Cover image of the review
Title image: Robert Smithson, *Spiral Jetty* 1970 (still), digital transfer of 16 mm film, colour, sound 32:00 minutes Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix, New York. Image courtesy of Holt-Smithson Foundation © Holt-Smithson Foundation/VAGA. Licensed by Viscopy, 2017.)

Robert Smithson: Time Crystals

25 Aug 2018
21 Jul - 22 Sep 2018

The survey of works, models and materials in Robert Smithson: Time Crystals at MUMA is a fascinating opportunity not simply to view Smithson’s work, but also to reflect on his methods and theories. The exhibition draws upon Chris McAuliffe and Amelia Barikin’s deep and longstanding interest in Smithson and the legacy of his notions of planetary and geological temporality in shaping physical construction (and hence, sculpture as we knew it). A key feature of the exhibition is the framing of the MUMA site with two darkened chambers, each exhibiting a projection of a landmark land art film: Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) and Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson’s Swamp (1971). Their conjoined audio lightly floats throughout the other five chambers.

This review will consider that floating sound.

Spiral Jetty is an exemplar of the museographic sub-category of cinema usually referred to as the ‘artist’s film’. Taken at its prescribed value, the ‘artist’s film’ exhibits a belief in artists bringing to the medium of film something more, other, different or even essential about cinema and moving image-making. It’s a Romantic dream, more in line with Courbet’s heroics than McLuhan’s specifics. Mostly, artists’ films and videos betray a shallow understanding of cinema history and form, and the complex cultural positioning of movies and their purpose. However, through this core contradiction (a delusion in many contemporary instances) the ‘artist’s film’ can evidence a rich multivalence in many an artist’s conceptual rhetoric.

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