Friday, July 18, 2014

Bill Cunningham New York

After moving to New York City in 1981, one of the first people I began to recognize with frequency was a slim man on a bicycle, with a camera who would seem to be just about anywhere at any given time, transversing downtown, Midtown, the Upper East Side, etc.

I don't know when I became aware that this fellow, looking boyish and agile, with fine bones & smooth hair, was Bill Cunningham; nor do I remember when I became aware of his photo spreads in the New York Times. In those lean pre-internet days, the hefty Sunday edition would be a weekly weekend ritual: going out to get the paper to go with my morning coffee;  and when I lived in the Lower East Side, picking up a bagel with cream cheese at a place nearby on Essex Street, to eat while looking through it. Bill Cunningham's spreads would be about fashion trends, although identifying them strictly as fashion does not really describe them at all: there's an anthropological delight at work in finding commonalities in the chaos of urban crowds, making structural comparisons. In the numbing din of an urban setting there is great attention and focus, and a sense of life in movement.

Cunningham worked elsewhere too: in the Annie Flanders iteration of Details, for Women's Wear Daily - all of that was off my radar, although I did look at Details in those days, which was like a report from the then edgy East Village.

The photographs themselves are deceivingly artless: done with a telephoto lens, or cropped to emphasize a particular item, there's no apparent photographer directing the images. These are not quite surveillance photographs, what we see are an archive of fragments of life passing on the streets, from an ambiguously neutral position, fashion-reportage from the "field." There is a sense of the street as a living theater of display.

This idea of the street as shared theater came out of the industrialization and urbanization in the nineteenth century, in the revocation of sumptuary laws, and the blurring of social positions in the upheavals of modernity.  The invention of photography offered a scientific mirror of resemblances which could also, in apparent paradox, conceal meaning too. In the Poe story The Man of the Crowd,  the narrator, seeing a stranger, shadowing the stranger as if to unpack his secret (what secret?), leads to no conclusions except exhaustion and an uneasy truce with un-knowing.

Bill Cunningham's photos could be seen as our equivalent of Baudelaire's distinctions about the temporal beauty that comprises the work of Constantin Guys: a delight in the moment which has no shelf life in itself, transposed into the frieze of modern life. In the case of Cunningham and the New York Times, in the modernist layouts of the newspaper, this also touches on scrapbooking, motion studies, and collage.

The idea of being in public also seems in eclipse in the world we live in. Is Bill Cunningham a valiant knight of modernity in this sense? Holding up a collage of dandyism that is for both ourselves and others? Do people feel like they are even outside anymore or is the street simply a movement from one inside to another?

The Richard Press film Bill Cunningham New York is an amazing window into the milieu of Bill Cunningham, his daily work, and the range of his world, from photo lab to diner to New York Times to  rarified social orbits to his studio in Carnegie Hall.

In his ubiquity on the streets, on his bicycle, looking refined yet never imposing, Bill Cunningham is able to render himself more or less invisible. This lack of aggression is the opposite of classic street photography, in which there is a downright macho approach to the idea of being outside, among others, with an individual, alienated, abstracted camera frame at the foreground. Bill Cunningham comes off as a Fred Astaire figure - graceful, charming, humorous, attentive. The gestures and postures of those photographed are rendered with as close a photographic objectivity as possible. What keeps this from being machine-like is Cunningham's sensitivity to fashion, to display, and attraction.

The film is also a great document of the kinds of lives which could be lived in New York City that are now becoming obsolete in the harsh economic shifts of our present day, whether as an artist or "jobber" in the Fashion District. Seeing the studios of both Cunningham and Editta Sherman in Carnegie Hall should remind everyone that we are living in a shrinking, regulated world of less in our daily lives. Cunningham exemplifies thrift in some respects - the uniform-like nature of his clothes, his basic cot surrounded by file cabinets and books, his diner and take-out meals - he also has a measure of freedom which he attributes to living without money, which in so many ways seems impossible now except in terms of being homeless.

