Dialectic of site and nonsite and the possible responses

*part of this post is taken from the book Situation – edited by Claire Doherty – Cambridge – 2009
**picture is taken from http://www.diaart.org/sites/main/spiraljetty – (Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970. Photo: George Steinmetz)

First there is this table of Robert Smithson – Dialectic of site and nonsite //1972


Open limits

A series of points

Outer coordinates


Indeterminate certainty

Scattered information



Some place (physical)



Closed limits

An array of matter

Inner coordinates


Determinate uncertainty

Contained information



No place (abstract)


Than this is the response of Craig Owens in his own words – Earthwords //1992

Significantly, these remarks [‘Dialectic of Site and Nonsite’], which reveal the textuality of the nonsite, occur in a footnote appended to Smithson’s text on the Spiral Jetty, itself a graphic document inscribed on the surface of the Great Salt Lake. Like the nonsite, the Jetty not a discrete work, but one link in a chain of signifiers which summon and refer to one another in a dizzying spiral. For where else does the Jetty exist except in the film which Smithson made, the narrative he published, the photographs which accompany that narrative and the various maps, diagrams, drawings, etc., he made about it? Unintelligible at close range, the spiral form of the Jetty is completely intuitable only from a distance, and that distance is most often achieved by imposing a text between viewer and work. Smithson thus accomplishes a radical dislocation of the notion of point-of-view, which is no longer a function of physical position, but of the mode (photography, cinematic, textual) of confrontation with the work of art. The work is henceforth defined  by the position it occupies in a potentially infinite chain extending from the site itself and the associations it provokes – ‘in the end I would let the site determine what I would build’ (Robert Smithson, The Collected Writings, 111) – to quotations of the work in other works. […]

Smithson’s desire to lodge his work in a specific site, to make it appear to be rooted there, is a desire for allegory. All of Smithson’s work acknowledges as part of the work the natural forces through which it reabsorbed into its setting. When the Great Salt Lake rose and submerged the Spiral Jetty, the salt deposits left on its surface became yet another link in the chain of cyrstalline forms which makes possible the description of the Jetty as a text. …

This is sort of my interpretation about the texts

Notion of nonsite defined by Smithson has some key points where the the nonsite contains inner coordinates and is an array of matter. Nonsite itself is not defined by external properties. In the artwork Jetty, as Owens described it as a link of chain referred to another in the spiral. It is a continuation of matters, that starts from one side, and the internal logic forms an entity. This point can also be related with the systems theory, where the inner coordinates are the determinant of the general idea.
This nonsite can only be perceived from a certain distance, through modes, photography, cinematic and texts, which detaches it from the physical location it exists but exist in another -more virtual- way.
Each information produced by persons creates an information field, which cannot be perceived in a physical location, but through other virtual ways in a proximity. According to this perspective, one can say that as the information exchange and cloud of persons arise, the necessity of the location and space become more virtual. However the virtuality at this point is independent from the virtuality of computers and digital data, but a form that is related with each persons nearby information clouds, which is referred to Smithson’s array of matters. Every individual has the access of their nearby information cloud, which starts the chain of (nonsite) and with the relation of others, this cloud enlarges and can be perceived through virtual ways, again like referred to Smithson’s modes (photography, cinematic and texts).
The important point here is the ‘information cloud of individual’ and its relation to the physical location. Than the rest start to occur.


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