In early December, news outlets were reporting on the finding, published in Nature journal, that human-processed materials outweigh all non-human biomass on the planet. Imagine this human-processed mass as a geode: a shell coating of “other materials” including plastic, followed by inner precipitates of metals, asphalt, bricks, gravel and concrete.(1)

Displaced, processed, and refined rock materials are the largest part of that mass, which reminds me of Robert Smithson’s Non Sites and other earthworks. Bringing rock fragments, maps, and architectural drawings together to describe an outdoor site within art gallery walls, Smithson confronted viewers with experiences of the human contribution to the geologic record...all the way back in the 1960s.

(There’s plenty of writing on this idea, I’ve realized, just google "Smithson" and "Anthropocene")!

I love his description of the forms of exurbia:

“…the entire landscape has a mineral presence. From the shiny chrome diners to glass windows of shopping centres, a sense of the crystalline prevails.”(2)

(image: "Robert Smithson and Richard Serra at Spiral Jetty Gianfranco Gorgoni, 1970" by POET ARCHITECTURE is marked under CC PDM 1.0. To view the terms, visit

(1) Elhacham, E., Ben-Uri, L., Grozovski, J. et al. Global human-made mass exceeds all living biomass. Nature 588, 442–444 (2020).

(2) Robert Smithson. The crystal land, 1966. Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt papers, 1905-1987. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

© 2020 by Anne Ehrlich.

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