"Spiral Jetty" and "Spiral City" Modern TV
Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake, Utah, 1970
16 mm film on video, color, and sound; 35 minutes
© Holt/Smithson Foundation, Licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York. Distributed by Electronic Arts Intermix, New York
Spiral City, 2002
Single-channel video, projection; 5 minutes, 50 seconds
Museum purchase, The Friends of Art Endowment Fund
© Melanie Smith
- July 25, 2020 7:00 PM
This installment of Modern TV brings together two distinct but connected filmic works in the Modern’s permanent collection: Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, 1970, and Melanie Smith’s Spiral City, 2002.
Robert Smithson is best recognized for earthworks such as Spiral Jetty, 1970, a swirling 1,500-foot-long landmass comprised of rock, dirt, and salt that juts out from the shore into the Great Salt Lake. Known for disappearing and reappearing as the water level of the lake fluctuates, the work is a testament to the artist’s interest in environmental shifts and unstable situations—ideas that continue to have great urgency today. The film Spiral Jetty, a “portrait” of the monumental earthwork, is an artistic endeavor of its own identity. Featuring voiceovers by Smithson and juxtaposing the industrial violence of Spiral Jetty’s construction with the peaceful beauty of its surroundings, the film provides an ambivalent, disorienting perspective of the artist’s iconic work.
Melanie Smith’s Spiral City, 2002, is a response to Smithson’s Spiral Jetty earthwork and related film. Her video transforms a brief aerial journey above the streets of Mexico City into a meditation on history and modernity, time and space, order and chaos. Founded on an island in Lake Texcoco nearly 700 years ago, Mexico City has grown into one of the world’s most crowded and polluted urban areas. Filmed from a helicopter as it climbs in widening spirals, Spiral City confronts the city’s unending grid of streets and buildings. As Spiral Jetty testifies to the entropic processes of natural materials, Spiral City suggests that the urban environment is subject to crystalline-like patterns of growth and erosion.