September star: Professor Imatani’s essay Annihilation of Time and Space is featured in the art theory journal September as part of PICA’s Time Based Art Festival
By Drew Lenihan
During this year’s Time Based Art festival, a periodical was released by local Portland artists Anna Gray and Ryan Wilson Paulsen. The duo, who collaborate on most of their work, published a new article in their periodical, September. The name is a satire of an established art theory journal called October, which caters to the high-end art world and some of its most brilliant (or brilliantly stuck-up) minds. Gray and Paulsen’s magazine has musings, critique, and art theory from many different artists, the majority of them based in the Portland area. During the festival, the two artists released a new issue each day, and as a part of a performance piece, sat in their art space making live edits, which included removing and adding text and photos.
On the second day of the festival, September’s article was by Lewis & Clark art professor Garrick Imatani. The essay, titled, The Annihilation of Time and Space begins with Imatani’s trip to the Spiral Jetty, an earthwork by artist Robert Smithson. Constructed in 1970, the work is a 1500-foot by 15-foot spiral that goes out into the Great Salt Lake. The essay initially takes the form of a personal travel narrative from Imatani’s trip to find the art in desolate Utah.
It describes the morphing interpretations of Smithson’s work and how the deceased artist wrote of it with the intent of packing it full of potential cultural production, through the metaphor of physical and cultural entropy. Therefore, as time passes and the water of the Great Salt Lake falls and rises, exposing and hiding Spiral Jetty, new cultural constructs and interpretations are formed around this earthwork. As he writes in the article, “Visible or not, monuments like Spiral Jetty operate to remind us that buried histories surround us like scattered pages—in the perception of open vistas and piles of rocks, in the to and from of our streets and highways. And in the commemorated landmarks that may be real, symbolic, or completely fictitious.”
Imatani then makes the claim that this is the case with many of our national monuments, and that pure fiction can be at the root of their history. He compares the Spiral Jetty with a national monument nearby, The Golden Spike National Historic Site, where the two transcontinental railroad lines first met in 1869. It was the first time the country was united by time, or by the death of time, as the railroad companies began to implement time zones and timetables for the trains.
The annual reenactment of the Golden Spike ceremony forgets the Chinese immigrants who drove the spikes. It is in this death of time that fictitious and forgotten events begin to emerge from or submerge into these monuments. Imatani also cites the Japanese internment camp prisoners who built the Lewis & Clark Highway as examples of people who are forgotten in historical stories. They are not commemorated by the monuments that supposedly function as markers of history.
“I wanted to start with the idea of these events that have a local history, and I thought of ways how to manipulate these stories, but in the end I could present the information as truth and people could speculate, ‘Is it true?’ I was playing around with which cultural product was the greater fiction,” Imatani said.
The reader can see Imatani’s original intent to use the Spiral Jetty as a physical example of how monuments produce culture, and the essay as a metaphor for how history can spiral in and out of our grasp, selectively deciding what is commemorated by public memorials. The spiral also serves as a template and metaphor for the structure of the essay as a whole.
For more on TBA and Imatani’s piece, visit PICA.org.