In the tapestry of dandyism, high society, and journalism detailed in the film, at the onset Cunningham mentions the work of Japanese designers in the 1980s, in particular Rei Kawakubo, looking at the homeless as inspiration for her work. This is also mentioned in one of the essays in John Waters' Role Models. Cunningham's mention is a weird flash, as it were, in what seems a fairly stable social fabric, even if Cunningham's eviction from Carnegie Hall is part of the narrative, which when mentioned in the film Cunningham responds with stoic indifference. Cunningham is a figure of constant paradox: a shy person who lives entirely in public events; a very sharp observant person who has little to say for himself. The difference may be partially generational, but I think we also live in a culture wherein disclosure of the self can lead to as much as "smokescreen" of concealment as saying little or nothing. The words we use enclose a subject rather than liberate it.

Beyond the interest in Cunningham that drives the film, I want to point out some of the virtues of the film itself, primarily its simplicity and its discretion.

 Near the end Cunningham is asked if he ever had a love in his life. "Do you mean 'Am I gay?'" Cunningham asks back, to which he adds that that is what his family feared - beyond that Cunningham didn't answer the question. I feared the film would lapse into a sort of emotional breakdown, a la the end of Shirley Clarke's Portrait of Jason or any Barbara Walters interview, but it veers away from any resolution beyond that awkward moment. What we see as we saw throughout the film is the oblique independence Cunningham and his devotion to his work. That gives a moral lesson beyond our contemporary world of stage-crafted personalities. The film ends with a birthday party at the New York Times with the crew singing a parody of the song "Kids" from Bye-Bye Birdie, transposed to "Bill" which includes the refrain "and you always get your way!" Enough said there.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Watching The Clock, or Time, The Destroyer

Slouching into my middle-ages I have reverted at times to the position of an oracle of negativity, with time as my ally: When you get to be my age/When the world becomes different from what you thought it was . . .

It's tiresome & I embarrass myself much too much with this posturing. As Jed Leland says in Citizen Kane: "What a disagreeable old man I have become." But if I could chart something that seems inconsequential, but related to my bad spirits: the measuring of time in the everyday.

As someone who grew up with clocks, watches, and what now seems simple technologies that also act as timepieces such as radio and television, there was certainly consciousness about the passing of time, but it was not until the insertion of digital technologies into life: computers, cameras, and phones which give us notations down to the second, with easy access. One could potentially walk away from a clock, once upon a time,  although in our contemporary logic that was a skewed illusion. But how deadly dull is it to be faced with the horrifying precision of these passing numbers, these dark spirits of rationality in the corners of our screens.

The one possibility of sublime in this technological logic is more precision. The rapturous moment in Errol Morris's Standard Operating Procedure is of all the cell phone cameras used in Abu Ghraib Prison being synced together, as they were not all synced together previously (a hapless margin of error to be corrected, that also becomes forensic evidence): this allowed for the scenes enacted by the phones to have an outrageously precise timeline of what happened to whom, like frames from a film. An impressive bit of technology but for an oldster such as myself, whose early role model of a sentient machine is HAL in 2001, this is also terrifying.

There was a long prelude to this in cassette and VHS recordings, in what now seems like a primitive appropriation of the gray areas of technology: people adapting recorders for their own purposes, their own urges to collecting and retaining sounds & images. Whereas now it's as if each one of us can be the Head Scientist of our homes, with such sleek precision. Our phones, our computers - they tell us what we need to know and what we can do in a downright professional mode.

The strange monument to this sense of perfect appropriation is Christian Marclay's The Clock, which I have been watching repeatedly at the Walker Art Center.

The logic of the technique has been seen before, in other projects by Marclay, and others, such as the thematic films (Lip, Love, Other) culled from movie fragments by Tracey Moffatt, or the psychodramas  wrought out of Hollywood films (Mother+Father) by Candice Breitz, among many others. These are all montages wrought out of existent films, which act as a lingua franca, or, if not an actual language, then at least a stand-in for our shared unconscious narrative drives.

