SELECTED WRITINGS BY ROBERT SMITHSON|
The Crystal Land
Ice is the medium most alien to organic life, a considerable accumulation of it completely disrupts the normal course of processes in the biosphere.
P.A.Shumkii, Principles of Structural Glaciology
The first time I saw Don Judd's 'pink-plexiglas box,' it suggested a giant crystal from another planet. After talking to Judd, I found out we had a mutual interest in geology and mineralogy, so we decided to go rock hunting in New Jersey. Out of this excursion came reflections, reconstituted as follows:
Near Paterson, Great Notch and Upper Montclair are the mineral-rich quarries of the First Watchung Mountain. Brian H.Mason, in his fascinating booklet, Trap Rock Minerals of New Jersey, speak of the "Triassic sedimentary rocks of the Newark series," which are related to those of the Palisades. In these rocks one might find: "actinolite, albite, allanite, analcime, apatite, anhydrite, apophyllite, aurichalcite, axinite, azurite, babingtonite, bornite, barite, calcite, chabazite, - chalcocite, -chalcopyrite, - chlorite, - chrysocolla, - copper, covellite, cuprite, datolite, dolomite, epidote, galena, glauberite, goethite, gmelinite, - greenockite, - gypsum, - hematite, -heulandite, hornblende, laumontite, malachite, mesolite, natrolite, opal, orpiment, orthoclase, pectolite, prehnite, pumpellyite, pyrite, pyrolusite, quartz, scolecite, siderite, silver, sphalerite, sphene, stevensite, stilbite, stilpnomelane, talc, thaumasite, thomsonite, tourmaline, ulexite."
Together with my wife Nancy, and Judd's wife, Julie, we set out to explore that geological locale. Upper Montclair quarry, "also known as Osborne and Marsellis quarry or McDowell's quarry," is situated on Edgecliff Road, Upper Montclair, and was worked from about 1890 to 1918. A lump of lava in the center of the quarry yields tiny quartz crystals. For about an hour don and I chopped incessantly at the lump with hammer and chisel, while Nancy and Julie wandered aimlessly around the quarry picking up sticks, leaves and odd stones. From the top of the quarry cliffs, one could see the New Jersey suburbs bordered by the New York City skyline.
The terrain is flat and loaded with 'middle income' housing developments with names like Royal Garden Estates, Rolling Knolls Farm, Valley View Acres, Split-level Manor, Babbling Brook Ranch-Estates, Colonial Vista Homes-on and on they go, forming tiny boxlike arrangements. Most of the houses are painted white, but many are painted petal pink, frosted mint, buttercup, fudge, rose beige, antique green, Cape Cod brown, lilac, and so on. The highways crisscross through the towns and become man-made geological networks of concrete. In fact, the entire landscape has a mineral presence. From the shiny chrome diners to glass windows of shopping centers, a sense of the crystalline prevails.
When we finished at the quarry, we went to Bond's Ice Cream Bar and had some AWFUL AWFULS- "awful big - and awful good… it's the drink you eat with a spoon." We talked about the little crystal cavities we had found, and looked at The Field Book of Common Rocks and Minerals by Frederic Brewster Loomis, I noticed ice is a crystal: "Ice, H2O, water, specific gravity-.92, colorless to white, luster adamantine, transparent on thin edges. Beneath the surface hexagonal crystals grow downward into the water, parallel to each other, making a fibrous structure, which is very apparent when ice is 'rotten'…."
After that we walked to the car through the charming Tudoroid town of Upper Montclair, and headed for the Great Notch Quarry. I turned on the car radio: "…count down survey…chew your little troubles away… high ho-hey hey….."
My eyes glanced the over the dash board, it became a complex of chrome fixed into an embankment of steel. A glass disk covered the clock. The speedometer was broken. Cigerette butts were packed into the ashtray. Faint reflections slid over the wind shield. Out of sight in the glove compartment was a silver flashlight and an Essomap of Vermont. Under the radio dial (55-7-9-11-14-16) was a row of five plastic buttons in the shape of cantilevered cubes. The rearview mirror dislocated the road behind us. While listening to the radio, some of us read the Sunday newspapers. The pages made slight noises as they turned: each sheet folded over the laps forming temporary geographies of paper. A rally of print or a ridge of photographs would come and go in an instant.
We arrived at the Great Notch Quarry, which is situated "about three hundred yards south west of the Great Notch station of the Erie Rail road." The quarry resembled the moon. A gray factory in the midst of it all, looked like architecture designed by Robert Morris. A big sign on one building said, THIS IS A HARD HAT AREA. We started claimbing over the files and ran into a 'rockhound', who came on, I thought, like Mr.Wizard, and who gave us all kinds of rock-hound-type information in an authoritative manner. We got a rundown on all the quarries that were closed to the public, as well as those that were open.
The walls of the quarry did look dangerous. Cracked, broken, shattered; the walls threatened to come crashing down. Fragmentation, corrosion, decomposition, disintegration, rock creep debris, slides, mud flow, avalanche were everywhere in evidence. The gray sky seemed to swallow up the heaps around us. Fractures and faults spilled forth sediment, crushed conglomerates, eroded debris and sandstone. It was an arid region, bleached and dry. An infinity of surfaces spread in every direction. A chaos of cracks surrounded us.
On the top of a promontory stood there motionless rockdrill against the blank which was the sky. High-tention towers transported electric cable over the quarry. Dismantled parts of steam shovels, tread machines and trucks were lined up in random groups. Such objects interrupted the depositions of waste that formed the general condition of the place. What vegetation there was seemed partially demolished. Newly made boulders eclipsed parts of a wire and pipe fence. Railroad tracks passed by the quarry, the ties formed a redundant sequence of modules, while the steel tracks projected the modules into an imperfect vanishing point.
On the way back to Manhattan, we drove through the Jersey Meadows, or more accurately the Jersey Swamps-a good location for a movie about life on mars. It even has a network of canals that are chocked by acres of tall reeds. Radio towers are scattered throughout these bleak place. Drive-inns, motels and gas stations exist along the highway, and behind them are smoldering garbage dumps. South, toward Newark and Bayonne, the smoke stacks of heavy industry add to the general air pollution.
As we drove throughout the Lincoln Tunnel, we talked about going on another trip, to Franklin Furnace; there one might find minerals that glow under ultra violet light or 'black light'. The countless cream colored square tiles on the walls of the tunnel sped by, until a sigh announcing New York broke the tiles' order.
Text excerpted from ROBERT SMITHSON: THE COLLECTED WRITINGS, 2nd
Edition, edited by Jack Flam, The University of California Press,
Berkeley and Los Angeles,
California; University of California Press, LTD. London, England; 1996
Originally published: The Writings of Robert Smithson, edited by Nancy
Holt, New York, New York
University Press, 1979
ISBN # 0-520-20385-2
The Eliminator, 1964
A Short Description of Two Mirrored Crystal Structures, 1965
Entropy And The New Monuments, 1966
The Crystal Land, Harper's Bazaar, May 1966
Language to be Looked at and/or Things to be Read, Press Release for
Language show at the Virginia Dwan Gallery, New York, (1967)
Some Void Thoughts On Museums, Arts Magazine, February 1967
Minus Twelve, Minimal Art, edited by Gregory Battcock, 1968
A Provisional Theory of Non-Sites, 1968
Cultural Confinement, Artforum, 1972