apocalyptic thoughts


In 2004 Modern Art Oxford staged an installation of Mike Nelson’s ‘Triple Bluff Canyon’. On the upper floor of the gallery a steep hill of sand had been built. On top of this dune was a replica of an old wooden shack, based on Robert Smithson’s ‘Partially Buried Woodshed’ (1970). The whole was designed to create anxiety and uncertainty. Yet visitors to the exhibition lingered on the edge of the sand, reluctant to return to reality. The sand cast a spell. The visitors may have been reminded of pleasant days at the seaside in their childhood. This impression was reinforced by people who, entering the shack above, waved cheerfully to those of us down on the fringe of the dune, as though on holiday.

How we read environments depends on our own situation. For instance, those who live in filthy environments long for clean places, which may vary, given that a Western city may be muckier than a village in a dwindling Amazonian forest. Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ (1516) talks of the selling of meat in a market-place where ‘the filth and ordure thereof is clean washed away in the running river […] lest the air by the stench thereof, infected and corrupt, should cause pestilent diseases’. By such imaginings we learn something of Utopia but perhaps more about the state of London in the time of Henry VIII. These days we would hesitate to pollute More’s running river. Similarly we would be unhappy to read the notice that once stood on a pier on the Isle of Wight saying: ‘Do not drop your rubbish on the pier. Throw it in the sea.’ Sensibilities change with technology.

more from Frieze here.