Spiral Jetty with Sun

Robert Smithson
Graphite on paper
12 x 9 in. (30.5 x 22.9 cm)

Spiral Jetty with Sun is both a drawing of Smithson's iconic earthwork Spiral Jetty and an illustration mapping out his intentions for a specific sequence filmed from a helicopter for the film Spiral Jetty. When Smithson first visited the site of the earthwork at Rozel Point on Utah’s Great Salt Lake he experienced a powerful mirage, later describing in the Spiral Jetty essay that the “shoreline became the edge of the sun, a boiling curve, an explosion rising into a fiery prominence. Matter collapsing into the lake mirrored in the shape of a spiral.“ In the Spiral Jetty film Smithson set out to capture this visceral experience of the site and the earthwork through shifting aerial shots filmed from a looping helicopter. “The helicopter maneuvered the sun’s reflection through the Spiral Jetty until it reached the center. The water functioned as a vast thermal mirror. From that position the flaming reflection suggested the ion source of a cyclotron that extended into a spiral of collapsed matter.” Executed in Smithson’s characteristic energetic cross-hatching, the mark-making in Spiral Jetty with Sun reflects the chaotic disorientation and recalibration that takes place during the aerial footage at the end of the Spiral Jetty film.


Writing by the Artist

The Spiral Jetty

Robert Smithson
My concern with salt lakes began with my work in 1968 on the Mono Lake Site-Nonsite in California. Later I read a book called Vanishing Trails of Atacama by William Rudolph which described salt lakes (salars) in Bolivia in all stages of desiccation and filled with micro bacteria that give the water surface a red color. The pink flamingos that live around the salars match the color of the water. In The Useless Land, John Aarons and Claudio Vita-Finzi describe Laguna Colorada: “The basalt (at the shores) is black, the volcanos purple, and their exposed interiors yellow and red. The beach is grey and the lake pink, topped with the icing of iceberg-like masses of salts.” Because of the remoteness of Bolivia and because Mono Lake lacked a reddish color, I decided to investigate the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

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