When a landscape or a piece of architecture is travelled through and documented with a lens, the topographies of the surface are lifted into the condition of the image. The physical space is discarded as a material husk, and the images collected form their own topological model of the site from which they are extracted.

On September 20th 1967, Robert Smithson traced a soft line through the landscape of Passaic, New Jersey, documenting the landscape that was awaiting the construction of Route 21, a six-lane highway that would parallel the route of the Passaic river. The landscape is 'voiced over' within the text as a narration that eschews a transcendental subjectivity for one sopping with a carefully curated subjective perspective. Smithson's written voice presents a highly individual moment of perception of the registers of temporal, cultural and geological time frames competing in the terrain.

In searching for 'monuments' to document, the first one he encounters as he steps from the bus is a bridge that spans the river. Heidegger speaks of spaces emerging, or coming into new purpose as two sides, only with the construction of a bridge. Each span splits the ground: 'Banks emerge as banks only as the bridge crosses the stream. The bridge designedly causes them to lie across from each other […] [O]nly something that is itself a location can make space for a site. The location is not already there before the bridge is.' The bridge gathers the earth as landscape around itself. But as a starting point for an encounter with a gathered landscape, how does this bridge begin to gather the landscape about itself?

'Noon-day sunshine cinema-ized the site, turning the bridge and the river into an over-exposed picture. Photographing it with my Instamatic 400 was like photographing a photograph. The sun became a monstrous light-bulb that projected a detached series of "stills" through my Instamatic into my eye.'

The bridge, named immediately as a monument, is by the same gesture elevated from its material function into the symbolic order. It becomes an image-architecture. The monument is the marker that stands, and that stands in for something else. It holds a place with a perlocutionary desire to imprint a stilling, a melancholy gape in the present that recalls an historical event, and a desire that this stilling should be iterative, self-perpetuating.

Not only is Smithson's first monument a type of hermetic 'image-architecture' by virtue of its naming, but it is immediately encountered in the text as immaterial. Made doubly an image by the fact that it is viewed through the frame of a viewfinder, it is an image of an image. If the image is the state of the 'mortal remains' of architectural elements in a landscape, then here we encounter the production of images of remains. Sontag writes: 'To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.'

Smithson's landscape is a collection of textual images that do not exist outside their own subjective mediation - in the self-conscious ways in which the text refers constantly to other forms of depiction: the novel (the wry aside of the Earthworks), the monstrous light-bulb of the projector, the postcard, landscape painting. The sky over Rutherford is described as 'cobalt blue' – a painterly pigment, that contrasts vividly with the drab newsprint landscapes in the New York Times arts section he has brought with him for the journey.

Finally there are the series of monuments themselves. Each one that is 'unearthed' from the route to appear in the text is printed as a square ink-dotted photograph that spans the top of the pages, shot in a flat and un-enigmatic style. The description of six pipes, that jut from a riverbank to flood the river with 'liquid smoke as the tip of an infernal fountain […] secretly sodomizing some hidden technological orifice, and causing a monstrous sexual organ (the fountain) to have an orgasm,' is utterly absurd when juxtaposed against the two plain views of mud and pipes.

The text is more 'photographic' than the images are – they do not concern themselves with the landscape outside the blank and immediate framing of each monument. They are documentary, and they are the least of the document, floating in a sea of text that overwrites and outstrips them. Sontag writes: 'The photograph is a thin slice of space as well as time. In a world ruled by photographic images, all borders (“framing”) seem arbitrary. Anything can be separated, can be made discontinuous, from anything else: all that is necessary is to frame the subject differently.' The small collection of the ironic monuments photographed are discontinuous objects mapped into and against the narrative.

Having moved away from the European photographic tradition that favoured the picturesque, we can situate Smithson in Sontag's description of American photography, which implies 'a more summary, less stable connection with history; and a relation to geographic and social reality that is both more hopeful and more predatory.' Describing the work of the photographers that accompanied the 'Opening of the West,' and their frequent staging of Native American rituals, she expounds how embedded in the tradition of the photographic mapping of the land was a desire to re-write it: 'photographing something became a routine part of the procedure for altering it.'

What, then, is the function of this solid sequence of squares, joined at the end by an aerial map of the region, with a toothed diagonal of quadrants depicting the area of collection? How do the co-presence of the text and images act upon one another?

Smithson describes the way in which a ground plan, or a topographic map, 'a "logical picture" differs from a natural or realistic picture in that it rarely looks like the thing it stands for. It is a two dimensional analogy or metaphor - A is Z.'In his works Non-Sites, he presented geological elements of landscapes as crisp abstract sculptures, creating a 'dimensional metaphor whereby one site can represent another site which does not resemble it [...] To understand this language of sites is to appreciate the metaphor between the syntactical construct and the complex of ideas'. The works are not, and cannot be, designed to lead an audience back to direct experience. The images in Monuments are merely a way of presenting the source materials for the catalogued journey - they become a medium for a proof of having borne witness.

All these works carefully consider the collapsing and expanding of process and geographical space into a text, or a gallery space, through the medium of documentation. However, Smithson is often more interested in shifting and expanding the temporal information attached to a site than the spatial. Infiltrating his subject with anecdote, historical and scientific data, the temporal turn of the encountered environment as journey in a discontinuous fragmentary movement, leads not towards rewriting specific moments of the past, present, or future, but towards a sense of duration, implicit in all things, that can only be spoken of indirectly. As Merleau-Ponty writes:

Time is […] not a real process, not an actual succession that I am content to record. It arises from my relation to things. Within things themselves, the future and the past are in a kind of eternal of pre-existence and survival… It is often said that, within things themselves, the future is not yet, the past is no longer, while the present, strictly speaking, is infinitesimal, so that time collapses.

To call Smithson a Pathologist suggests either that he is diagnosing a disease, which he isn't – his landscape is blighted by industry and its entropy, but he does not raise this as a point of condemnation - or a forensic pathologist intimately excavating and examining the organs in a cadaver to discover the cause of death. But a pathologist is also intimately concerned with the time of death. When people die unseen, away from hospital monitors, on the floors of locked rooms or in remote accidents, the corporeal remains are picked through to discover both cause and moment.

Blanchot equates the image with the image of a cadaver, where 'at first glance, resemble the corpse, but the cadaver's strangeness is perhaps also that of the image.'He cites death as the state 'in which the mourned deceased begins to resemble himself.' – where he is no longer situated in his own being, the image takes over. However, a corpse is not a static entity - it is not sealed in the freshness of the newly birthed image, unless it is somehow preserved. When left to its own devices it is an object that re-writes its own materiality in a rapid exchange, as it cools, stiffens, blooms through an array of colours, swells, bursts, blackens and collapses. This is a rigorously documented chain of events, both orderly and highly variable in time frame, in which the body forms an uneasy chronometer, wavering against temperature, air currents, and carrion eating insect life. The degree to which the body has replaced itself materially marks the time elapsed, traced backwards to the moment of death – the blind spot, the split.

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