walking in circles

Richard Serra. Inside Out, 2013

That common feeling of walking in circles: Trying to begin a text, on a blank page; waking up every single day at the exact same time, when the alarm clock goes off. Going to work, going back home. The movement of the Earth around the Sun. Cycles, circles, hedgehog day, continuity, never ending, the start and finish line are the exact same. Walking in circles, or writing in circles, the sensation is the same: Being stuck in a routine, enclosed in your own mind, lacking any purpose.

Richard Serra, Robert Smithson, and Lawrence Weiner, through distinct methods, portray this feeling in their oeuvre. The first, with its gigantic, rusted, metal sculptures — that you can’t grasp just by looking at an image of it. Serra’s pieces fill the room with negative spaces, and the only way to understand it is by filling the gaps and walking inside it. And, once you do, everything changes: suddenly, you are not in a posh gallery in Chelsea, nor at DIA Beacon anymore. You are confined by the narrow, high walls and the only way of getting out is going through. It is an exercise in faith: blindly trust that, by walking forward, somehow you are going to be able to get rid of it; to get out alive. And, after a few curves, you do. You are out of it — but with a feeling that the piece, the experience, will never leave you.

Smithson’s Spiral Jetty kind of makes you feel the same, in a more obvious way: You have to walk the spiral. It is not meant to be ‘half’ walked; for people to walk back before reaching the center. Spiral Jetty is an exercise in conditioning: its construction and shape invites (or, obliges) you to walk the line; to follow orders. To devote that five or ten minutes, or why-not-a-whole-hour, to physically experience what the artist is suggesting. In theory, there is no higher purpose: you are not going to reach a new, magical space once you’ve done it — but you might. And it is that possibility, that gleam of hope, that makes you devote and fully connect with the experience. Just like a buddhist walk in circles around a stupa to find enlightenment, by walking in circles through Spiral Jetty you may find a meaning; a new truth; or not. Smithson invites you to meditate, to get close to yourself, in a very ordained way. Just as Serra’s works, it is not about the piece itself: it is about an experience; about following orders without questioning it (or maybe even without realizing it) and see the effects that they cause on you. How do you feel about it is what matters.

Robert Smithson. Spiral Jetty, 1970.

And what does Lawrence Weiner work have to do with it? Everything. The title of the piece can be the perfect translation of what if feels to experience one of Serra’s sculptures or walking through Spiral Jetty: SOMEWHERE SOMEHOW FOREVER & A DAY, SOMETHING SOMEWAY FOREVER & A DAY, SOMETIME SOMEPLACE FOREVER & A DAY. The vagueness of the words and its meanings (‘somewhere’ can be any where; ‘somehow’ can be in any way; and ‘forever’ might be, in fact, just for a day) open the possibilities to infinity. It is entirely up to the viewer to fill the gaps and choose its ‘where’, ‘how’, ‘why’ and ‘when’. The first time you read it, it seems like crazy-bum-talking: just a bunch of nonsense words, piled together. The second look at it, it starts to change. You find the rhythm, hinted by the spaces and shapes underneath the words: ‘SOMEWHERE SOMEHOW’ are placed over a ‘looser’ spiral and there’s a bigger space between the words, making it sound slower, in a ‘day dreaming’ tone. Then, ‘SOMETHING SOMEWAY’ is placed over a ‘tighter’ spiral, with slightly less space between the words, making it sound more down-to-earth, in a ‘statement’ tone. And, finally, ‘SOMETIME SOMEPLACE’, over a broken spiral, going downwards. It is definitely faster-paced (just a regular space between the words), in a defeatist tone. Is someone who just ‘gave up’ talking. Overall, the piece is a mind process: of a great idea or dream surfacing and reality, making it slowly fade away until it is broken down. What the dream is about, is completely up to the viewer (‘somewhere’, ‘somehow’, ‘something’), but the failure is the same for everybody — over and over again; forever & a day. Thinking semiotically, one can think that Weiner hints that there still hope, by choosing to color the lines green. But, again, is completely up to you to decide if the glass is half full — or not.

All in all, Serra, Smithson and Weiner pieces are almost religious (in a broader sense of the word); they are acts of faith. You must trust the artist to guide you through. It’s not about the metal structure, or the lined-up rocks, or the black words on a white wall. Is about walking in circles, thinking in circles, in order to arrive (somehow) someplace else.