Partially Buried American Pie

is an assemblage featuring a cherry pie that is partially buried in dirt taken from the site of Roberth Smithson's ongoing performance and earthwork, "Partially Buried Woodshed", which was set into motion on January 22, 1970 in Kent, Ohio.

The pie is also prepared with an internal speaker (connected by visible green wires to an external amplifier and iPod) that plays Don McLean's 1971 hit "American Pie" on loop. The speaker's vibration causes the pie crust to break and the dirt to erode, resulting in a slow explosion of cherry pie filling and mud. Subsequent exhibitions use new pies; however the dirt is recycled.

In his 1968 essay, "A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects", Robert Smithson urges artists to assert the value of their individual experiences of time over art history, which, he argues, consolidates power in the commercial art world. He calls for the identification of time as a physical material that exists in nature and is manipulated by artists, and warns artists not to discard this property of their work by pandering to false critical narratives:

"For too long the artist has been estranged from his own 'time.' Critics, by focusing on the 'art object,' deprive the artist of any existence in the world of both mind and matter. The mental process of the artist which takes place in time is disowned, so that a commodity value can be maintained by a system independent of the artist... Artists with a weak view of time are easily deceived by this victimizing kind of criticism, and are seduced into some trivial history."

In Smithson's view, artworks manifest their own time-scale. "Partially Buried Woodshed" is an example of Smithson's effort to create artwork that exists in its "own time" and defies art historical objectification. Smithson hired a crew to dump tons of dirt onto a shed until the central beam cracked. The work unfolds as the building erodes and, in his words, slides back into "the physical abyss of raw nature.


Ironically, "Partially Buried Woodshed" has been involved in complex historical narratives since its inception. On May 4, 1970, several months after the artwork was established, the Ohio National Guard shot and killed four students and wounded nine others on the Kent State campus in the midst of Vietnam protests. Shortly after, someone inscribed (and photographed) a commemorative note on the woodshed. With this gesture, what was at first a minimalist abstraction of entropy became a symbol of tragedy and political unrest.

Since then, many artists have created art historical artworks that use "Partially Buried Woodshed" to symbolize the cultural context of the 1960s and 1970s:

Eventually, Kent State, who technically owns the artwork (valued at $250,000), built parking lots around the site and planted shrubs around it to hide the mess.

I set out to create my own adaptation that would address both the physical erosion of the site and the intellectual erosion of Smithson's earthwork concept by history and symbolism. To accomplish this, I gathered dirt from the site to fully bury its geologic physicality with metaphors.

Two months later, an oak tree began growing in the bin of dirt. Unfortunately, it did not survive.

November 2015 Update: Kent State has made new moves in relation to "Partially Buried Woodshed", which they now officially acknowledge. The school has cleared away some of the shrubs in the parking lot island and has put in a commemorative plaque identifying the site.

Partially Buried American Pie was exhibited at Sequence of Waves at St. Cecilia's in Brookyln, January 29, 2011.