Extracts from Robert Smithson’s essay ‘Incidents of Mirror Travel in the Yucatan’

‘The distribution of the squares followed the irregular contours on the ground, and they were placed in a random parallel direction. Bits of earth spilled onto the surfaces, thus sabotaging the perfect reflections of the sky.’

‘In the side of a heap of crushed limestone the twelve mirrors were cantilevered in the midst of large clusters of butterflies that had landed on the limestone. For brief moments flying butterflies were reflected; they seemed to fly through a sky of gravel.’

‘A scale in terms of “time” rather than “space” took place. The mirror itself is not subject to duration, because it is an ongoing abstraction that is always available and timeless. The reflections, on the other hand, are fleeting instances that evade measure. Space is the remains, or corpse, of time, it has dimensions. “Objects” are “sham space,” the excrement of thought and language.’

‘A sense of arrested breakdown prevails over the level mirror surfaces and the unlevel ground.’

‘Flames of light were imprisoned in a jumbled spectrum of greens.’

‘The word “color” means at its origin to “cover” or “hide.” Matter eats up light and “covers” it with a confusion of color luminous lines emanate from the edges of the mirrors, yet the surface reflections manifest nothing but shady greens.//Real color is risky, not like the tame stuff that comes out of tubes.’

‘The jungle grows only by means of its own negation—art does the same.’

‘Today, we are afflicted with an inversion of hyperbole—gravity. Rivers of lead. Lakes of Asphalt. Heavy water. Generalized mud. The Caretaker of Dullness—habit—lurks everywhere. Tlazolteotl: Eater of Filth rules. Near a pile of rubble in the river, by what was once one of the Temples of Yaxchilan, the dugout stopped. On a high sandbank the mirrors were placed.’

‘The natives at Yaxchilan are weary because of that long yesterday, that unending calamitous day. They might even be disappointed by the grand nullity of their own past attainments.’

‘Near this stele, the mirrors were balanced in a tentacled tree. A giant vegetable squid inverted in the ground. Sunrays filtered into the reflections. The displacement addressed itself to a teeming frontality that made the tree into a jumbled wall full of snarls and tangles. The mirror surfaces being disconnected from each other “destructuralized” any literal logic. Up and down parallels were dislocated into twelve centers of gravity.’

‘Nine of the twelve mirrors in the photograph are plainly visible, two have sunk into shadow. One on the lower right is all but eclipsed. The displacement is divided into five rows. On the site the rows would come and go as the light fell. Countless chromatic patches were wrecked on the mirrors, flakes of sunshine dispersed over the reflecting surfaces and obliterated the square edges, leaving indistinct pulverizations of color on an indeterminate grid.’

‘There was a friction between the mirrors and the tree, now there is a friction between language and memory. A memory of reflections becomes an absence of absences.’

‘The “trees” are dedicated to the flies. Dragonflies, fruit flies, horseflies. They are all welcome to walk on the roots with their sticky, padded feet, in order to get a close look. Why should flies be without art?

‘To reconstruct what the eyes see in words, in an “ideal language” is a vain exploit. Why not reconstruct one’s inability to see? Let us give passing shape to the unconsolidated views that surround a work of art, and develop a type of “anti-vision” or negative seeing.’

‘Vision sagged, caved in, and broke apart. Trying to look at the mirrors took the shape of a game of pool under water. All the clear ideas of what had been done melted into perceptual puddles, causing the brain to gurgle thoughts.’

‘Walking conditioned sight, and sight conditioned walking, till it seemed only the feet could see.’

‘Perhaps the eyes should have been screwed up into a sharper focus. But no, the focus was at times cock-eyed, at times myopic, overexposed, or cracked.’

‘Near Sabancuy the last displacement in the cycle was done. In mangrove (also called mangrave) branches and roots mirrors were suspended. There will be those who will say “that’s getting close to nature.” But what is meant by such “nature” is anything but natural.’

‘Art works out of the inexplicable. Contrary to affirmations of nature, art is inclined to semblances and masks, it flourishes on discrepancy. It sustains itself not on differentiation, but dedifferentiation, not on creation but decreation, not on nature but denaturalization, etc. Judgments and opinions in the area of art are doubtful murmurs in mental mud.’

Living beings dwell in their expectations rather than in their senses. If they are ever to see what they see, they must first in a manner stop living; they must suspend the will, as Schopenhauer put it; they must photograph the idea that is flying past, veiled in its very swiftness.
—George Santayana, Scepticism and Animal Faith


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