INS 026 Site / Nonsite Robert Smithson 1968
Nonsite: Line of Wreckage (Bayonne, NJ)
© Holt/Smithson Foundation,
VAGA at ARS, New York
In 1968, Robert Smithson realized an important group of works he collectively called Nonsites. This series features bin-like structures in which the artist deposited rocks, sand, broken concrete, and other elements he collected at various sites in New Jersey. Accompanying these sculptures, Smithson hung on gallery walls photographs he’d snapped at the same Garden State locations, as well as fragments of maps that could lead other people to these places. He repeatedly declared that where he had gathered his materials —whether it was the Pine Barrens, Franklin, Bayonne, or Edgewater — was as much a part of the experience of his endeavor as the freestanding, seemingly independent work. As Smithson explained in 1970, “…my art exists in two realms — in my outdoor sites which can be visited only and which have no objects imposed on them, and indoors, where objects do exist…” In other words, though they were never seen together, his Nonsites and the actual Sites complete one another.
By drawing a diagram, a ground plan of a house, a street plan to the location of a site, or a topographic map, one draws a “logical two dimensional picture.” A “logical picture” differs from a natural or realistic picture in that it rarely looks like the thing it stands for. It is a two dimensional analogy or metaphor — A is Z.
The Nonsite (an indoor earthwork) is a three dimensional logical picture that is abstract, yet it represents an actual site in N.J. (The Pine Barrens Plains). It is by this three dimensional metaphor that one site can represent another site which does not resemble it — thus The Nonsite. To understand this language of sites is to appreciate the metaphor between the syntactical construct and the complex of ideas, letting the former function as a three dimensional picture which doesn't look like a picture. “Expressive art” avoids the problem of logic; therefore it is not truly abstract. A logical intuition can develop in an entirely “new sense of metaphor” free of natural or realistic expressive content. Between the actual site in the Pine Barrens and The Nonsite itself exists a space of metaphoric significance. It could be that “travel” in this space is a vast metaphor. Everything between the two sites could become physical metaphorical material devoid of natural meanings and realistic assumptions. Let us say that one goes on a fictitious trip if one decides to go to the site of the Nonsite. The “trip” becomes invented, devised, artificial; therefore, one might call it a non- trip to a site from a Nonsite. Once one arrives at the “airfield,” one discovers that it is man-made in the shape of a hexagon, and that I mapped this site in terms of aesthetic boundaries rather than political or economic boundaries.
All following images:
© Holt/Smithson Foundation, VAGA at ARS, New York
(Franklin, New Jersey)