What is ambiguous and terrifying about Marclay's The Clock is its monumental scale, time-wise - that it lasts 24 hours, like Warhol's Empire, and that when it plays it is synced with the actual time zone of where it is shown. The logic of The Clock is that each vignette leads to the telling of time, which is the time in which we are also spectators.

The Walker in an admirable readjustment of its own timetable will facilitate a few screenings which will be open 24/7, as otherwise viewing The Clock can be seen only in the real time of museum hours. This touches on what is perhaps a hidden Wagnerian strain to this project, that it traffics in the monumentality of time and space conflated, in special circumstances. This leads me to the aspects of The Clock, so seemingly perfect, which surprised me and I find this troubling too: how well done it is. It's downright seamless. The research into finding the clips and relating them into a meta-narrative is as daunting to consider as the precise passage of minutes and hours. There's a thematic thread among the clips which crosses decades of filmmaking and languages into a severe totality of telling time. This could be thought of as a dystopic Family of Man in which everything everywhere leads to the same inexorable thing: 24 hours to a day.

Whereas the montages of Tracey Moffatt, for example, exist by not connecting too well, the clips veer in tone or quality in a way that emphasizes a clash, a staccato sense of disruption; what I found eerie about The Clock is how good it looks and sounds. There's a complex aural landscape supporting this too, along with the visual effort to seam together what is otherwise disparate material. Everything becomes one big movie, which is a complaint I recall from an earlier Godard project (Histoires du Cinema?). In The Clock this position (do we need a position? good? bad? right? wrong?) is truly opaque given the scale of the piece.

& in a great synchronicity given the Walker's riches, in the adjacent gallery, as part of the exhibit Art Expanded, there is a set up of a John Cage piece from 1969, 33 1/3, in which multiple turntables are set up along with milk crates of albums, in which the audience can choose whichever music to play. The selection is now tatty & old, but not particular to the piece - 33 1/3 can be set up with any number of turntables & any albums available. The clash of the sounds is predicated on what is done by those in the gallery. There's an attendant from the museum (in my multiple visits I've noticed that it seems a little more regulated as time goes by - not as irregular or slovenly as it was on my first encounters). On line there's a recording of its first performance at U-C/Davis which sounds a lot more circumspect than our own media-drenched present time. There was no vogue for music spinning at faster speeds as a kind of hipster irony which I've witnessed at parties (I recommend a speeded up version of Diana Ross's Ain't No Mountain High Enough), or as what seems as deep an acceptance of din as the norm.

The juxtaposition of the Marclay & the Cage pieces also calls into question the ostensible tabula rasa of the Cage piece: is there really a kind of directionless potential in the Cage piece, given the elaborate time-coding we now experience the world through, as seen in The Clock? Can our motions be truly random, or are we in some sort of giant Skinner Box of culture, being trained without knowing it? These are wonderful pieces too: why does it feel so ominous?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Edward Hopper

Although it was never a complete thought per se, while visiting the exhibition of Edward Hopper drawings at the Walker Art Center, that I have lived with a misapprehension that Hopper was a fellow Midwesterner. That is, I knew enough of his biography, that he was from Nyack, & that he lived on Washington Square North in Greenwich Village most of his life, yet somehow, internally I shifted him much further inland.

The palpable isolation depicted in his paintings can seem more Midwestern, where even in cities it seems rare to see others. In Hopper's paintings the few figures depicted are puppet-like, with faces like masks and bodies more akin to plastic figurines than to individuated rendering.

Hopper's scenes also waver between a plein-air rendering and images that are an amalgam of traits: the late-night diner in Nighthawks is a hybrid of places in the West Village, on Greenwich St, and the sharp north corner of the Flatiron building (now a T-Mobile store if I am remembering this correctly). While the view from the platform of the Williamsburg Bridge, at Clinton St on Delancey, is extant although the bridge platform is now rebuilt - it was still "as is" & recognizable from when I lived in the Lower East Side.

