"To move the work is to destroy the work." ~ Richard Serra

Friday, February 26, 2010

Susan Howe and situatedness

Susan Howe is a prominent American poet born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1937. She has written several books of poetry, including Midnight (2003) and Kidnapped (2002), along with two volumes of literary and poetic criticism. Howe was greatly influenced by Charles Olson, author of The Maximus Poems. Like Olson, Howe manipulates language and textual design in order to fit with the basic situationalism of the poem. One example of this is in her poem, "Rückenfigur." The lines in this poem are broken where the reader would naturally take a breath as to help the rhythm of the poem fit with the situation. In this way, the poem's line breaks and overall textual appearance adds to the meaning of the poem itself.
Below is the first stanza of "Rückenfigur." Notice how each line breaks not where the idea ends, but right about where the reader needs to take a breath. For the full poem, click here.

Iseult stands at Tintagel
on the mid stairs between
light and dark symbolism
Does she stand for phonic
human overtone for outlaw
love the dread pull lothly
for weariness actual brute
predestined fact for phobic
falling no one talking too
Tintagel ruin of philosophy
here is known change here
is come crude change wave
wave determinist comparison
Your soul your separation

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Site-Specificity in Music

Though not as common as other mediums, music can also be site-specific. Various music composers have written pieces with the intention that they would be played in a specific space, requiring a certain number of vocalists, stringed instruments, brass and wind instruments and so on in order to appropriately fill the particular space with their music. John Schaefer, a talk show host for WNYC, comments: "These days most music is made in a studio, or if it's being played live, it's made in a concert hall, or a club and part of the point seems to be that it's portable, it can easily travel from one place to another, from one club to another, from one concert hall to another. And of course in this day of iPods and other MP3 players, you can take your music virtually anywhere. But some music is meant to be heard in one particular place. Some music is actually meant to be part of one particular place." That music is site-specific. On September 3, 2008, Schaefer's show featured a variety of site-specific musicians. Their music draws from various elements, including noises from their surroundings and the resonances off the walls and ceilings within certain rooms.

A question to consider:
Can site specific music be reproduced?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Site-Specificity in Dance

As a basic working definition, site-specific dance involves the artist performing in the real world, using the location and its surroundings as part of the piece. Interestingly, some believe that site-specific dance stemmed from unhappy dancers who participated in dance companies. As a result of this discontent, the dancers left the theater and began to perform in the streets and other locations outside of the theater, combining choreography and improvisation to form a performance piece based on the site picked.
Major areas, such as Hong Kong, now encourage site-specific dance as a means of expressing creativity and hold festivals in order to show their support for the creation of this unique art form. In 2007, Hong Kong introduced the first Site-Specific Dance Festival, inviting people from all around the world to perform in the streets. Since then, other major cities have opened their facilities and invited dancers to create a performance within a certain space. The dancers are challenged to work within the space provided as well as around any other people that are present. Some of the artists provide their own props, allowing passers-by to interact with them, adding to the specificity of the site as well as adding a situational aspect to their performance. However, there are also other artists who act as though they are the only ones in the room, ignoring other people by moving around them. An interesting example of this sort of variety of site-specific dance can be found in Beyond the Threshold: Seattle International Dance Festival.

Questions to consider:
-Can anyone create a site-specific dance? If this is the case, what is the difference, if any, between street performers and site-specific dancers?
-Does having someone else dictate the site in which you perform (such as in these site-specific dance festivals) change the significance of the piece?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Olson, America, & Projective Verse

Charles Olson, one of America's most profound modern poets, created the idea of "projective verse" which, according to him centers around the idea of the poem's lines being reflective of the actual meaning of the poem using breaks to synchronize with the breath of the reader. This is particularly relative to situation in that the work then works with the situation; that is to say it is in sync with the situational being of the poem itself.
Most of Olson's book, "The Maximus Poems," centers around the idea of a modern, American based epic. It largely is influenced by the idea of French Lettrism, an avant garde movement of the early-mid 1900's. Lettrism, specifically in terms of poetry, centers around the idea of the Lettrie, the idea that the poem should be purely formal. It should essentially be, itself, a situation.
A great deal of Olson's work in the book has to do with America's situation in history: the idea that we don't have the background that so many great empires in Italy and Greece had. Thus he writes an epic poem based on a country that is somewhat less than epic.
Repetition, or the lack-thereof, remains important in the idea that the poem mirrors the situation of America. This mirrors America's very brief and original history.
Olson truly had a great deal of groundbreaking executions in the poetry of modern America; his allegiance to the avant garde writing style of French Lettrism and his faithfulness to the attempt at a modern epic were truly great examples of the situation brought into the literary field. His work is recognized as some of the most influential that the past 100 years of writers had to offer.

