Art Newspaper: ‘JG’ Aims to Solve Famous Land Art Mystery

January 31, 2013

On Jan. 31, Art Newspaper featured Arcadia University Art Gallery’s upcoming exhibition, JG: a film project by Tacita Dean. The article, “Tacita Dean takes on Spiral Jetty—again,” addresses the artist’s intentions for the film, which was inspired by a challenge from British novelist J.G. Ballard. JG is due to go on view at Frith Street Gallery in London this autumn, following its debut at Arcadia, as reported by contributor Gareth Harris.

“It is ambitious in every sense,” says the Berlin-based artist Tacita Dean of her new film project, JG, which goes on view at Arcadia University Art Gallery in greater Philadelphia next week (7 February-21 April). The piece, a looped 35mm work shot on location in the salt-encrusted landscapes of Utah and southern California, explores the parallels between Robert Smithson’s land art work and film Spiral Jetty, both 1970, and “The Voices of Time”, 1960, a short story by the British novelist J.G. Ballard.

Dean explains that the writer Jeremy Millar brought the artist and the late author together. “Millar sent Ballard a text about my 1997 work on the Spiral Jetty,” Dean says (in her early sound piece, Trying to Find the Spiral Jetty, she failed to find Smithson’s vast creation after following a set of instructions faxed by the Utah Arts Council). The work, made of mud, salt crystal and rock, forming a 15ft-wide and 1,500ft-long coil in Utah’s Great Salt Lake, is one of the earliest and most recognisable examples of “land art”.

Dean and Ballard subsequently began to correspond about Spiral Jetty. This discussion culminated in Ballard throwing down the gauntlet to Dean shortly before his death, declaring that the artist should “treat the Spiral Jetty as a mystery her film would solve”. Meanwhile, Dean and Millar had always linked “The Voices of Time” to Smithson’s piece, even to the point where the main character of the short story is called Robert.

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