Hypothetical Continent in Shells: Lemuria

Robert Smithson
Sanibel Island, Florida
Four 126 format chromogenic slides
Collection Weatherspoon Art Museum at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro

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. While the sculptural element of this work inevitably unraveled with time with the shells dispersing into the sand—illustrating Smithson's fascination with entropy—the four 126 format chromogenic slides comprising this slidework remain as the manifestation of Smithson's ideas on Lemuria. 


Scholarly Text

Florida, Man: Robert Smithson’s Hypothetical Continent in Shells: Lemuria

Sean J Patrick Carney

Before sunrise on an already soupy Monday in mid-August 2023, scores of white contractor pickups from mainland Florida clogged the causeway bridge onto Sanibel, a narrow, crescent barrier island curving twelve miles along the Sunshine State’s southwestern Gulf Coast. Ten months earlier, Hurricane Ian had thrashed the island, leveling homes and businesses, disemboweling infrastructure, and clobbering complex, verdant ecosystems filled with alligators, marsh rabbits, black racer snakes, river otters, iguanas, gopher tortoises, and legions of bird species.

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Upside Down Trees: Terminal Transmissions

Adam Lauder

Robert Smithson’s Upside Down Trees (1969) form a circuit with the artist’s parallel series of earth maps, one that materializes and satirizes period visions of the growing informationalization of art and perception.

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