All good things to those who wait

Last night PBS aired a cool documentary on Mount Rushmore & its creation. The program ended with an incredible quote from the ever-intense sculptor/designer/engineer/promoter of the monument, Gutzon Borglum:

I am allowing an extra three inches on all the features of the various Presidents in order to provide stone for the wear and tear of the elements, which cuts the granite down one inch every 100,000 years. Three inches would require 300,000 years to bring the work down to the point that I would like to finish it. In other words, the work will not be done for another 300,000 years, as it should be.

Epic Epoch!; Go big or go home! In many ways Mount Rushmore is the ultimate American monument. Massive, monstrous, beautiful, tacky. Taming of nature and taming of the West, a capstone on Manifest Destiny, blatant & destructive disregard for Native American sentiment, a promotional/tourist scheme for a remote locale, deranged self-congratulatory ancestor/hero worship. The huge achievement (and huge disappointment—the original conception called for the four presidents to be represented not as busts but all the way to the waist) also reflects American politics (backslapping & chicanery to secure federal appropriations for provincial projects), New Deal-era economics (Keynesian justifications for federally funded public works projects), and the emergence of promotional media campaigns (Borglum almost bankrupted the project to orchestrate the ceremonial unveiling of the first face, G. Washington, which, filmed grandiosely & distributed to cinemas across the country ultimately helped build support for his massive undertaking, previously derided as a loony lark). Another telling aspect of Mount Rushmore—and of Borglum’s quote about 300,000 years to completion—is the psychotic optimism of early 20th century America. Not only will we tame nature, but the natural processes of nature will only bring us closer to perfection. Our innevitable success is part & parcel with the natural order.

Compare, for example, with the all-things-must-pass philosophy of 1970s outdoor art such as Robert Smithson’s masterpiece, [doom-] “Spiral Jetty”. One of the ideas at work is that natural forces will inevitably erode & decompose the sculpture into oblivion. (Unless caring curators scurry to protect us from natural causes!) Or, the outdoor process art of Andy Goldsworthy, which emphasizes that all purposeful creation will be the first casualty of entropy.

Smithson & Goldsworthy seem resigned to the long slow passage of time, learning/yearning to understand and perhaps embrace the dissolution of human designs/desires. AND THUS, the hero of their post-Rushmore age is that master of disappointment & ennui… oui, Charlie Brown! You must listen here as Serge Gainsbourg explains the sort of “philosophy” found in “un petit garçon comme Charlie”, whom, Serge confesses in the third verse, reminds the old man of himself: “I myself was like Charlie / Like Charlie Brown / I climbed the rope to my kite / To better view the sky / But now the rope breaks and Charlie / Alone in the prairie grass / A little sadder than earlier / Holds tears… Charlie Brown”

**A more violent variant of Smithson/Goldsworthy’s type of process art is found in the outdoor paintings of David Lynch. Lynch affixes slabs of dead meat to the canvas, which rots, festers, attracts ants, and is essentially devoured by nature. Which reminds us: Your Father is a Pork Chop. Please listen below as the silken Junior Byles pleads with his girl to not heed her father’s prejudiced warnings against rastas. I mean, c’mon, are you going to listen to that guy? Seriously, your father is a pork chop. (at 2:39)


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