Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970), now purportedly threatened by a wildcat oil operation on the Great Salt Lake, is the direct consequence of human intervention. Before the Southern Pacific Railroad constructed a causeway in 1959, water flowed naturally through the Great Salt Lake, dissolving any potential encrustations.
Splitting the lake created the salt accumulations which made the ebb and flow of the Jetty’s form possible. The whole point of Spiral Jetty is that is a passive / aggressive response to the interplay of man and nature and a comment on the futility of man trying to step outside of nature because Man equals Nature.
Spiral Jetty is also a consummate sexual joke, for it resembles the coil which women used as a birth control device when the Jetty was built in 1970, and which subsequently was taken off the market, because of the deaths it caused to women due to internal bleeding. Thus, the accumulation of salt in the womb of the Great Salt Lake, which reforms the contraceptive device, is an apt metaphor of the dominance of semen in patriarchal culture.
Smithson, a risk taker, cognizant of the mortal consequences of his own adventures, constructed Spiral Jetty as a cosmic comment on the fragile interplay between male lust and female concupiscence: Penis Man inderdicting Mother Nature. To allow Spiral Jetty to succumb to whatever forces fuck it is the whole point of the work, a metaphor for male futility and feminist vulnerability. Any number of male art critics walking its coil won’t change that fact.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).