My writing is taking me further and further from “writing.” Writing has become for me a record of reading. What I currently find most interesting about conceptual writing is the engagement with Robert Smithson’s concepts of the ‘site’ and the ‘non-site.’ Robert Smithson, while best known as a landscape artist, also wrote on the relationship of the written word to sculpture and art, treating language as “a material entity, as something that wasn’t involved in ideational values”. The site / non-site relationship both troubles and informs conceptual writing. Smithson writes that his “sense of language is that it is matter and not ideas—i.e. ‘printed matter’”. Smithson’s dichotomy of site and non-site, is explained by Gary Shapiro as where the site is “the source of material or the place of a physical alteration of the land” and the non-site “its parallel or representation in the gallery”. Smithson articulates this differentiation as a means of troubling the gallery space, as interfering in expectation of how the gallery economy is constructed, where the non-sites are “maps that point to an area” outside of the gallery space proper, although Smithson’s claiming them as ‘maps’ is troubled; he explains that “the pieces that I do on a landscape are maps of material, as opposed to maps of paper”. The site, then, is “a place where a piece should be but isn’t. The piece that should be there is now somewhere else, usually in a room”. Sol LeWitt, in his “Sentences on Conceptual Art”—thirty-five sentences which operate both as a manifesto and as a piece of conceptual art in their own right—postulates that
28. Once the idea of the piece is established in the artist’s mind and the final form is decided, the process is carried out blindly. […]
29. The process is mechanical and should not be tampered with. It should run its course.
This shared processual base for conceptual art and conceptual writing is not to suggest that conceptual writing is a temporally-displaced adjunct to conceptual art, but instead that the two can be seen to share æsthetic values, and that conceptual art can be understood as a moment of Oulipian “anticipatory plagiary.” As defining as Smithson’s articulation of the site/non-site relationship, LeWitt’s statements on mechanical procedurality are also vital for conceptual writing, as “[t]o work with a plan which is pre-set is one way of avoiding subjectivity”. LeWitt and Smithson’s statements on mechanical procedurailty and resistance to humanist subjectivity seems even more relevant. LeWitt and Smithson wrote in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a generation of writers later, and these statements seem even more charged. In his 1968 statement “Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth projects,” Robert Smithson proclaims that “poetry being forever lost must submit to its own vacuity; it is somehow a product of exhaustion rather than creation”.