In Entropy and the New Monuments, written one year before the trip to Passaic, Smithson stated that certain minimal objects celebrate what Flavin called an “inactive history” and what physicists call “entropy” or “energy dispersion”, the measure of energy utilized when one state is transformed into another. They were objects that confirmed the phrase of Vladimir Nabokov, for Whom “the future is simply inverted obsolescence.” According to Smithson, “the new monuments, rather than reminding us of the past, seem to want to make us forget the future.” In the empty spaces, forgotten by their very inhabitants, he recognizes the most natural territary of forgetting; a landscape that has taken on the character of a new entropic nature. In the Tour the description of the territory doesn’t lead to ecological-environmental considerations regarding the destruction of the river or the industrial wastes that make the water putrid, there is a delicate balance between renunciation and accusation, between renunciation and contemplation. The judgement is exclusively aesthetic, not ethical, never ecstatic. There is no enjoyment, no satisfaction, no emotional involvement in walking through the nature of suburbia. The discourse starts with an acceptance of reality as it presents itself, and continues on a plane of general reflection in which Passaic becomes the emblem of the periphery of the occidental world, the place of scrap, of the production of a new landscape made of refuse and disruption. The monuments are not admonishments, but natural elements that are an integral part of this new landscape, presences that live immersed in an entropic territory: they create it, transform it and destroy it, they are monuments self-generated by the landscape, wounds man has imposed on nature, and which nature has absorbed, transforming their meaning, accepting them in a new nature and a new aesthetic. The new landscape that appears in suburbia calls, according to Smithson, for a new discipline capable of grasping the significance of the transformation and mutation from the natural to the artificial and vice versa: “We live in defined structures, we are surrounded by reference systems but nature dismantles them, taking them back to an earlier state of non-integrity. Artists today are starting to notice the strongly evanescent character of this progressive disintegration of structures, Claude Lévi-Strauss has proposed the founding of a new discipline of ‘entropology’. Artists and art critics should orient their efforts in this direction.”
The bricoleur is someone who works with his hands, using devious means. His universe of instruments is closed and the rules of his game are always to make do with ‘whatever is at hand’, that is to say with a set of tools and materials which is always finite and is also heterogeneous because what it contains bears no relation to the current project, or indeed to any particular project, but is the contingent result of all the occasions there have been to renew or enrich the stock or to maintain it with the remains of previous constructions or destructions. The set of the bricoleur’smeans cannot therefore be defined in terms of a project. It is to be defined only by its potential use, because the elements are collected or retained on the principle that ‘they may always come in handy’. The bricoleur derives his poetry from the fact that he does not confine himself to accomplishment and execution: he speaks not only with things, but also through the medium of things: giving an account of his personality and life by the choices he makes between the limited possibilities. The bricoleur may not ever complete his purpose but he always puts something of himself into it.
The author collected the responses of various architects – and, in my case, a landscape architect – to the question: how do you use your collection for designing? My way is very simple. Girls and boys have a Sunday walk, and families always collect leaves or stones and take them home like treasure. In my case it was the same. I started when I was nine years old but with a very high level of botany as I had joined a society.
Claude Levi-Strauss, the French philosopher, explains that there are two ways to design. One is bricolage – people collecting things or just using what is on the table, at hand, and then arrange that into something. And this is bottom-up designing. And the engineer is top-down. In the office we decide depending on the project: are we bricolage or are we engineer? Those kind of people that collect and arrange things – when you ask them why they collect, they say “Ah, well you never know!” So collecting can be either bottom-up or top-down. When I start a project I sometimes ask my colleagues: can you choose one of the objects of the Wunderkammer and put it on the table? So people all bring one piece. And then we discuss why they bring this piece, and this is to start a discussion about what is our first approach or priority or attitude to a new project. It can really be helpful. Then there’s more top-down work, but it starts with bottom-up.