Within the scope of Fernando Tavóra Prize, I will give the lecture "America Deserta: Paisagem, Arte e Arquitectura do Sudoeste America" next Monday, October 2nd 2017, at Matosinhos City Hall.
This is the first essay of a series of five that I will be published at Jornal Público during this summer. It is based on the Travel Diary of my journey in the American Southwest. You can read it here.
Driving through the Great Basin desert, in Utah and Nevada, we visited 3 Earthworks. All three were sponsored by Virginia Dwan, the visionary gallerist and heiress of the 3M company - Minnesota, Mining & Manufacturing. It was at Dwan Gallery, in 1968, that the show Earth Works defined what would become sculpture in the 'expanded field'.
The water at Rozel Point is not bright red anymore, but muted pink. At the time I visited the weather was stormy, the sun was heavily veiled by multiple layers of clouds and rainstorms in the distance. The experience was not of horror, on the contrary, but of beauty. This mobile phone photo doesn't do justice to an environment that seemed to be painted by J.M.W.Turner after having borrowed Agnes Martin's palette. I was still surprised to see such an animated landscape, which changed so quickly. Moments before, crossing the ranches framed by the Promontory Mountains, I had seen a 'dust devil' for the first time in my life, a whirlwind raising suddenly a dancing body of sand, which raised two arms in the air. It seemed alive and wickedly happy.
The Spiral Jetty seems to be a device to promote a journey through a series of historical sites. It has the effect of bringing past events to our present experience, and in that sense is a Kublerian work. Driving from Salt Lake City for a couple of hours it takes us to the Golden Spike National Monument, and the history of the Union Pacific Railway. Smithson built his work on the centennial of the railway connection between the East and West coasts of the United States. Moreover, the first jetty we see when arriving to Rozel Point is the ruin of a former oil drilling site. In 1970, the Spiral Jetty was situated on a terrifying site, with blood red water, caused by the Lucin Cutoff, an engineering 'earthwork' in which a railway line cut the Great Salt Lake in two. The oil prospection at the site continued up to the end of the 20th century. Here we only see remains, but a few decades ago this place smelled of crude oil and was scattered with dead birds.