If I thought of Hopper as a Midwesterner I somehow dragged him along with me in my own youth in the Lower East Side & downtown Manhattan, & the view from the Williamsburg bridge, or the sharp light on the Doric columns of an apartment building off of Washington Square now embody my memories much more fully than any other revisitation. There's an awkward weightiness to Hopper's paintings, an inability to lapse into any sort of spatial abstraction, which brings up another displacement: how much like photographs they are. What kind of painter is Hopper? If he is a regionalist that region has been pared down to some attenuated architectural fragments; other than some vague intimations of office work, or clerks in hotels, nothing much is going on, maybe there's travel somewhere, by train or car, but what destination? Any location seems incidental. If Hopper as a painter is tied to realism, it is a realism that is stripped of signage or language, or any sense that language could potentially direct; it collapses into mute forms. There are early drawings done in Paris in the exhibition by Hopper that are pure caricature, after which all recognizable types flatten into toy figures in which the thingness of things in the scenes becomes the subject instead.

The exhibition at the Walker affected me much more than I anticipated. At the risk of reducing it all to my own neurotic tics, Hopper was a kind of ghost for me, who I had brought along with me all this while, from Michigan to New York City, & then seeing it mapped out in Minneapolis - indeed I put myself in walking distance from Hopper's studio, without knowing it, in my own youthful randomness. The view from the bridge, which I know from the painting at the Met, which is in the show too, the views around Washington Square & Greenwich Avenue - it all comes back, in a different form. It made me miss New York City so much.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Enrico Natali, Detroit 1968

Why do I find the images in Enrico Natali: Detroit 1968 to be uncanny?

The recent bankruptcy filing by the city of Detroit may act as a marker for legal and financial definitions of decline or catastrophe, but does it tell us much beyond civic bureaucracy? In media, Detroit in recent years, has become as exotic a place as Berlin, where one can still find traces of World War II, or Havana, closed off from the splendors of the West by dint of its revolution, whereas Detroit is the ruin of industry, of capitalism, on a grand scale. Camilo Jose Vergara's "immodest proposal" to cordon off downtown Detroit as an Acropolis of Industry dates from 1995. "Crisis" was how industry ran, no stranger to generations of the city; but if one were to sense a sea-change, it would be that in the past, a crisis would necessitate change of some sort which would be considered to lead to some sort of resolution, however provisional that may be; whereas now, where do we go? The solutions of the past were in relation to industry, but now there is no industry, just people and a place. The cynical machinations of the Kwame Kilpatrick administration, illuminated through Kilpatrick's various trials and serial imprisonments could be seen as the the fulfillment of entrepreneurial stewardship: he was just doing what you would do in that situation, getting what he could get. Or, as Kilpatrick wrote in one of the numerous texts to his mistress, as reported in the Detroit Free Press: you're only busted if they see you. A state-appointed supervisor, working above the city's government, illustrates another endgame of bureaucracy: make more bureaucracy. Along with the continual crisis of the the economy, the stopgap measures of a failing government lay out a weird cycle of damnation and futility pulling the puppet strings of the the terrible world of Capitalism, in which God's grace is measured in financial terms.

The Fordist principles that transformed Detroit from a small-ish manufacturing center in the late nineteenth century to a hub of automobile manufacturing and the "arsenal of democracy" during World War II were structured around the idea of production, of a potential unlimited production. It also meant folding the workers into production and consumption, making the workers synonymous with their work. Looking at the policies of the Sociological Department and English School at Ford we can see a thorough process of institutionalized assimilation at work. From the Ford archives:

The culmination of the Ford English School program was the graduation ceremony where students were transformed into Americans. During the ceremony speakers gave rousing patriotic speeches and factory bands played marches and patriotic songs. The highlight of the event would be the transformation of immigrants into Americans. Students dressed in costumes reminiscent of their native homes stepped into a massive stage-prop cauldron that had a banner across the front identifying it as the AMERICAN MELTING POT. Seconds later, after a quick change out of sight of the audience, students emerged wearing “American” suits and hats, waving American flags, having undergone a spiritual smelting process where the impurities of foreignness were burnt off as slag to be tossed away leaving a new 100% American.