Site-Specificity in Literature

Until today's class, we hadn't really considered site-specific art in other mediums besides artwork and performance pieces. However, as pointed out in discussion, site-specific art can be seen in other forms, such as literature. The Maximus Poems take place in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where Charles Olson also resided. Due to his familiarity with the place, Olson mentions many specific locaations--street names, neighborhoods, local businesses, neighboring cities--which add a level of site-specificity to his poems. Furthermore, due to the various arrangements of words within his poems, Olson creates a certain level of performance within the text. The poems explore a variety of different formats and compositions, using techniques such as indentations, single and double spacing between lines, prose and verse, sentence/line length variation, and even the shape in which the text lies on the page (straight lines of words as opposed to spiraling words on the page, such as in "Letter, May 2, 1959"). For this reason, there is a site-specific and performative aspect to the poem, which cannot be obtained through listening to or watching someone read the poems aloud. Though Olson himself has read the poems aloud to an audience, the words seem to take on a different format when read and seen as opposed to heard. Without the layout of the words in front of you, The Maximus Poems lose a certain quality. Don Byrd, author of a critical commentary entitled Charles Olson's Maximus, comments that it "is a carefully made book, the juxtaposition of poem to poem sweeping the fragments into a dynamic form. The meaning is often in the interstices. Even blank pages become elements of the design." Similarly, George F. Butterick, one of the editors of The Maximus Poems, says: "Spaces between the lines and sections of the poems and blank pages...were very much part of the meter and rhythm of the book. Besides separating one untitled poem from another, these spaces and blank pages provide a balance of whiteness or its echoing effect, the measure of it, comparable to rests in music." From this, we can gather that a proper reading of the poems require the visual aspect of the texts due to the fact that the words of the poem find themselves site-specific to their location on the page.

Butterick, George F. Editing The Maximus Poems: Supplementary Notes. Storrs: University of Connecticut Library, 1983. Print.
Olson, Charles. The Maximus Poems. Ed. George F. Butterick. Berkeley: University of California, 1983. Print.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Maximus, Ezra Pound & Envelopes

It bears mentioning that situation is a loose term. It's easy to call whatever you want a situation. I suppose when I write about it, it means a great deal more than just the elementary diagram I drew on the board (external forces->neutral stimulus->result), but it is also fairly subjective. To artists, it remains a medium through which they can make points. Avant garde art in particular utilizes the situation to express their beliefs and opinions. I see it as the point in which you cannot discern any more from the physical entity and its naked information.
Today I am going to mention some things about Charles Olson's "Maximus Poems" (which will surely have more written about it in weeks to come).
Ezra Pound's poem "The Cantos" shows its influence a great deal in Olson's work. "The Cantos" is noted to be written in dissections, making it difficult for the reader to discern some information. That is largely situational, being that once you can no longer derive information from the words themselves, the situation at hand becomes largely where we draw conclusions from.
That being noted, one of the dissimilarities that we note between Pound and Olson is Olson's production of his own poem. Both are largely concerned with geographic locality, but Olson produced much of his work in various places. For instance, he wrote poems sporadically and on the spot, maybe on an envelope or whatever was at hand at that particular moment in time, that situation. That fact right there shows how Olson's work uses situation as crux. Without it, his work would hardly be as profound as it is said to be.
It also adds to the sense of discontinuity that is so obvious in both Pound and Olson's work.
I'd like to take a look at some even more recent examples of this discontinuity that is so present in both their work, another work in which situation and historical situation both have an impact on the works overall meaning.
The portrait of "Mrs. Harrison Gray Otis" shown at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art provides (not purposely) one of the best examples of art that relies heavily on situation. It appears to be normal at first, but look closely and notice the child in the backdrop that was painted over during its production. After years and years, the child has shown through phantom-like and it brings almost all the allure to the painting. In fact, without it, it is a very boring portrait. Who knows why the child was painted over. All we know is that this painting's success lies heavily in situation, much as Olson's poem does.
The image of the painting is at the top if there's any interest.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Situationism & Ephemerality

