In 1969, in the Yucatan and on the coast of Sanibel Island, Robert Smithson made a series of mirror travel photographs. He arranged small mirrors in the greenery and along the surf. The mirrors reflected foliage, the sky, or simply the light.
These images are science fiction baubles, from a Shatner future in which cheap special effects merge with alien wisdom. They are also in-jokes. A line of mirrors on Sanibel is a goof on Carl Andre’s throwdowns of industrial supplies, here dematerialized to silvered glass. The photographs flirt with the narcissism of the artist, whom the mirrors never quite reveal.
Mirrors and shorelines were in the air, in those fast days of high minimalism. What could be a more extreme non-object in a nonsite than the mirror? In 1968, Joan Joans made the film Wind, in which two figures in mirrored suits shuffle across a beach, monsters of absence. Towards the end of her 1970 Jones Beach Piece, Jonas sat on a ladder, using a mirror to reflect the sun at the audience. A few years later, in Jonas’s great film Song Delay (1973), a trickster on a sandpile wields a mirror to throw sunlight at Robert Fiore’s lens, blipping out the movie.
Smithson went on to use larger mirrors in his installs. In his contribution to Willoughby Sharp’s 1969 Earth Art show in Ithaca, NY, Smithson brought mirrors down to the Cayuga Rock Salt Mines, a half mile beneath the ground, returning to lake level with photographs and rubble.
On a recent visit to Fish Island Gallery, I had resolved to make a show only with the materials native to the place. To my surprise, on wading into the surf, I found, among the horseshoe crabs and jellyfish larvae, a set of square mirrors. Had these drifted with the Atlantic currents, over a half century, around Montauk Point, from one of Jonas’s performances? Were these a relic of some unrealized Smithson project? I felt an urge to see what this glass could do. The mirrors easily arrayed themselves into a few configurations. I made some images to document.
But this was not the only reveal of that day. I sighted, as the tide rushed up at the height of the Sturgeon Moon, some pictures adrift in the chop and swell of the Long Island Sound. Each bore the mark, in the corner, of the DALL-E 2 software, which only recently debuted to the internet. They were from our flow of cultural consciousness, masticated through the statistical models of machine learning. Had these synthetic images already drifted this far into the world? Or, perhaps, was the software, in some out-of-control loop, generating hardcopies for each request it received over the web?
I hastily waded into the now chilly late summer waters and documented the flow of floating images. Gathering what few of the prints I could, I hauled them, like a catch of clams, to the shore, to photograph them on the stable ground.
Satisfied with this day’s work, I reburied the mirrors, slung the digital images back into the Sound, and boarded the gallerist’s motor launch for a rapid return to the mainland.
— Dan Torop, August 15, 2022
Transcribed from the Fish Island Gallery website.