- Melancholy Landscapes of Modernity: London and Passaic
- Landscape Journal: design, planning, and management of the land
- University of Wisconsin Press
- Volume 30, Number 2, 2011
- pp. 214-225
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Shuttling between two different worlds—two artworks that are in part fiction and in part fact—this essay gathers up a series of thematic commonalities which represent particular conceptions of landscape. Adopting the spirit of Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, the investigation proceeds via juxtaposed pieces of evidence, following his method of presenting his findings as a series of categories, or “convolutes.” The two works are by filmmaker Patrick Keiller and environmental artist Robert Smithson and are set in two cities, London and Passaic. Keiller’s film is set in early 1990s London and is simply called London, and Smithson’s “artwork” is an article entitled “The Monuments of Passaic” published in Artforum in 1967, and features both photographs and text. Five convolutes are developed as containers for the observations and coincidences: expeditions and field trips, photographs and films, monuments, ruins, and topophilia. Each convolute forms part of a much greater whole, of the melancholy of modernity, which encompasses the spatio-temporal domain of decay, abandonment, and the ennui of the 20th century. Through the re-imagining of these two cities, the work of Smithson and Keiller offers landscape architecture theoretical apparatuses for bringing fresh eyes to the exhausted settings of daily life.