Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, by Robert Smithson

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In September 1967, land artist Robert Smithson took a tour over Passaic in new Jersey* and created a short photo-essay to report his journey, entitled “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey” later published in “Artforum” magazine, December edition. Interestingly, he names profane objects such as pipes and derelict spaces as monuments:

The bus passed over the first monument. I pulled the buzzer-cord and got off at the corner of Union Avenue and River Drive. The monument was a bridge that connected Bergen County with Passaic County (…) Along the Passaic River banks were many minor monuments such as concrete abutments that supported the shoulders of a new highway in the process of being built (…) As I walked north along what was left of River Drive, I saw a monument in the middle of the river—it was a pumping derrick with a long pipe attached to it (…) Nearby, on the river bank, was an artificial crater that contained a pale limpid pond of water, and from the side of the crater protruded six large pipes that gushed the water of the pond into the river. This constituted a monumental fountain that suggested six horizontal smokestacks that seemed to be flooding the river with liquid smoke (…) The last monument was a sand box or model desert.

Read the full Smithson article here

Smithson, says Maarten Overdijk in his ‘Monuments and Mental Maps‘ article in OASE 98, rejected conventional ideas about perception and cognition precisely because they did no justice to his experience and offered him no method to analyze or describe it. Instead, he had a preoccupation with space and the changing relations of place, location and map. In his ‘literary’ narrative of the Passaic, continues Overdijk, Smithson attempts a montage of descriptions; observations and reflections while shifting between different layers of time: “the psychological time of the individual, the social time of culture and its symbols, and the time of geological change.”

* Ellen Mara De Wachter revisited the locations captured in the photo-essay through a short film

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