published
published in Journal for Artistic Research
In this exposition we describe and theorize the evolution of an artistic enquiry entitled Playing the Spiral Jetty. This is accomplished in four parts. In part one we present our understanding of play as research methodology. Then, in part two we narrate and contextualize our encounter of the exhibition Contemporary Masters, an installation of an 18-hole, artist-designed, miniature golf course. In part three we elaborate our improvisations and conceptualizations of Playing the Spiral Jetty. Finally, in part four, we conclude with a theorization of play enacted in our performance. Play, as action and reaction, becomes a non-deterministic tactic or strategy for rethinking and redirecting understandings of and engagements with art. As a research enquiry, play is integrally linked to art making and as such, a way of knowing. The medial space in which play and subsequently art occupy create opportunities for novel ontological understandings.
JAR portal comments: 2
Lucas Ihlein 05/11/2012 at 09:49

The practice of "play" is something which has a strong relationship with art, historically, and the projects described by the authors are very interesting.

First, the exhibition which they encountered, Contemporary Masters, at the Salt Lake Art Centre in 2010 does sound like a fascinating participatory sculptural event. The exhibition certainly presents rich grounds for discussion around the relationship between art and play.

Similarly, the author-artists’ project Playing the Spiral Jetty, in which they use the iconic earthwork by Smithson as a golf course, is a provocative action, which has the potential to generate new insights into historical modernism and contemporary art practice.

It seems to me that one of the strongest potential contributions of Playing the Spiral Jetty is to our understanding of Smithson's Spiral Jetty itself.

This iconic artwork inspires reverence and awe, and is the destination for international pilgrimages. To use Spiral Jetty as a golf course is akin to the Duchampian trick of "using a Rembrandt as an ironing board".

The tantalising video work around which this exposition is structured raises a series of questions which (for this reader at least) remain unanswered:

What transformations are made possible when an irreverent and playful action is carried out at a "secular-sacred" site such as Spiral Jetty?

How does such an action help us to transform our understanding of Smithson's work (and of large scale iconic modernist earthworks in general)?

How does such an action offer itself as a methodological case study for playful intervention in the public sphere? In other words, what role might art have for social transformation through "breaking the rules" of propriety? (A study on the cultural practices of 'transgression' could be fruitful here).

If the artists/authors were to focus on some of these questions, which are raised precisely by the act of producing/exhibiting their work, it would place Playing the Spiral Jetty at the centre of a process of artistic research.

As it is, this exposition wanders widely, touching on education, games and gender theory, without reaching a coherent destination. Perhaps like Tacita Dean's soundwork, or Nico Israel's account of searching for The Spiral Jetty, this piece of writing is a document of the process of trying to find something that remains, for now, elusive.

Kitty Zijlmans 05/11/2012 at 16:24

The text in relationship to the activities, both visiting and playing the exhibition Contemporary Masters: Art Inspired Miniature Golf (Salt Lake City 2010) and creating the video artwork Playing the Spiral Jetty (2010), is an elaborate exposition of the possible and in fact necessary connections between art, education and theory. Play is seen as a particular space of movement between the constraints of how we on the one hand come to interpret and on the other interact with art. Interestingly, this applies to both artists and recipients. The text is built up well, is thought-out and adequately contextualized in ongoing debates on methods of research and questions regarding when an artwork actually starts and finishes; and lastly, it reads well.

It’s four part structure is clear: it begins with a (brief) theoretical framing of the project (Gadamer; Groys; Butler; Bresler; Garoian) in which art practice/inquiry is conceptualised as a “movement not towards a prescribed or even intentioned goal, because play has no substratea” (Gadamer). Rather it is seen as a “scene of constraint, as a complex web of organized associations” (Butler), which proposes that the viewer (player, participant) can actually “play with the meaning of art across contexts, hierarchies and institutions”. In doing so the ‘player’ nuances and disrupts the processes which usually regulate interpretations of meaning. Here the penny dropped as regards to what they are trying to perform as well as to show and that is, taking the unbeaten icon of land art, Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, as a work to be played as a hole at a golf course, where the ball is to roll the entire 460 m of inwards spiralling jetty towards the centre (part 3). In part 4 they come back to how constraints driven by play may actually function, and that is by generating a space to play within and across these very constraints.

From all I have read about the Spiral Jetty (which is a lot) I have never encountered an interpretation where one can actually see the land art work as something to play. The work itself opens up these possibilities, but it has become so institutionalised and almost sacred, that the past 40 years of interpretation are always directed towards the same serious readings about land art, primitivism, entropy, ecology, and the like, but never play as way to disrupt beaten tracks of thinking. This the article/work makes clear. The authors elaborate their concern regarding art education where possibilities are limited and the imagination halted because of protocols, instead of opening them up. So to work with and against constraints – as many video games do – in studio practice and art education could provoke a space of divergent possibilities.

The exposition can also be seen as an abstract or proposal for further (artistic) research, that is, to further develop what is proposed, and that is learning through understanding “constraints as dependent on diverse interpretive frames from participants , while also occasioning the re-examination of those interpretive frames, inspiring transformation and adaptation”. As such questioning the very questions one asks or the frames one uses is nothing new, but the way this can be done in the practice and education of art, is. They give an example by ‘playing’ the Spiral Jetty triggered by the exhibition Contemporary Masters: Art Inspired Miniature Golf, and this could be taken beyond the article. The authors theorize play referring to second-order constraints (that can be enacted as art educators) on the level/scale of the individual as well as of (small) groups. How would art teaching and art history look like when art is taken as a scene of constraints where the ‘players’ reshape the contours of the frames set by tradition, protocol, etc.

I find the experience-based practice of understanding what constraints really mean, and the potential they have, and therewith nuancing and disrupting the processes which usually regulate interpretations of meaning, a welcome and challenging art educational and art practical possibility. Next to an inspiring way of learning about art and curating exhibitions (the whole notion of exhibition can be challenged) it may trigger new ways of art practice. I would be curious to see what might come from this because art works stemming from a practice that is conceptualised as a scene of constraints may well challenge again this very idea. This could mean new itineraries, indeed producing “productive spaces of juxtaposing explicit and tacit rules of engagement and divergent possibilities”.

I liked very much the simultaneous playfulness and seriousness of the project.

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