Note: If you see this text you use a browser which does not support usual Web-standards. Therefore the design of Media Art Net will not display correctly. Contents are nevertheless provided. For greatest possible comfort and full functionality you should use one of the recommended browsers.

Themesicon: navigation pathArt and Cinematographyicon: navigation pathDeserts of the Political

icon: previous page

Smithson s Political Stance

In September of 1970, Artforum published the results of a poll under the title «The Artist and Politics: A Symposium.» It presented various proposals for political action for artists to undertake in order to deal with the «deepening political crisis in America.»[28] Essays by Carl Andre, Jo Baer, Walter Darby Bannard, Billy Al Bengston, Rosemarie Castoro, Rafael Ferrer, Donald Judd, Irving Petlin, Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra, Robert Smithson, and Lawrence Weiner appeared in alphabetic order.[29] In his answer, Smithson emphasizes ironic, individual statements; he refers to the religious, ritualistic character of political engagement and revolutionary violence, and plans apocalyptic scenarios of decay, anomie, and entropy the devilish inevitability with which politics, violence, and the destruction of the earth work together. His disillusioned tone bespeaks a supposedly conservative position. Later, Dan Graham spoke of Smithson s strategy of «inversion,» the rhetorical reverse of dominant humanist liberalism: «Bob was a politician, and he had an instinct for the political. So, if he was taking a right-wing position during the optimistic sixties that was a devil s advocate corrective.» [30] Smithson s political agenda was ambivalent: he began an exhaustive examination of the ecology movement,


which opposed earth art in a very reserved manner, yet also sought out conflict with the mining industry and its notion of landscape and nature.[31] Smithson s «criticality»[32] does not simply consist of an anticyclical strategy; rather, he is more a very pronounced type of anti-politician, whose relationship to the political activism of the late nineteensixties and early nineteen-seventies was constantly put to the test. Again and again, he tried to shift this relationship to another (subjective, literary/ poetic, philosophical) register of discourse. Political action was sucked into the central Smithson metaphor of the whirlpool. Smithson called his contribution to the Artforum poll «Art and the Political Whirlpool or the Politics of Disgust» (although the publication s editors omitted the title). «Actions swirl around one so fast they appear inactive. From a deeper level within «the deepening political crisis,» the best and the worst actions run together and surround one in the inertia of a whirlpool. The bottom is never reached, but one keeps dropping into a kind of political centrifugal force that throws the blood of atrocities onto those working for peace. The horror becomes so intense, so imprisoning that one is

icon: next page