Assimilation also means erasure and forgetting. A place like Detroit, expanding outwards into the flat fields outside the city, allowed people to emerge in a New World made of industry, shopping, and a family home. The centrifugal patterns of development would emerge later as a more disastrous pattern than anticipated when the core of the city,from  which all radiated out long avenues, became hollowed out by abandonment.

The Sociological Department appears in Jeffrey Eugenides' novel Middlesex, which includes a very precise geography of Detroit and an account of the processes of assimilation for immigrants. The Sociological Department  functioned as a panopticon for Ford: keeping track of the workers, making sure they were of proper character for the work place.

Which take me back to Enrico Natali's photographs, which are from the late 1960s. The decline of the Big 3 was already in place, or at least the decline was local: the Big 3 were moving factories to North Ireland and South Africa. The 1967 riot had been very destructive and polarizing between city and suburbs, but Detroit was still a very wealthy city.

We can see a little of that in Natali's photographs. It's a shock for me now to see the downtown streets crowded, that there had been a sense of it as a place in which to circulate, to shop or see a movie (sorry to miss Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! on the big screen).. The predominantly white population downtown are in movement: downtown reads as an excursion. & so many f the people in groups look like they are in uniforms, too, of some sort. Natali's street images could be read in contrast with Garry Winogrand's - Winogrand's images are composed in a more gothic, anamorphic way - we become aware of the camera and its use more than any subject. Whereas Natali works with methods related to the documentary projects of the 1930s: there's less intervention in framing, the images have a contemplative aspect to contrast with what were busy, circulating streets. In the prints I've seen there's an immaculate technique in terms of exposure & printing, and an operative kindness towards the people in the photos. Another aspect of the images that could be explored is how gendered the groups are - men with men, women with women, along with any racial divides that could be seen, too.

The feyness of the two boys in front of the movie theater makes me wonder: in contemporary terms the image reads as queer, but historically, would queerness have existed like that? Or are these proto-metrosexuals? The boys exude a sense of privilege, which may be the privilege of just being very young with the blitheness that they occupy the place. An industrial city like Detroit was not a tolerant space for queerness in public.

Earlier this year on line I found another Detroit photographer, Bruce Harkness, with work from the 1970s. Harkness worked in the Cass Corridor, the slum just north of downtown, with some images from a transvestite bar The Gold Dollar Show Bar and another local place, Verdi's Bar, which shared clientele. Harkness's photos remind me of Anders Petersen's Cafe Lehmitz somewhat, with a Weegee flash and that old industrial Midwestern sense of grimness-in-daily-life. But my point in this is: the sense of exclusion and concealment, the afterhours as refuge at the Gold Dollar or Verdi's were the reality of local queerness in Detroit. Harkness was totally off the map for me prior to finding his website.

There are other Detroit photographers, such as Bill Rauhauser and Brad Iverson who have significant bodies of work done in Detroit. Nancy Barr has curated exhibitions of photographs of Detroit at the Institute of Arts: Detroit Revealed, Motor City Muse, and Robert Frank - Detroit Experiences 1955 which are significant expansions of its visual history. Another contemporary photographer who works with images of Detroit past & present is Dave Jordano. The artists in Detroit are perhaps its best reporters - they still work outside a globalized post-Fordist economy, there's still a locatable sense of agency to practice, they're outside the absurdist theater of local politics or the viciousness of industry. Who to consult in this invidious world?

