Robert Smithson Spiral Jetty by Tim Do

Tim Do, 2008: Spiral Jetty
Tim Do, 2008: Spiral Jetty

The Spiral Jetty, Utah – at low water.  Considered to be the central work of American sculptor Robert Smithson, is an earthwork sculpture constructed in 1970. Built of mud, salt crystals, basalt rocks, earth, and water on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah, it forms a 1500-foot long and 15-foot wide counterclockwise coil jutting from the shore of the lake.

At the time of its construction, the water level of the lake was unusually low because of a drought. Within a few years, the water level returned to normal and submerged the jetty for the next three decades. Due to a recent drought, the jetty re-emerged in 1999 and is now completely exposed. The lake level rose again during the spring of 2005 due to a near record-setting snowpack in the mountains and partially submerged the Jetty again (  We found this wonderful, rare photo in Tim Do’s blog and have taken the liberty of linking to it.

As an aesthetic response to land and place, late 20th century Environmental Art is due for a reappraisal in light of Indigenous ecophilosophies that provide a sacred and social framework for visceral relations between humans, land and the non-human.  Spiral Jetty has been invisible for much of its life in more ways that one.  These works are always a bit orphaned in Art Historical, Landscape Architecture and Environmental theory.  Environmental Art absolutely cries out to be put into a dialogue with Indigenous cultural frameworks that offer critical and contextual responses to land and place.

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)