Monday, March 29, 2010
Robert Smithson’s Partially Buried Woodshed was created at Kent State University in Ohio during an arts festival in January 1970. The shed, part of an abandoned farm owned by the university and used as a storage space for dirt, gravel and firewood, had twenty loads of earth from a construction site piled on top of it until the central beam snapped from the pressure. The outmoded farm building and the forms of social and economic organisation it invokes are almost but not entirely obliterated by the overturning of earth by modern machinery. The shed becomes an instant ruin, a memorial to the Jeffersonian conviction that the small-scale, self-sustaining agrarian community might be the foundation of American national virtue. Sitting in his own shed in 1845, Thoreau had an idea that such a notion was already history. The once sacred art of husbandry, he complains, is now “pursued with irreverent haste and heedlessness by us, our object being to have large farms and large crops merely [...]. By avarice and selfishness, a grovelling habit, from which none of us is free, of regarding the soil as property, or the means of acquiring property chiefly, the landscape is deformed, husbandry is degraded with us, and the farmer leads the meanest of lives. He knows Nature but as a robber” (103).
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden, or Life in the Woods (Radford, VA: Wilder, 2008).
Flam, Jack, ed. Robert Smithson: Collected Writings (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).