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Our Own Spiral Jetty, Protruding Uncomfortably Into Our Minds

ekthorp's picture

Hey guys,

For my final project I made a Prezzi presentation that will take you on a virtual tour of the Bryn Mawr campus via everyone's observation sites. The tour moves cylclically through campus, beginning on the outer edges of the campus and resolving right in the center. However, feel free to move about it in any directino and order you wish. This is meant to be my personal interpretation of the campus and the semester, but that does not mean you have to limit yourself to my view. 

At each location on the map, I have included one of the images each class memeber used to visualize their sites to the rest of us, as well as two photos I took. One is from very far away from the spot, and the other is much closer. I would sit in each spot until I found a shot I could take that i believed captured an element of this specific location that had previously been unseen. By doing this, I hope I challange your preconcepts of the observations spots we've come to know so well this semester.

Here's the link to the Prezzi. Please view before continuing to read!

            Just like writing this reflection, figuring out where to start my journey in creating this final product was the most challenging aspect of the project. When I first came up with the initial idea for this project, the one that sparked what it became, but is not even close to what it is, I was drawn to the idea of seeing something entirely different just by focusing my attention on a drastically smaller space. This is an idea I had started to contemplate as I was creating my final Teach-In. I was particularly pulled all semester to the cliché we kept returning to: can’t see the forest for the trees. Honestly, for the entirety of the semester I thought of this saying as an excuse. An excuse for not looking closely enough, an excuse for not paying attention. Or at least not paying attention to what mattered. If you could not see the forest, then it’s your own fault for focusing on the trees. As this semester progressed and we began discussing other environmental issues, I started to wonder, what’s so bad about just seeing the trees? What’s wrong with seeing that trees that makes the forest so preferable? 

            I think this is why I was so pulled to Morton’s discussion of what we focus our energies on. He made me question everything I thought I had learned so far this semester. He made me rethink the forest I was building in my mind in terms of the trees I had grown. In his call to rethink our focus on local issues, I was simultaneously frustrated and finally satisfied. On the one hand, I was forced to rethink our focus on small local issues as representations of the whole. The quote that Morton criticizes for being too local basically summed up, to me, what we had been trying to do all semester. We had been trying to refocus our energies from large issues by focusing in on tiny ones that made sense to us: the site-sits, Morris Woods, Ashbridge park. We were little kids going into our backyard to try to learn about the world. Of course we were occasionally unsuccessful. Morton finally gave me a reason why.

            Morton calls us to rethink the way we look at nature, to “challenge the assumptions that ground ecocriticism” (Morton, 9). He ants us to get away from local issues because often we “proclaiming a small is beautiful aesthetisised ethic- is in greater measure part of the problem than part of the solution” (Morton, 11).  When we focus all our energies on trying to figure out this one part of this earth, we lose all our understandings of the rest of it. This does not mean local issues are unimportant; indeed, local environments are what hold up our own world view. But by focusing too much on one, we loose sight of the fact that they are all connected. You cannot just focus on one local problem or place because all these locations effect each other. Every location can be viewed from a million different angles, and each problem attached to any locality can be solved in a thousand different ways. In my final project, I tried to share with the class just how interconnected even our tiny environment here at Bryn Mawr is. the micro-cosmos of each individual spot that we each chose to return to all semester can still be seen differently by another’s pair of eyes, even though we’ve spent so many hours observing it.

            I think this is why I felt a little uncomfortable with Carmen Papalia’s statement that we miss so much when we have our eyes open. I do not disagree with him that those lacking or with limited vision are able to perceive in other ways. When I went on the blind field shuttle, I too realized that there were a lot of sensations that I had been backgrounding by putting vision first. But my issue with this theory is that we miss so much with our eyes open too. There are a million things we don’t focus in on, a million aspects of every environment we will never have the time to explore. Yes we miss a lot by having our eyes open, but we’d miss just as much by having them closed.

            This is where I began to develop the shape and form of my final project. After meeting with Anne and discussing my ideas about visibility to her, as well as my new-found interest in environmental art, I decided I wanted to model my map of our personal campus around Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty.”

  I had been thinking about Smithson for a while because he seemed to have been in conversation with both Aldo Leopold and Timothy Morton. In one of his critiques of the museum system, Smithson states that ““our land ethic, especially in that never-never land called the ‘art world’ has become clouded with abstractions and concepts.” When I read this, I really connected with it. He vocalizes very well why we have such struggles connecting to a place. It’s because we come to it burdened with all our preconceptions of how we’re “supposed to” perceive nature. In reality, though, nature is not supposed to be perceived. It exists and thrives, interacts with itself, with or without us. All out thoughts about it, all our eco-criticism and eco-linguistic criticism; all our site-sit observations and web-events, these are all creations we have made. Nature had not part in this, other than providing the initial stimulation needed to draw these conclusions and make these observations. But the theories and criticisms themselves, those all stem from humans and our own sense of self-importance. As if nature really cares about us.

I wanted to take away the theories, the ideas, the criticism and just show our nature for what it really is. By contrasting a series of three images in each individual’s site, I hoped to provide to everyone a new way of thinking about the places we have been retuning to all semester. I wanted to clear everyone’s mind of the theories that we have been learning all year and just focus on the land itself. That’s my own personal Land Ethic, and I hope you all can join in on it with me.


I want to apologize to those I have not represented here, particularly Aliza and Graham. I have greatly admired and learned from all of your contributions to the class this semester, and one of my greater regrets about this course is never knowing where or what your site-sit spot actually was. I was originally intending to go to Haverford over finals period and take pictures there as well, but as the week progressed, I realized that unless I literally did not sleep at all for an entire week, there was no time for me to make the journey there and back. I am so sorry for this and I hope that I can use your final projects in order to learn more about your space and perceptions about this semester.


I also want to apologize if I misrepresented, in an offensive way, anyone’s sites. I became pretty personally attached to my location during the course of the semester, and thus understand the emotion that this assignment might invoke. These are all my visual interpretations of our shared campus; I am sorry if I did not represent your site correctly or captured the wrong area. To me, though, going to each place, sitting there, and spending time finding the perfect thing to zoom in on in that area was my way of reflecting on the semester by looking at each individual location in a new way.