Enewetak Atoll, J.G. Ballard & Robert Smithson

Runit Island (part of Enewetak Atoll)

Beneath this concrete dome on Runit Island (part of Enewetak Atoll), built between 1977 and 1980 at a cost of about $239 million, lie 111,000 cubic yards (84,927 cubic meters) of radioactive soil and debris from Bikini and Rongelap atolls. The dome covers the 30-foot (9 meter) deep, 350-foot (107 meter) wide crated created by the May 5, 1958, Cactus test. Note the people atop the dome.

via Ballardian & Wikipedia


The artist as site-seer; or, a dintorphic essay (1966-67)
Robert Smithson

The system of megaliths now provided a complete substitute for those functions of his mind which gave to it its sense of the sustained rational order of time and space, his awareness kindled from levels above those of his present nervous system (if the autonomic system is dominated by the past, the cerebrospinal reaches towards the future). Without the blocks his sense of reality shrank to little more than the few square inches of sand beneath his feet.

J.G. Ballard, Terminal Beach

Once we are free from utilitarian presuppositions we become aware of what J.G. Ballard calls “The Synthetic Landscape,” or what Roland Barthes refers to as “the simulacrum of objects,” or what Tony Smith calls the “artificial landscape,” or what Jorge Luis Borges calls “visible unrealities.” What do these four persons have in common? Not assumptions or beliefs of any kind, but the same degree of aesthetic awareness. For them the environment is coded into exact units of order, as well as being prior to all rational theory; hence it is prior to all explanatory naturalism, to physical science, psychology, and also to metaphysics…


“It was the writer, curator and artist Jeremy Millar who became convinced Smithson knew of Ballard’s short story, The Voices of Time, before building his jetty. All Smithson’s books had been listed after his death in a plane crash in 1973 – and The Voices of Time was among them. The story ends with the scientist Powers building a cement mandala or “gigantic cipher” in the dried-up bed of a salt lake in a place that feels, by description, to be on the very borders of civilisation: a cosmic clock counting down our human time. It is no surprise that it is a copy of The Voices of Time that lies beneath the hand of the sleeping man on the picnic rug in the opening scenes of Powers of Ten, Charles and Ray Eames’ classic 1977 film about the relative size of things in the universe.

Smithson understood the prehistory of his site. Beneath the Great Salt Lake was, for some, the centre of an ancient universe, and his jetty could have been an elaborate means to bore down to get to it. As if understanding this, Ballard wrote in the catalogue text: “What cargo might have berthed at the Spiral Jetty?” He elaborated later to me in a letter: “My guess is that the cargo was a clock, of a very special kind. In their way, all clocks are labyrinths, and can be risky to enter.” The two men had a lot in common, and Ballard believed him to be the most important and most mysterious of postwar US artists. My interest in time, cosmic and human, future and past, as well as the analogue spooling of the now, has Ballard at its core.”

The cosmic clock with Ballard at its core,
Tacita Dean