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May 6, 2006

At the last seminar of the programme for research fellowships in the arts Per Gunnar Tverrbakk had a very interesting presentation/introduction to a discussion. As I am myself reading extensively on issues of site and installation art at the moment I asked him to mail me his revised project description. I don’t think it is available anywhere online but the initial project description can be found here.

Much of the discussion is based on the book One Place After Another – Site Specific Art and Locational Identity by Miwon Kwon. Kwon propose three paradigms for site specific artnamed as phenomenologic social/institutional and discursive (these are my translations back to English of the terms from Per Gunnars translation into Norwegian).

In similar fashion to performance and installations site-specific art was born out of the collapse of media-specific art and can be understood as a critique of the idea of the autonomous meaning production of the modernism and an implicit reaction against the commodification of art. This was achieved through actions in real space and time phenomenologic approaches to physical spaces sites and architecture. This discussion resembles the discussion of e.g. the work of Phillip Morris by Kay and Bishop. The image to the right is Untitled (L-Beams) by Morris 1965 one of the works discussed by Bishop.

A further development was represented by institutional critique moving focus from the art work itself to the regulating framework. The site now became the museum or gallery space itself being exposed as a non-neutral space. The site is no longer just a physical place it is also consitituted by social economical and political processes.

A third discursive orientation is related to a general social and political orientation in the arts. Social issues replace institutional critique as processes and products moves from the gallery into into the public sphere. Any locality is interweaven of layers upon layers of discurses representations and meanings continuously negotiated and in flux. "The distinguishing characteristic of today’s site-oriented art is the way in which the art work’s relationship to the actuality of a location (as site) and the social conditions of the institutional frame (as site) are both subordinated to a discursively site that is delineated as a field of knowledge intellectual exchange or cultural debate. Furthermore unlike in the previous models this site is not defined as a precondition. Rather it is generated by the work (often as content) and then verified by its convergence with an existing discursive formation. – (Kwon).

Per Gunnar moves on to identify three diffent approaches to this sort of discursive practices. One aproach is based on participation oriented towards negotiation and dialog with the artist pointing to social injustice and failures. At the fall seminar half a year ago Alfredo Jaar did a self presentation. Most of his projects clearly seems relevant to this discussion. Another kind of practice investigates and disclose specific locations identities and positions pointing to existing social and culturall tensions but do not attempt to solve them. Yet another kind of practice have a more direct destabilicing and undermining character. Per Gunner mention Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) as an example of this practice.

(Small distraction: Why do both CAE and Jaar use Flash?)

During his presentation I was stuck by the instrumental attitude shared by all three approaches. A site exist in order to be acted upon and the purpose of the artist and the art work is instrumental aiming at some sort of social and political critique. Although I really enjoyed several of the projects presented by Alfredo Jaar as well as his presentation in general I also felt a potential danger with artists working in this way potentially traveling the world shopping for conflicts to exploit.

If de Certeau claims that “space is a practiced space” (quoted by Kay p. 4) this to me seems to be the extreme variant of it turning totally blind to the place. The place only comes into existence when it is acted upon as a kind of social analogy of the frog’s eye discussed by Brian Eno. If this approach to the world is representative of human perception at large our eyes are indeed not moving. We are totally blind to our surroundings until it starts moving.

Consider this an open thread more will be added.