Marianne Skaarup Jakobsen
“Instead of causing us to remember the past like the old monuments, the new monuments seem to cause us to forget the future.”
- Robert Smithson
Robert Smithson’s essay “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey” (1967) has its basis in the picturesque-sublime—a category and a praxis organised around strategies of experiencing a landscape. According to Ron Graziani, “The modern theory of the picturesque revolves around how a natural setting is ‘staged’ in artistic terms—that is, the (art)ificial mimicking the natural, yet as if the chosen latter had imitated the former.” In this experience, what transpires is an objectification of the physical environment, which is experienced here as a painting or a drawing. The landscape’s immediacy is distanced; by this means, it is perceived as a form of aesthetic experience with predefined standards: “Before long, the aesthetic category of the picturesque-sublime had become a series of artistic practices that gave visual shape to a kind of dialectical nonplace, wedged as it was between a nostalgia for Edenic pasts and the fears of what that meant in futuristic terms.”
It’s easy to lose one’s temporal orientation. Is this place under construction or under demolition? Are we in a ruin or are we standing in the middle of a construction site for the future? Or has everything been frozen at the point just prior to a collapse?
Notes: 1. Robert Smithson, “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey,” in The Writings of Robert Smithson, ed. Nancy Holt (New York: New York University Press, 1979), 54. 2. Ron Graziani, Robert Smithson and the American Landscape (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 19.