Pulverized Eternities: A Visit to Dunes of Newton Creek, Brooklyn

“Every grain of sand was a dead metaphor that equaled timelessness, and to decipher such metaphors would take one through the false mirror of eternity.”

– Robert Smithson

A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic,

New Jersey

The photographs were taken during a visit to the industrial zone near Newton Creek in East Williamsburg on December 4th, 2018. The postindustrial New Jersey landscapes that Smithson encountered half-a-century ago ghostly reappeared at a different site and as a different form. Unlike the erected bridges, pipes, and sand-box in Passaic, the monuments here are several dunes, each composites of a different material. These dunes are likely to be excavated from the nearby National Energy Grid site and have no particular function. Locked behind gridded metal gates, the dunes form spaces of “interdictions” that discourage an easy access, often attached with signs on the gate that reads:

“AREA UNDER SURVEILLANCE.

NO DUMPING ALLOWED

VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED TO THE FULLEST EXTENT OF LAW.”

“NO DUMPING ALLOWED” and “THE FULLEST EXTENT OF LAW” are strong expressions that show a linguistic interdiction in the strictest sense. “NO DUMPING” is a suspicious refutation of the dunes’ history. The gated site thus denies both its past and future making. But dumps are dumps. The granular composition of these dunes – sand, soil, rock, and weed – betray the sign’s denial with their materiality. The brutalized language written in capitalized red text is a sign of insecurity.

Just like minimalist sculptures displayed under museum environments, these dunes appear as minimal forms, with metal gates and signs replaced by labels such as “Do Not Touch”. But have the dunes become Benjamin’s aura-objects that fix observers’ attentions? Not yet. Newton Creek is in no way popular, not along being able to gather dazzled gazes. Just like Smithson’s monuments in Passaic, these sites attract no crowds.

What are the particular qualities of these dunes, if they are neither simply lonely suburban monuments nor sculptures with artistic values? “Time turns metaphor into things, and stack them up in cold rooms, or places them in the celestial playgrounds of the suburbs.”[1] For Smithson, futures have long been forgotten into the distant past, while eternity was falsely constructed through a pulverization of things. Before being dumped onto the gated sites, materials were extracted from nearby sites and pulverized into granular forms. Ahead of them are uncertain destinies.

The dunes are composed of condensed then dislocated materials. Just like the extracted energy that flees nature’s reserve within seconds, these dunes also suggest an unstable status, where both history and the future share short life spans, despite their seemingly solid form. The past and future that the sign and form suggest mirror a falsified eternity. The illusion is understood through the timeless metaphor and the false eternity that both the pulverized materials and the minimal form imply. They now become graves that children can play in no more.[2]

 

[1] Robert Smithson. A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey. 56.

[2] As stated in Smithson’s text: “This sand box somehow doubled as an open grave – a grave that children cheerfully play in.” Ibid.