King Kong meets the Gem of Egypt / Partially Buried Wood Shed. Image from Field Trips: Bernd and Hilla Becher / Robert Smithson. Porto: Museu Serralves

In the chapter Threshole of the great book Formless: A User’s Guide, (Zone Books, 1997) Yve-Alain Bois addresses more specifically architecture to illustrates this concept created by Georges Bataille. I hope to make a review of the whole book sometimes soon, but for now I would like to focus on Robert Smithson‘s work which, along with Gordon Matta Clark’s share the focus of this chapter. Yve-Alain Bois introduces Smithson as somebody who is interested in strategies of entropization of architecture on the contrary of the latter’s pretention:

“The ideal is architecture, or sculpture, immobilizing harmony, guaranteeing the duration of motifs whose essence is the annulations of time.”
Thus the dream of architecture, among other things, is to escape entropy. This dream may be illusory on its face; but this is something that must be demonstrated nonetheless – which is to say that one must “exit the domain of the project by means of a project.” (P187)

This project that exit the domain of the project, Robert Smithson will first attempt to achieve it in 1970 with a project entitled Island of the Dismantled Building that was going to build and dramatize a ruin/island in Vancouver Bay. In the end, this project never occurred (because of local associations) but few months later, he will re-iterate such attempt with his Partially Buried Wood Shed on Kent State University campus, associating his fascination for formlessness and entropic architecture. Indeed, a year earlier, he created one of his most famous work Asphalt Rundown which dramatized the slow drip of hot asphalt on an earthly slopped. This artificial geological interaction is fascinating for a lot of reasons. The slow movement of this black matter winning over the earth is not without making us think of an anti-matter that would absorb whatever interacts with it, the asphalt drip characterizes quite convincingly a materialization of formlessness, one can also think of this fluid mass that will eventually dries-up and somehow strangle the earth below it etc.

As I wrote above, this project exit project will motivates Robert Smithson to realize a similar operation, this time with mud instead of asphalt and architecture in the place of the earth. Partially Buried Wood Shed (1970) is thus dramatizing a process of acceleration of entropy on architecture that does not seem to be able to resist to this shapeless matter winning over it.  Yve-Alain Bois describes such a process with the following text:

Partially Buried Woodshed is a “nonmonument” to the process Smithson calls “de-architecturization”: a dump truck poured earth onto the roof of an old woodshed to the point where its ridge beam cracked. Architecture is the material, and entropy is the instrument. (P188)

Asphalt Rundown (1969). Image from Field Trips: Bernd and Hilla Becher / Robert Smithson. Porto: Museu Serralves, 2001.

Asphalt Rundown (1969). Image from Field Trips: Bernd and Hilla Becher / Robert Smithson. Porto: Museu Serralves, 2001.

Asphalt Rundown (1969). Image from Field Trips: Bernd and Hilla Becher / Robert Smithson. Porto: Museu Serralves, 2001.

Partially Buried Wood Shed (1970). Image from Field Trips: Bernd and Hilla Becher / Robert Smithson. Porto: Museu Serralves, 2001.

Partially Buried Wood Shed (1970). Image from Field Trips: Bernd and Hilla Becher / Robert Smithson. Porto: Museu Serralves, 2001.

Partially Buried Wood Shed (1970). Image from Field Trips: Bernd and Hilla Becher / Robert Smithson. Porto: Museu Serralves, 2001.

Asphalt Rundown (1969). Image from Field Trips: Bernd and Hilla Becher / Robert Smithson. Porto: Museu Serralves, 2001.

Asphalt Rundown (1969). Image from Field Trips: Bernd and Hilla Becher / Robert Smithson. Porto: Museu Serralves, 2001.

Asphalt Rundown (1969). Image from Field Trips: Bernd and Hilla Becher / Robert Smithson. Porto: Museu Serralves, 2001.