The Spiral Jetty: Strata of Water
Robert Smithson’s first career choice was “naturalist.” As he shifted his gaze towards art, his lifelong fascination with the materials of the earth and with the transformations that time manifests became incorporated into his work. The Spiral Jetty best embodies this synthesis of his life’s interests: Smithson’s internationally famous earthwork is iconic due to the perfect melding of matter and art, of idea and execution, and of place and time.
The Spiral Jetty turns forty this month. Created over the span of several weeks in April 1970, it was conceived by Smithson and executed by a construction crew who moved rocks and earth to form a spiral of sculpted mass in the north arm of the Great Salt Lake. The ever-changing water that surrounds the Spiral Jetty forms a mirror spiral, hugging jetty rocks when the lake’s level is near those found in 1970. The lake is an entity in flux, though, rising and falling in concert with the annual seasons and with the larger forces that bring flood and drought to the West. Levels tend to be highest each year in early summer as nearby mountain snows melt, draining into Great Salt Lake. Conversely, the lake’s levels are lowest in the late fall (October, November) after the summer’s heat has led to evaporation in this terminal lake.
The Great Salt Lake sits at two levels – one on the north end, one on the south – having been virtually cut into two sections by the Lucin Cutoff, built across the lake in 1904. In April 1970, the lake at the North Arm was recorded at 4195.40 feet by the United States Geological Survey. The north arm’s levels are calculated at Saline, on the southwest end of Promontory Mountain Range, not far from Rozel Point. Built when the lake was at a relatively low point, the Spiral Jetty appears and disappears according to the lake’s levels. It is hard to imagine the 1987 level, when the lake was almost sixteen feet higher than the Spiral Jetty, just as it is easy to see how the drought has affected the area in recent years, as the lake’s shoreline has meandered away from the shoreline of 1970, leaving the Spiral Jetty high and dry.
One way to celebrate the Spiral Jetty’s anniversary is to create a list. Smithson’s interest in the strata of the earth was translated on occasion through numbers and lists depicting layers of matter. Smithson’s childhood pediatrician, William Carlos Williams, included strata levels of earth at Paterson, New Jersey, in his epic poem, Paterson. This layering of earth, clay, and dirt is calculated and recorded by geologists, giving us a fascinating glimpse into layers of substance unseen from time long past. Rozel Point, the location of the Spiral Jetty, has been so charted: in 1963 the oil seeps of Rozel Point were delineated by the Utah Geological and Mineralogical Survey as layers of earth, asphalt, rock, mud, and clay hundreds of feet beneath the rough rocks and dusty earth of the region’s surface.
Following are calculations for each April since 1970 -- date, lake level, rise or fall of the lake’s level based upon 1970’s level – thus adding one more level of strata to the Spiral Jetty.
Westminster's Art Program
For this month's column on higher education, we traveled to Sugarhouse to Westminster College to see how art departments function at smaller institutions. Westminster's fine art department has had a busy 2010, and you can see many of the results this month.
The most recent addition to Westminster's faculty, Matt Kruback (Assistant Professor of Painting and Drawing), |1| sat down to discuss some of his hopes for his future at Westminster. Kruback came to Westminster in Fall 2009 from SUNY in Buffalo, NY. He is a graduate of ASU, where he received his MFA in Painting and Drawing. Kruback is excited about teaching all levels of painting and drawing at Westminster. He loves the aspect of discovery in the beginning classes but also the incredible discussions and contemporary issues of the advanced students. He believes the size of the department to be one of its greatest strengths. The student/teacher ratio creates an environment where students can have one-on-one time with their instructors, and allows for real group discussions. Kruback hopes to continue supporting stronger connections with the greater Utah art community, and create dialogue and activity outside the classroom. He believes Westminster students are voracious learners and creative thinkers that have a lot to share with the community.
Connecting students with the art community is a goal for many professors at Westminster. In coordination with the PDA show in February, local artist and Westminster Instructor Suzanne Simpson had students in her composition and design class create works specifically to submit to the PDA show. It gave the class a chance to work not only within the parameters of the course but also with the PDA show itself. It was a great opportunity to get exposure and create a work that was relevant and showed strong design. For many students, it was also a great opportunity to submit work to a juror. It is easy to forget that original uneasiness one feels upon one's first submission. Imagine how nice it would have been to jump off that cliff as a group. Over half the class was juried into the show and one piece, "Rufio and Pan" by senior student Alena Ivakhnenko, was actually sold. |2| Simpson encourages her students to experiment with new media and to create works that raise consciousness. This was a perfect opportunity for her students, and many felt the work they created was on par with the rest of the juror's selections.
Other opportunities to connect students with the greater art community came when two students, David Luhr and Melissa Smolley, put together Beyond the BFA. A one-day forum that included a panel discussion by many local arts leaders, and workshops by Westminster faculty, the forum was free and open to the public. It was a great supplement to BFA course work with valuable career tips and professional advice for future artists and art leaders.
The strength of a place like Westminster College is precisely its size, which encourages students to be active. Westminster Senior BFA student Julie LaFleur reflected on her stint at Westminster at the recent opening of the Senior Art Exhibit. LaFleur came to Westminster after completing her Associates degree from Salt Lake Community College. As a non-traditional student (a 30-something wife and mother of three), Julie was afraid she would be lost in the crowd at the larger universities. She fell in love with a photo class during her last semester at SLCC, and decided to combine her desire to become a teacher with her new passion, photography. By taking advantage of Westminster's masters in the art of teaching program, she has been able to pursue both a bachelors in art and her goal to become a teacher. The faculty has been very supportive of her and helped her find authenticity in her art and herself. This newfound confidence helped her create 22 new works. Her work can currently be seen on display at Westminster's Senior Art Show until April 21st.|3|
Nic Tucker, another art student at Westminster, took a bold step this semester and created work not just for an assignment but for a solo show at The Sugarhouse Gallery. Nic showed works from two different series: Storage Series |4| and Door Series.|0| These photographic images are about the artist's exploration of space and turning the unknown into the known. His visual explorations experiment with shape, color and light. Some are very sophisticated abstractions of space. Overall, the show was very well put together and is a great preview to a future art career.
Hikmet Loe, independent art historian, curator and Westminster instructor, is curating an upcoming exhibition in coordination with the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster entitled Mirror Images: Great Salt Lake. "This exhibition is an overview of contemporary responses to the lake. Contemporary artists are continually drawn to the lake to draw out its beauty and rely upon its special nature for inspiration."|5| Opening reception will be May 1st at Tanner Atrium in the Jewett Center for the Performing Arts.
Westminster's national literature and art annual Ellipsis will be debuting April 22nd at the Dumke theater. Many of this year's artists will be reading original work.