The jetty’s force and energy contained in a spinning counter motion may have been Smithson’s way of reversing the pull of entropy, in some heroic tipping of the balance in favor of life and longevity. Erosion is normal, hundreds even thousands of years; Smithson understood this and used the materials at his disposal, natural materials, pushed up from the Earth – not created by Man. The Spiral Jetty is not a closed system, it was never meant to be shut down; its magnetic draw and beauty will turn forever and ever for the good. An oil rig was never Smithson’s idea of a sculpture.
Nor is it mine. I drove the 15 miles of dirt road – a very short journey considering I had departed earlier that morning from Springdale, Utah (Zion Canyon) – by passing through Golden Spike National Park, and down to the dilapidated oil jetty near the lake’s shore that many mistake for Smithson’s jetty, then promptly turn around and come back, wondering if that was all there was to see (so says the Park Ranger). Verging to the right, and slightly elevated on a small bluff seasoned generously with basalt boulders baking in the afternoon sun, I stop, and gingerly climb down the embankment, joyfully playing “hot lava” with my two children, leaping from one boulder to the next. I then proceeded to walk the jetty’s 1500 foot long coil – faint ghost-like traces of the dumpster’s wheel tracks that had jettisoned their many loads, have fossilized and trace the way like two fingers dragged through dust.
Finally, I stop. I find myself at the center, and while standing in that epicenter, in that vortex, time stops as well. Silence. Only glaring white light now, frozen salt, blackened boulders, a 360° panoramic view of the hillside, Cub and Dolphin Islands, the horizon, lake meeting sky, blue sky, red sea, white pelicans, and the faint outline of the northwestern shore of the Great Salt Lake. What I see and felt was, what Smithson saw from the center of his dream, from his own private Idaho:
North – Mud, salt crystals, rocks, water
North by East – Mud, salt crystals, rocks, water
Northeast by North - Mud, salt crystals, rocks, water
Northeast by East - Mud, salt crystals, rocks, water
East by North – Mud, salt crystals, rocks, water
East – Mud, salt crystals, rocks, water…” [From The Writings of Robert Smithson, edited by Nancy Holt]
So what is left to do? According to the Dia Foundation website, the public comment period for Pearl Montana’s alleged drilling application was February 13, 2008: “By that date, the State of Utah received over 3,100 emails and letters, as well as 300 phone calls, from concerned parties in the United States and abroad.” Not what I would call a massive public outcry, but significant enough I suppose, for the art world’s rather individualistic and preservationist attitude. In large part, the Spiral Jetty suffers from a lack of understanding and knowledge on one hand, and a new found interest on the other (due to this current affair), that up until now had waned due to its iconic yet unknown status. The same dilemma that the Statue of Liberty must suffer I’m sure, which most of us probably believe, will always be there until we finally get around to visiting it.