The Natali image of the two boys exudes a pungent sense of outrageous arrogant privilege in a stroll down Woodward Ave: next stop, Ibiza!  I see so many of the contradictions of daily life in Detroit. The boys return me to Middlesex, to the "Obscure Object" for Cal/Callie when in high school in Grosse Pointe, to the adolescent abyss of seeing someone attractive, outside of oneself, and cruelly self-contained and unattainable. In the emotional aftermath of that realization one could echo on a personal level, the city of Detroit motto, penned by Father Gabriel Richard, the founder of the University of Michigan, in 1805 following a fire which destroyed the entire settlement: Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cieribus - We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Joseph Maida, New Natives (Hawai'i)

Years ago at the Swann auction house I looked through an album that came from a Duke's castle in England. The album came with an embossed view of the Duke's estate, representing his title and his property, which was impressive enough for its exoticism in mercantile New York, although the contents of the album were what drew me to it: dozens of images of Sicilian youths by Wilhelm von Gloeden. Gorgeous peasant youths in classical and not-so-classical tableaux, semi-nude or nude, erotic but just enough within a refined aristocratic European sensibility to hold onto the edges of acceptable culture. In contemporary terms this would be for a "niche market" enterprise for men who wanted to look at other men, and the archaic tableaux would be a kind of drag contrivance of art: shabby, maudlin, a masquerade which shows its obvious seams. This was for "them" meaning "us" - meaning it's just for us and as such it is still marginalized in a broader ostensibly asexual i.e. heteronormative social sphere, which isn't necessarily all bad.

Looking through the Duke's album, the last pages do a curious shift, from the antique pastiche of von Gloeden, the last pages were a collection of black-&-white ethnographic images of men in Africa, which could pass for early National Geographic images, artless, images used as identification, for classification. 

The marvelousness of the Duke's album is that it links two intense bogeys that can be found in photography: a move towards an excess of fantasy and sexuality, along with a colonizing need to classify and in effect control the scope of the subject. The camera is not an innocent technology: it limits the scope of our perceptions with neat bifurcations between fantasy and reality, enforcing techno-cratic limits to each, along with its flattening of the subject into identifiable terms. This is this. That is that. 

The queasiness of photography as a technological phantasm-cum-order comes to mind in looking at Joseph Maida's photographs titled New Natives (Hawai'i). The texts from Maida's website and from his gallery show lay out a neutral scenario: The men in the images are models in Hawai'i, contacted through social media, who pose for the the photographer in their own chosen way, so there is a collaboration rather than an imposed tableau or role for the model. 

While I would not dispute this scenario at all, I think that part of the uncanny richness of Maida's images is its connection to the weirdness of photography, which can be embodied in fetishism (the fetishism of physicality, of race), and the difference between photographer and subject. The most direct correlation between ethnography and these images is in the captions which list the many mixed races of the models ("Hawaiian, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Filipino"etc.). Maida brings up a potential sea-change for hegemonic White America in the election of Barack Obama as indicative of a blurring of ethnic identity, and without saying so directly, the hybridity of new generations born after the passing of legalities regarding miscegenation. In Maida's photographs there is a tension between the idea of a portrait (what the ruling classes use to represent themselves, as a fully embodied presence) and classification (what happens to everyone else). 

The neat sociological explanations of the project, if anything, underscore the semiotic excess of the images. In Flesh of My Flesh Kaja Silverman makes reference to an imaginary camera that exists for us now, for which we comport ourselves, as if for the world. Or in contradistinction to the Decadent paradox of a mask that tells the truth, we now have masks which present masks, and there is nothing else. These are very lush images, with very interesting looking boys in them, yet if I had to locate what it is that moves me in them, it is not as an apotheosis of my sexual urges but a weird twilight instead. The landscape seems like the end of a world somehow, a liminal place. Hawaii looks kind of cold even when it reads simultaneously as a great place with a laundry list of great things to be found. Arcadia looks like an artificial backdrop. The cool tone to the images pushes them out of any easy reading towards questions - the enterprise of photography, the looking at others, sex, self-presentation, self-perception - which gives them a curious existential presence. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Earth Art, Cornell University 1969

