The local people cleared the land by burning and Smithson set up his twelve mirrors
The First Displacement .
As we drove out of Merida on Highway 261, Smithson talked to me of the horizon, he said it was forever passing beneath the wheels of the car and yet somehow remained ever distant.
Of course, Smithson did the driving, I spent most of my time asleep in the back of the car. Smithson was good at staying on the line, on the mirror surface, looking both ways, but I, in my youthful imagination couldn’t help but slip over the line and disappear………
So, to say that no human carries a map, implies that we live in trackless territory, a decentralised zone, unmarked and unmeasured , but there are those who never go anywhere , never do anything , preferring the safety of the familiar village pathways, never venturing out into the forest. For me, Smithson carried the map, though this is not to imply that he never strayed beyond its demarcations.
What Smithson never told me is that the word Yucatan denotes a state of incomprehension.
It has taken me this long to grasp anything at all in the fluidity of the mirror surface; the world flows across the mirror like a river, so that the telling of this story is but a single snapshot and I have discovered as I repeat this story that it is like taking a bend in the road and discovering a whole new horizon. Such stories cannot be entirely committed to memory, like the mirror surface they swirl and change in every new situation.
In 1969 I had the good fortune to travel to the Yucatan with the late American artist Robert Smithson, of course he was a lot older than me and was able to articulate the experience of this journey soon after, we travelled in April 1969, and in September of the same year his article with it’s accompanying photographs appeared in ArtForum Magazine , it has taken me nearly 40 years.
The true fiction eradicates the false reality…….. How I love hearing these words; they remind me that almost anything is possible …..
South of Campeche, on the way to Champoton, mirrors were set on the beach of the Gulf of Mexico. Jade coloured water
The Fourth displacement.
The man I saw and the boy I was, were like the two wings of a butterfly separated only by time and the surface of a mirror. And although the man in this image bears a striking resemblance to me , yet it is not me , it an image of the child projected through time into a future he only imagines. Our paths crossed for a fraction of a second. The only thing I could do was enter the mirror and try to find my own reflection.
The pattern repeated itself – it was becoming a sort of ritual. This time instead of a child, I saw a grown man , he stood beside the rocking horse in the forest, wearing the child’s armour. “All those guide books are no use “ said Tezcatlipoca, “ You must travel at random, like the first Mayans, you risk getting lost in the thickets, but that is the only way to make art.” Tezcatlipoca, slid across the surface of Smithson’s mirrors, searching for and evading his twin, Quezalcoatle , but which was which ?
In the side of a heap of crushed limestone the twelve mirrors were cantilevered in the midst of large clusters of butterflies that had landed on the limestone. For brief moments flying butterflies were reflected; they seemed to fly through a sky of gravel.
The Third Displacement.
Photographs are sort of map, of time, usually of the past, they record the features of the ever evolving landscape - it changes over time, inscribed with deepening lines and furrows , the map of flesh that carries us , skin bone , tendon and muscle , blue roads and red roads…..
Again Smithson left me alone with the displacement as he wandered off and again the mirrors showed me something unexpected. A small boy standing in an English garden, he wore brown shorts and a silver armoured breastplate, he carried a round shield in one hand, a sword in the other which pointed straight forward from his navel . On his head a helmet with a red and blue plume stuck out at a jaunty angle. “That camera is a portable tomb” said Tezcatlipoca , demiurge of the smoking mirror, “you must remember that.” A little moment of death, only discovered 40 years later. This image is a kind of memory, yet it is not a memory, it is but an incognito landmass that has been unthought about and turned into a map of Impasse.
In a suburb of Uxmal, that is to say nowhere, the second displacement was deployed.
The Second Displacement
One night while not quite asleep, I heard Smithson and the old gods talking ….one of them said “The boy’s dreams will be a currency with which he must one day barter for the future”.
cantilevered in the soft ashy surface, the red subsoil spilled over the mirror surface sabotaging the reflection of the sky. In this way the sky was displaced and lay on the ground at our feet. After Smithson had set up his mirrors and taken his shots, he took off for a couple of hours and nodded as he past me as if to say “stay close kid”. And as I played amongst the mirrors, playing hide and seek with my own reflection, what I saw was a small boy asleep, he lay on an axis that defied repose across an old armchair , he lay on his stomach with his head up against the junction between the back and the arm of the old chair and behind the chair stood an old rocking horse whose axis somehow mirrored the boys . This suggested a certain relationship between the two.
Disorientation was setting in, familiarity was becoming stretched, by now Smithson’s mirrors had done their work on me
At Palenque the jungle starts. The poised mirrors seemed to buckle slightly over the uncertain ground. Disjointed square streaks and smudges hovered close to incomprehensible shadows. Proportion was disconnected and in a condition of suspense. The double allure of the ground and the mirrors brought forth apparitions.
The Fifth Displacement
With or without a map, there are boundary markers all around us, boundaries within boundaries, you wont find these on the map, but they are there nonetheless in the relations of things and in moments…
Here I saw my reflection slipping further into the reflection of reflections on the other side of the mirror surface. This time riding the horse, but only seeing the inverted reflection in the water on the other side of the mirror. “The true fiction eradicates the false reality” said the voiceless voice of Chalchihuitlicue.” Smithson had said, “A horizon is an enchanted region where down is up. Space can be approached but time is far away”.
splashed near the mirrors, which were supported by dried seaweed and eroded rocks, but the reflections abolished the supports, and now words abolish the reflections.
collaborative work is he way forward
think itâ€™s really disappointing that everybody I know if he sector has been pushing for years to get artists well paid, properly, to get
A little moment of death, only discovered 40 years later. This image is a kind of memory, yet it is not a memory, it is but an incognito landmass that has been unthought about and turned into a map of Impasse. Photographs are sort of map, of time, usually of the past, they record the features of the ever evolving landscape - it changes over time, inscribed with deepening lines and furrows , the map of flesh that carries us , skin bone , tendon and muscle , blue roads and red roadsâ€Ś..
Chine Magazine Tester