The idea of situationist art, the setting up of "predicaments" in society is most likely the point in which the idea of situation and site-specific art cross.
Situationist art deals with art that is put in one spot and to be moved would mean to ruin the work as a whole. People interact with it. Without the people, the art is also nothing. It is imperative that the work acts as a neutral stimulus and the people are externally acting upon it, I suppose sometimes, it upon them. Either way, a situation is produced and the works meaning varies according to each particular person and their own individual experience.
I find that words are sometimes the best way to talk about things but in this case I find that examples of art dealing with this nature may be more helpful
We can start by looking at the picture on the home page of the blog. The wall was set up specifically in that highly populated area in order so that it would affect many people.
I suppose it would be even more interesting to look at some ways in which people create their own situationist art without knowing. For example, in the field of psychology, a study on social influence was done by having actors go on a street corner and stare up at that building. The more people staring the more people would interact with the group. It puts them in a predicament, that is whether or not to stare.
One last example could be Wake Forest's own David Finn, who not long ago did a public art piece in Chapel Hill, NC. The work was a spine like, low level fence that surrounds a playground. It is interacted with daily and means something different to everyone.
As Giorgio Agamben says, there are two words for witness, the terstis and superstes. Either way, the witness in situationist art is imperative to the work.
There are many examples of situationist art, all of which rely heavily on the interaction between the piece and it's environment. Remember, it was put there for a reason.

Victoria Newhouse on Art Placement

Victoria Newhouse wrote a book called Art and the Power of Placement, which examines a piece of artwork in relation to its site. Though most of her work looks at the placement of paintings, she brings up several interesting discussions concerning various elements that an artist must take into consideration when placing his/her piece.

She describes how the location of a piece can completely change its meaning. In looking at Michelangelo's famous sculpture, David, she tells how it was originally commissioned to be built for a part of a cathedral. However, when the statue was almost complete, Michelangelo wanted to look for different sites for his piece, eventually finding a home in front of the city's town hall. Newhouse comments: "Had the David adorned the cathedral, he would have been a biblical hero; in front of the town hall, he became a symbol of the city government. Placed high up on a rostrum and parapet...next to the entrance portal and boldly facing south toward Rome, the David was seen by many in Florence as a warning to their Goliath: the exiled Medici who opposed the Florentine Republic." Her example of the David statue clearly shows how a piece of artwork can be interpreted differently based on its location.

Another example she gives her readers is that of the Elgin Marbles (Parthenon Marbles), a series of marble carvings once part of the Parthenon. The sculptures depict the birth of Athena and her competition with Poseidon. They were placed specifically at a high point, lining the cornice, intended to be seen from that viewpoint. The idea behind this was to show that the deities resided far above the mortal world, however, the statues were moved. The Elgin Marbles now reside in the British Museum at eye level, stripping the piece of its original significance as well as completely changing its surroundings. Furthermore, the figures no longer face outward, but instead "they now face each other across the gallery's interior, thereby destroying the narrative of the frieze and the overall processional relationship of the different groups to one another." Though the Marbles were moved due to reasons of preservation, we can see how their displacement causes them to lose their significance.

From these two examples, we can see how the site can truly affect a piece and how it has the ability to alter the meaning of the work entirely.

Newhouse, Victoria. Art and the Power of Placement. New York: The Monacelli Press, 2005. Print.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rachel Whitread's "House" (1993)

A perfect example of site-specific work, artist Rachel Whiteread made this concrete installation in order to call attention to a piece of English architectural history which was being torn down to make way for a new public park. She sprayed concrete on the inside of all the walls of a Victorian era house in a London block. The walls were then removed, leaving just the shell of the house. This piece remained installed in the new park for a year before it was destroyed. It was a physical reminder of the cost of progress, even if the end result was favorable (a city park). Something has to be moved or destroyed to make room, and in this case it was a block of historic homes.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Meredith Monk is Coming to Wake Forest!!

Along with several other artists, Monk will be part of the WFU Entrepreneurship department's Creativity Symposium March 18-20

Remaining Thoughts on Today's Presentation

As we discovered through our discussion in class today, site-specific art is a difficult concept to approach. In its most basic sense, site-specific art is artwork created to exist in a certain place. The combination of the work of art and the places in which it is located define its meaning. From this, we can gather that the site-specific work creates a sort of "relationship" with its location.

This idea of site-specificity raises several questions. To respond to Serra's quote above, do you think moving a piece of art destroys it? Or does it only change the significance of the piece? Perhaps for an artist, changing the significance of the work is to destroy it.

