstraction. 13 It depicts something beyond, intertwining
the here with that which is there - or at least elsewhere.

The work of Halley, Levine and their peers recapitulates the logic of Smithsons non-sites. In
fact, one can think about these artists works themselves as non-sites: maps, courses of hazards,
and double paths which are here while referring us elsewhere - to the absent work of theory, to
the absent register of language. How does the absent register of language in the work of these
artists correspond with Owens notion of the eruption of language into the field of the visual?
The latters insistence upon language as constitutive of the post-modern moment does not refer
to the literal presence of language in the work of art (though this may indeed be the case); rather
it refers to a complex interchange between presence and absence, and between the implicit and
explicit - a notion of language as always already sited within the work, indeed, a notion of the
work as text.
Theory of Non-Sites, by Robert Smithson (1968)

In 1967 Robert Smithson began exploring the industrial areas around New Jersey
and, after assisting to dumper trucks excavating tons of earth and rocks, he
described them as the equivalent of the monuments of antiquity. The series of
Non-Sites resulted from the installation in the gallery of gravel, rocks, salt
materials collected from specific mines, excavations or quarries, usually contained
in boxes of galvanized steel or situated within mirrors formations.

Robert Smithson: Monolake Non-Site 1968


Whereas a Site is scattered information, a place you can visit, experience, travel-
to, a Non Site is a container, an abstract work about contained information.
Crucial to the notion of Non-Sites was the condition of displacement and the
conservation of meaning after the removal to another site.
Instead of putting something on the landscape, I decided it would be interesting to
transfer the land indoors, to the Non-site, which is an abstract container. (Kasther
and Wallis, 1998: 31)
The dialectic tension between Sites and Non-Sites is established by the
photographs, and above all, by the maps exhibited with the containers. They
provided the viewer the link between the original sites and their representations,
that is: between outdoors and indoors -, and implied the performance aspect of the
passage between the two locations, throwing emphasis on the spatial practices
based on time, duration and physical participation.

Robert Smithson: Oberhausen (Ruhr, Germany) Non-Site 1968


Robert Smithson: Oberhausen (Ruhr, Germany) Non-Site 1968
From the Robert Smithson own website: Literal and allegorical, the Nonsites
confounded the illusion of materiality and order. The mirrors functioned to order
and displace, to add and subtract, while the sediments, displaced from its original
site, blur distinctions between outdoors and indoors as well as refer the viewer back
to the site where the materials were originally collected.
The aesthetical and conceptual analogy between the Non Sites and the One and
three series (Chairs/Tables/Saws/Lamps, and so on..) by Joseph Kosuth (1965) is
evident in the linguistic analysis by Lawrence Alloway in his essay: Sites/Nonsites,
from the book The Writings of Robert Smithson, where he states The relation of
a Nonsite to the Site is also like that of language to the world: it is a signifier and
the Site is that which is signified.

A Provisional Theory of Non-Sites


(From: http://www.robertsmithson.com/essays/provisional.htm)
By drawing a diagram, a ground plan of a house, a street plan to the location of a
site, or a topographic map, one draws a logical two dimensional picture. A logical
picture differs from a natural or realistic picture in that it rarely looks like the thing
it stands for. It is a two dimensional analogy or metaphor A is Z.
The Non-Site (an indoor earthwork)* is a three dimensional logical picture that
is abstract, yet it represents an actual site in N.J. (The Pine Barrens Plains). It is by
this dimensional metaphor that one site can represent another site which does not
resemble it this The Non-Site. To understand this language of sites is to appreciate
the metaphor between the syntactical construct and the complex of ideas, letting
the former function as a three dimensional picture which doesnt look like a picture.
Expressive art avoids the problem of logic; therefore it is not truly abstract. A
logical intuition can develop in an entirely new sense of metaphor free of natural
of realistic expressive content. Between the actual site in the Pine Barrens and The
Non-Site itself exists a space of metaphoric significance. It could be that travel in
this space is a vast metaphor. Everything between the two sites could become
physical metaphorical material devoid of natural meanings and realistic
assumptions. Let us say that one goes on a fictitious trip if one decides to go to the
site of the Non-Site. The trip becomes invented, devised, artificial; therefore, one
might call it a non-trip to a site from a Non-site. Once one arrives at the airfield,
one discovers that it is man-made in the shape of a hexagon, and that I mapped this
site in terms of esthetic boundaries rather than political or economic boundaries (31
sub-division-see map).
This little theory is tentative and could be abandoned at any time. Theories like
things are also abandoned. That theories are eternal is doubtful. Vanished theories
compose the strata of many forgotten books.
*Non-Site #1. Smithson changed the title for this text which was initially Some
Notes on Non-Sites. It has been partially excerpted by Lawrence Alloway in
Introductions 1: Options, Milwaukee Art Center, 1979, p. 6
from Unpublished Writings in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, edited by
Jack Flam, published University of California Press, Berkeley, California, 2nd Edition
1996

A Short Description of Two Mirrored Crystal Structures

Both structures have symmetric frameworks, these frameworks are on top of the
faceted mirrored surfaces, rather than hidden behind the surfaces. The frameworks
have broken through the surfaces, so to speak, and have become "paintings." The
frameworks are light blue with rose mirrors and yellow with blue mirrors.

Each framework supports the reflections of a concatenated interior. The interior


structure of the room surrounding the work is instantaneously undermined. The
surfaces seem thrown back into the wall. "Space" is permuted into a multiplicity of
directions. One becomes conscious of space attenuated in the form of elusive flat
planes. The space is both crystalline and collapsible. In the rose piece the floor
hovers over the ceiling. Vanishing points are deliberately inverted in order to
increase one's awareness of total artifice.

The commonplace is transformed into a labyrinth of non-objective abstractions.


Abstractions are never transformed into the commonplace. All dimensionality is
drained off through the steep angled planes. The works feed back in infinite
numbers of reflected "ready-mades."

from Unpublished Writings in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, edited by


Jack Flam, published University of California Press, Berkeley, California, 2nd Edition
1996

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