Is Dani Karavan a cargo cultist?
Two things discovered saved in the same folder during a recent spring cleaning of my archives: a set of images of the large scale works of the Israeli artist Dani Karavan; and an essay by J.G. Ballard titled, “Robert Smithson as Cargo Cultist,” which according to my notes, appears in Land and Environmental Art by Jeffrey Kastner (1998). The images and parts of the essay are reproduced here.
On Smithson's most celebrated work, Ballard asks, “What cargo might have berthed at the Spiral Jetty? And what strange caravel could have emerged from the saline mists of this remote lake and chosen to dock at this mysterious harbour? One can only imagine the craft captained by a rare navigator, a minotaur obsessed by inexplicable geometries, who had commissioned Smithson to serve as his architect and devise this labyrinth in the guise of a cargo terminal.”
And now you must be thinking: What intergalactic tourists had commissioned Dani Karavan to design interstellar runways in the guise of an esplanade and a boulevard...in the guise of a sculpture in the guise of a peace memorial?
Are those lasers just some sort quantum communication devices, beamed from watchtowers stationed along his axial trails?
Ballard wonders further: “But what was the cargo? Time appears to have stopped in Utah, during a geological ellipsis that has lasted for hundreds of millions of years. I assume that that cargo was a clock, though one of a very special kind. So many of Smithson’s monuments seem to be a patent amalgam of clock, labyrinth and cargo terminal. What time was about to be told, and what even stranger cargo would have landed here?”
But what about Dani Karavan? What awaits at the end of his pilgrimage route, what will countless benedictions invoke? Peace? No, too shortsighted. Karavan operates in deep time.
Ballard again: “Fifty thousands years from now our descendants will be mystified by the empty swimming pools of an abandoned southern California and Cote d’Azur, lying in the dust like primitive time machines or the altar of some geometry obsessed religion. I see Smithson’s monuments belonging in the same category, artefacts intended to serve as machines that will suddenly switch themselves on and begin to generate a more complex time and space. All his structures seem to be analogues of advanced neurological processes that have yet to articulate themselves.”
Fifty thousands years from now our descendants will also stumble upon Karavan's concrete allées, but rather than bewildered, they'll walk themselves into a feverish pace as if some genetically encoded instinct had kicked in, up and down, going and returning until delirium sets in, visions of primeval landscape architects, up and down, arriving before leaving, and then finally...