Broken Circle/Spiral Hill – Robert Smithson (1971)

Broken Circle/Spiral Hill is an earthwork sculpture by the American artist Robert Smithson. It was created for the 1971 Sonsbeek outdoor sculpture exhibition. The piece is located in Emmen, Netherlands. Broken Circle/Spiral Hill is the sole large-scale earthwork piece created by Smithson outside of the United States. It was commissioned as a temporary public work of art. In 1971, when it was commissioned, ‘No (written) agreements were made concerning the ownership and future maintenance of the work.’ The approximately 23 metres (75 ft) diameter Broken Circle earthwork consists of a jetty and canal; it was constructed of white and yellow sand on the bank of a quarry lake approximately 3–4.5 metres (10–15 ft) feet deep. The interior canal is approximately 3.7 metres (12 ft) wide. The accompanying earthwork, Spiral Hill, is approximately 23 metres (75 ft) in diameter at the base, and is constructed from earth, black topsoil, and white sand. The New York Times states that Smithson conceived of the two forms as the ‘section in the water is a centrifugal image; the path of its earthbound companion is centripetal.’ Gary Shapiro, in his book, Earthwards: Robert Smithson and Art after Babel, writes that the two elements had a ‘decentering’ effect. The complexity of the site also informed the sculptural elements, referencing both the industrial use of the site, as well as the topography of Holland’s ‘artificial land’. Smithson also mentioned that he was inspired by the 1953 flooding disaster in the Netherlands, and the vicinity of stone-age dolmen (hunebedden) near the artwork. Smithson wrote of the glacial erratic boulder in the center of Broken Circle as an ‘accidental center’: I was haunted by the shadowy lump in the middle of my work. Like the eye of a hurricane, it seemed to suggest all kinds of misfortunes…The perimeter of the intrusion magnified into a blind spot in my mind that blotted the circumference out…When I return to Holland, I might bury the boulder in the center, or move it outside of the circumference, or just leave it there…a warning from the Ice Age. (Writings, pg. 182) …”
Broken Circle/Spiral Hill
[PDF] Land Reclamation and the Sublime, Thomas Dreher
YouTube: Broken Circle/Spiral Hill

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