We brought up the image of Wait Chapel and the significance of its location on campus. Placed in a prime location on the Reynolda Campus, it is situated at the “heart of a cross” (aligning it on the grid which defines the campus architecture) where everyone can easily view it. Chiefly significant because it connects the viewer with the religious identity (Baptist affiliation) that Wake Forest University once had, if placed in an entirely different setting, would Wait Chapel lose its significance? In this case, is the work site-specific or is it culturally and/or socially-specific?

Questions About Today's Reading

In our book, Site-Specific Art: Performance, Place and Documentation, we pulled several examples of performance "art."

1. One particular artist, Acconci, decided to sit in a small theater and stare at each member of the audience for 30 seconds at a time. He deemed their reactions art (155).

In this case, does the impermanence or changing nature of the piece of art make it less special? Obviously each audience member's reaction changes based on his/her own experience with Acconci's gaze, so the "art" constantly changes.

This also resonates with the presentation on Beauty where the group proposed these questions: Is art (or beauty) private or socially inscribed? Do we find the meaning in our own personal experience or in what others tell us?

2. Another example pulled from the book is of Meredith Monk, who performed a dance in three different places and deemed them site-specific (119-123).

This rasied the question of whether or not works of art can be transferred to different places. Can you re-create a site? Does the re-created site lose its significance?

Environmental Art

A branch of site-specific art which emerged in the 1960s, environmental art is concerned with our relationship to the natural world, attempting to find our place (either in harmony or discord) with the environment. Like most site-specific art it is usually ephemeral (either disappearing or transforming a short time after its creation). It is often designed for one particular location and most modern pieces offer a social or political commentary as well. In addition, environmental art involves a collaboration between artists or people in other disciplines (e.g. scientists, educators, and other members of the community.)

A question to consider:

Does the impermanence of this environmental art make it more or less special?

Site-Specific Architecture

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao Spain

One of Frank Gehry's most famous buildings it is made up of curved, interconnected shapes cased in bright titanium, giving the shimmering appearance of fish scales. At its core is a large, light-filled atrium, which has views of Bilbao's estuary and the surrounding hills. Opened in 1997, it was deemed "the greatest building of our time" by architect Philip Johnson, and although it was designed to house substantial site-specific pieces, Gehry's architecture is often thought to eclipse the artworks it contains. Costing $100m, it paid for itself within just one year, and has been credited with kicking off a cultural and economic revival in the Basque country.

To check out more architecture by Frank Gehry look no further than the ZSR!

Identifying Site-Specific Art

This link shows part of the collection from the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York.

Now that you are all familiar with the concept of this type of art, try browsing the online gallery and see if you can identify pieces which exemplify the site-specific.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Curious about our Title Picture?

The captivating image at the top of our blog is one of the most recognized pieces of site-specific art, Richard Serra's Tilted Arc. Commissioned by the US government in 1981 to be placed in the open space in front of the Federal Plaza in New York City, it consists of a solid unfinished plate of steel (120ft long and 12ft high) placed in the center of the space.

For Serra, "The viewer becomes aware of himself & of his movement through the plaza. As he moves, the sculpture changes. Contraction & expansion of the sculpture result from the viewer's movement. Step by step the perception not only of the sculpture but of the entire environment changes."

The sculptures generated controversy as soon as it was erected, with critics saying it interfered with public use of the plaza and attracted graffiti, rats, and terrorists. Four years later, a public hearing was held to determine if it should be relocated. Serra testified that the sculpture was site-specific, and that to remove it from its site was to destroy it. Additionally he said if the sculpture was relocated, he would remove his name from it. Regardless it was dismantled in 1989.

The Tilted Arc, generated many questions about public art. The role of government funding, an artist's rights to his/her work, the role of the public in determining the value of a work of art, and whether public art should be judged democratically are all heatedly debated.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Reading Assignment for 2/10

General Introduction (p.1-4)

(p. 25)
Performing the Gallery: Robert Morris and Michelangelo Pistoletto p. 30-33
Architecture and Event: Bernard Tschumi p. 41-45
Michelangelo Pistoletto: Le Stanze (just scan...mainly pictures) p. 59-89

Site (p. 91)
Mapping Site: Robert Smithson p. 92-95
Space as Map and Memory p. 119-123

Materials (p. 139)
Embodying Site: Dennis Oppenheim and Vito Acconci p. 151-156, 161-163
Station House Opera: The Breeze Block Performances (just scan...mainly pictures) 170-181

Frames (p. 183)
Repetition and Location: Daniel Buren p. 184-185, 190-192
Framed and Being Framed: Hans Haacke p. 196-198