At this point in time there is no thorough history of the 1969 Earth Art show at the Andrew Dickson White Museum at Cornell University, although its significance has been noted. The Earth Art show has a prominent place in the MOCA catalog Ends of the Earth: Art of the Land to 1974, which includes an interview with the curator of the show, the late Willoughby Sharp. Sharp commented that the lack of a catalog for the show (Cornell published a small catalog for the show a year after the show) led to the founding of the journal he edited with Liza Bear, Avalanche, which had its own brief life in 13 issues released between 1970 - 1976.

The pages of Avalanche and the later catalog of the Earth Art show are both written with an casual unpretentiousness which at this point in time seems downright freaky in relation to contemporary art writing. At Cornell I was able to locate bound volumes of Avalanche which had been taken off the library shelves & put in storage: it is disarmingly simple to read. Beyond the generous use of nicknames - "Jim" & "Bob" & such - one can also trace a resemblance to a provisional community of like-minded people speaking to one another. That may be only a looser prototype of "the art world" but a lot more contingency and a lot less networking is involved.

The Earth Art show ran February 1 - March 16, 1969. It was the first institutional venue for earth/land art in the US, featuring projects made for the exhibit by Robert Smithson, Dennis Oppenheim, Richard Long, Hans Haacke, Jan Dibbets, Neil Jenney, Gunther Uecker, Robert Morris, Walter De Maria, and Michael Heizer. One of the reasons given for the catalog's lateness was that up until the show opened it was not fully determined who would be in it. A blizzard kept Robert Morris in New York City, unable to travel to Ithaca, for example - he gave directions for his piece, which involved piles of dirt, coal, and asbestos on the gallery floor, by telephone. There were administrative issues with pieces by Michael Heizer and Walter De Maria. Their work was made, but then not shown. De Maria filled a room with dirt, akin to the "earth room" made in Soho, on the surface of which he spelled out "GOOD FUCK," which led the museum director at the time, Thomas Leavitt, to close the room to the public. Heizer dug a large pit in the garden of the A.D. White house, which, seconding-guessing an incomplete archive, ticked people off as well.

Excluded from the later catalog, their works can be seen in ephemera generated by the show: a 2 page story of "What the Kids Think About the New Art" for the Ithaca Journal, and a short 16mm black-&-white film made by Marilyn Rivchin, who later taught filmmaking at Cornell. Marilyn's film includes footage of Dennis Oppenheim's Beebe Lake cut, where he was assisted by local recent graduate Gordon Matta-Clark, a bulldozer digging the Heizer pit behind the A.D. White house, Jan Dibbets, Hans Haacke. The resolution of the film is poor which makes viewing even more of a bit of time-travel and guessing-game (what am I seeing?). One project Marilyn Rivchin was unable to document was the mirror displacement begun in the Cayuga Salt Mine north of Ithaca by Robert Smithson, due to the company's policy of not allowing women in the mine.

There is a small file in the Johnson Museum of Art pertaining to the show, which contains an array of ephemera, from a crispy yellowed spread from the Ithaca Journal to press photographs. I found in it a set of photographs for a piece Smithson placed in the basement of the White house, which is reproduced in a later catalog of Smithson's sculptures that Cornell published after his death. Smithson did not take the photographs himself - he had others take them, & they document the path from the Cayuga Salt Mine to the A.D. White Museum, ending in a litter of photographs placed on a pile of dirt. Although it was not explained to me as such I believe they were overlooked "as" Smithson photos simply because they were ostensibly not shot by him, although nowadays I don't think that would negate his authorship. Ed Ruscha's images of parking lots were commissioned by Ruscha from a professional - I would consider that a parallel case in hand. Also there is a packet of photos of the piece Richard Long installed in on the slope at the front of the house. There is no identifying stamp for those but they appear to have been by Long himself.

