This pair of works qualify as a pilgrimage, not because they are particularly difficult to access or remote in their own right, but because the companion works reside not just in different locations but on different continents.
Just a couple of steps up off the pavement at 393 West Broadway in Soho, NYC, is a sizeable ‘loft’ space which has been occupied since 1979 by The Broken Kilometer, an installation work by American artist Walter De Maria. The work is composed of 500 highly polished, round, solid brass rods, each measuring two meters in length and five centimeters (two inches) in diameter. The 500 rods are placed in five parallel rows of 100 rods each. The sculpture weighs 17,000 kilograms and would measure one kilometer if all the elements were laid end-to-end. Each rod is placed such that the spaces between the rods increase by 5mm with each consecutive space, from front to back; the first two rods of each row are placed 80mm apart, the last two rods are placed 570 mm apart. This variation in spacing alters the viewer’s perception of reality, as the effect of perspective is negated by the relative increase in spacing of the rods, such that they appear to sit above one another rather than behind. The reality of the receding surface remains apparent however due to the perspectival effect on the apparent length of each rod.
On the other side of the Atlantic, in Kassel, Germany, is The Vertical Earth Kilometer. Installed in 1977 to coincide with the Documenta 6 exhibition, its dimensions identically match the Broken Kilometer except that instead of 2 meter lengths, the rods are screwed tightly together to total one continuous kilometer. The boring of the shaft, which goes through six geological layers, took seventy-nine days.
The full length of the rod was inserted into the shaft with the top lying flush to the surface of the earth. Thus, the art work is almost entirely hidden from view, The only visible sign of its existence being a small brass disk, which could easily be confused with a blank coin.
The privately funded cost of this work, DM 750,000, was considerable in 1977, and inevitably incited public outcry. How could so much be spent on ‘so little’? The presence of this work is characterised by its near total absence.
Without the benefit of seeing, it is knowing and trusting that are required to be aware the work. It is the very concept of it’s existence that we are forced to construct for ourselves that constitutes it’s reality.
In this case, “finding” the work requires “searching”, both metaphorically and literally. ( It bears no signpost, no label.) We each must construct it anew in our own consciousness.
But who can say however that art always has to be understood if it simply speaks to us. If it incites us to talk to one another about it, if we like it or if new thoughts and emotions are inspired by it, whether they are positive or negative, hasn’t the art already achieved its aim?