Situated along the coast of Sanibel Island in Florida, Smithson’s Hypothetical Continent in Shells: Lemuria is sculpted from a pile of shells, its tenuous form vulnerable to the impacts of nature and time. The hypothetical continent in question is similarly fragile; theories surrounding Lemuria were disproved soon after their original conception. Smithson believed that the presence of any given object hinges on its absence; with this work, a concept’s non-existence is represented by material reality.
The Hypothetical Continent of Lemuria
Closely related to Smithson’s slidework Hypothetical Continent in Shells: Lemuria (1969), this two-dimensional work provides conceptual details around the object of representation. Lemuria, a theoretical continent whose existence was quickly disproved by the scientific community, comes to life through the artist’s attention. “You don’t have to have existence to exist,” Smithson asserted in Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan (1969).
The collage includes maps of both the fictional island and the placement of Smithson’s sculptural rendition, thus connecting the concepts while simultaneously emphasizing their removal from one another. Similarly to Smithson’s Nonsites, which bring attention to places often overlooked or elsewhere, The Hypothetical Continent of Lemuria resuscitates an idea from pedagogical obscurity.