This week’s homework is to read another article, and comment on it, with pictures. This time the article is called ‘One Place after Another: Notes on Site Specificity’ by Miwon Kwon. It was published in the Spring of 1997 and appears in October 80. I was asked to read the first part of the article (the article had three parts).
The article starts by questioning what site specificity is.
In the past site specificity used implied a connection between the artwork and the location. However, during the 1960s and 1970s this connection was being questioned. Why should you need to change something about a sculpture for a site?
Early site specific art aimed to establish a relationship between the work and its site. The viewer’s physical presence was necessary to render the artwork complete.
Robert Barry declared in 1969 that each of his wire installations was created to suit its setting.
Richard Serra made a similar declaration talking about his famous Titled Arc which he preferred to have destroyed than moved: ‘To remove the work is to destroy the work’.
Other artists, such as Michael Asher, Marcel Broodthaers, Daniel Buren (author of the article about the function of a studio we read a few weeks’ ago), Hans Haacke, Mierle Laderman Ukeles and Robert Smithson have looked at the site in a slightly different way, conceiving it in physical and spatial terms but also in cultural terms. They took into account the class, race, gender and sexuality of the viewer.
The museum space could be seen as a way to actively disassociate the space of art from the outside world.
The idea was that art could not be disassociated from a whole range of sites: the studio, gallery, museum, art criticism, art history, art market, and the social, economic and political pressures of the time.
This became a major concern of artists.
By thinking in these terms, the work changes from a noun, a thing, to a verb, a process, provoking a critical response rather than just a physical one.
By the late 1990s (when the article was written), the dominant drive of site-orientated art had became the pursuit of a more intense engagement with the outside world and everyday life. Thus blurring the division between art and nonart. The main concern became to try to address in some way issues of the time (such as homelessness, homophobia) through the art or cultural activity, so that the aesthetic and art-historical concerns became of secondary concern. This sort of art favours the use of public spaces, beyond the realms of the traditional art world.
Site specific art expanded in spatial terms to include a number of locations (hotels, streets, radio, TV, the Internet) and also it encompassed a broader range of disciplines (anthropology, sociology, literary criticism, computer science, psychology).
This sort of site specific art is physical, social and cultural. Different cultural debates, a theoretical concept, a social problem, a political issue, an institutional framework, a community event, a seasonal event, or an historical consideration can function as part of the ‘site’. This doesn’t mean that the physical site is not important, it just means that there are many more ‘sites’ to consider.
The site is no longer grounded and physical, it is ungrounded and fluid, and perhaps virtual.
The article concludes with three paradigms of site specificity:
- phenomenological (examining human experience without considering objective reality)
- social/institutional (of the time, of the place)
- discursive (moves around, fluid, expansive)
These types of art that take up social issues and which utilize the collaboration of audience groups for the conceptualization and production of the work, can be seen to strengthen art’s capacity to have an impact on contemporary life.
This changes the role of the artist. He / she has a new ‘public’ role. The artist also in a way is delegating the role of author (think Barthes’ idea of the ‘death of the author‘ where the author and the writing are unrelated so when reading a text one should not know the author).
The first part of the article concludes by asking whether the artist is resisting the ideological establishment of art by adopting the ‘nomadic’ principle or are they in fact capitulating to the logic of capitalist expansion (which has also been changed by the ‘nomadic’ principle’)? In other words, despite seeing themselves as rebels and the instigators of protest, artists are in fact reacting in the same way that the capitalist system has to changes in recent years.
Kwon, M., (Spring 1997) ‘One Place after Another: Notes on Site Specificity’ October, Vol. 80, pp. 85-110 MIT Press, Boston