The file is a curious mess. In our times which involve an excess of archives (albeit who can keep track of everything?) this lack is somehow as bracing & invigorating as the cold winter winds must have been in 1969. In retrospect the maleness (and the weird reinforcement of gender stereotypes in the Ithaca Journal coverage in which all the conservative, befuddled onlookers are female) stands out a bit more. What could be considered foolhardy & belligerent in its time now seems in some ways impossible to duplicate in our cautious, coded world. Earth Art can also be seen as a kind of cracked mirror for the enormous property which comprises Cornell University. If Cornell has a fairly spartan campus in terms of comforts, it more than compensates for that by the enormity of the campus. The university was founded by 19th century entrepreneurs who owned large tracts of land. In what seems like a slip of the tongue, the university's arboretum and nature preserves were named Cornell Plantations - the word plantation ostensibly cleansed of its racist connotations by being in the historically Abolitionist Republican North, but not of its seigneurial duties. If there is a lesson in the campus itself it is the virtues and power of private property.

In the transcription of the panel discussion for the show, Robert Smithson, as usual, shines. Beginning with the Cayuga Salt Mine, Smithson engages literally with what Jacques Derrida termed "the entire 'Cornellian' landscape - the campus on the heights, the bridges, and if necessary the barriers above the abyss - and the abyss itself." (Derrida, "The Principle of Reason: The University in the Eyes of Its Pupils", Diacritics, Vol. 13, No. 3, Autumn 1983, 17). Smithson's enviable lofty humorous disdain for historical gravity, comes through - echoing The Monuments of Passaic or the essay "Frederick Law Olmsted and the Dialectical Landscape." (Olmsted was also an early consultant in the planning of the Cornell campus whose plans were not used).

In retrospect, the masculinist connotations of the Earth Art artists, working with their tools in nature, seems less of an antipode than it must have seemed at the time. At its founding The Cornell University (as it was first known) was meant to offer practical education in the sciences, in agriculture, engineering - "useful" trades. As an institution which dutifully historicizes itself, the university offers a class in its own history titled "The First American University"to explain its once experimental curricula. There is a curious offhand note in Morris Bishop's History of Cornell (1962) about the original architecture of the school, which is now the Arts Quad: Bishop makes a distinction between the rough rectangular buildings constructed from local New York State Bluestone as a "masculine" style favored by Ezra Cornell, and the flights of "Upstate Gothic" fancy of Franklin (now Tjaden) Hall, & the Andrew Dickson White house as the "feminine" style introduced by university president A.D. White. That may not be a serious distinction per se, but it's flippancy in the book underlies a local suspicion in regards to the arts and humanities at Cornell to this day vis-a-vis the uncontested importance given to the sciences, business & entrepreneurialism. That weird Earth Art isn't entirely incompatible with the prosaic world of builders and developers, although somehow, it is, too.

The Earth Art show to this day is the major art event of Cornell University. My friend J. who grew up in Ithaca in the 1970s stresses how open the campus & the town were, that what exists now is monstrous and overbuilt in comparison. The leftover ephemera of the Earth Art show is a small hint of what is missing from our present time.

. . . Actually if you think about tracks of any kind you'll discover that you could use tracks as a medium. You could even use animals as a medium. You could take a beetle, for example, and clear some sand and let it walk over that and then you would be surprised to see the furrow it leaves. Or let's say a side-winder snake or a bird or something like that. And also these tracks relate, I think, to the way the artist thinks - somewhat like a dog scanning over a site. You are sort of immersed in the site that you're scanning. You are picking up the raw material and there all these different possibilities  . . . This is a sign language in a sense. It's a situational thing: you can record these traces as signs. It's very specific and it tends to get into a kind of random order. These tracks around the puddle that I photographed, in a sense explain my whole way of . . . going through trails and developing a network and then building this network into a set of limits. My non-sites in a sense are like large, abstract maps made into three dimensions. You are thrown back onto the site . . . - RS