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.”
Errare humanum est…
The act of crossing space stems from the natural necessity to move to find the food and information required for survival. But once these basic needs have been satisfied, walking takes on asymbolic form that has enabled man to dwell in the world. Baby modifying the sense of the space crossed, walking becomes man’s first aesthetic act, penetrating the territories of chaos, constructing an order on which to develop the architecture of situated objects. Walking is an art from whose loins spring the menhir, sculpture, architecture, landscape. This simple action has given rise to the most important relationships man has established with the land, the territory.
Nomadic transhumance, generally thought of as the archetype for any journey, was actually ‘the development of the endless wanderings of hunters in the Paleolithic period, whose symbolic meanings were translated by the Egyptians in the ka, the symbol of eternal wandering. This primitive roving lived on in religion (the journey as ritual) and in literary forms (the journey as narrative), transformed as a sacred path, dance, pilgrimage, procession. Only in the last century has the journey-path freed itself of the constraints of religion and literature to assume the status of a pure aesthetic act. Today it is possible to construct a history of walking as a form of urban intervention that inherently contains the symbolic meanings of the primal creative act: roaming as architecture of the landscape, where the term landscape indicates the action of symbolic as well as physical transformation of anthropic space.
Dimitris Pikionis, Pathways to the Acropolis (1957)