"Where remote futures meet remote pasts"
Fisher, Joshua Frederick
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The resemblance of the earthworks of Robert Smithson, Michael Heizer, and other earth artists of the 1960s and 1970s to the prehistoric earth mounds of Eastern North America is almost universally acknowledged, even in the most general survey books on the history of art. Few art historians, however, have attempted to explain the full significance of this resemblance. In this thesis, I argue that Smithson and Heizer used forms and materials that recalled those of prehistoric times as part of a conscious reaction against the modernizing tendencies of the formalist avant- garde led by the critic Clement Greenberg, as well its underlying modernist worldview. This worldview included a belief in the unlimited potential for human progress, but the earth artists’ worldview, as shown in Smithson’s writings, corresponded with the ideas of entropy theorists, who believed that “progress” was merely a speeding up of the dissipation of energy in the universe. Many of these entropy theorists, such as Jeremy Rifkin, argued for a return to a simpler, more energy-efficient lifestyle. By drawing on ideas of prehistoric art, Smithson and Heizer could do their part to bring about a low-entropy society.