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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Question from Discussion

An interesting question raised in class today was the idea of whether a piece of art can become site-specific. While looking at Chapter 10: "Good" Versus "Bad" Objecthood: James Welling, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Jeff Wall in Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before, Fried considers the idea of an object being "grounded." He writes: "The idea seems to be to eliminate any and all surplus of information about the exact circumstances, physical and other, in which a given object is embedded but at the same time to leave no doubt that the object in question, as the Bechers put it, is not moveable like a cup or a sewing machine but rather is 'strictly connected to the ground'".

The examples of the Statue of Liberty, the triangles outside the Louvre, and the Eiffel Tower were given as pieces that, through history, have become so grounded in their sites that it's difficult to imagine the place without them. Can sites such as these truly be considered site-specific? If not, how do we categorize them?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Vanishing Point (2008): Award-winning site-specific choreography

As previously discussed, site-specificity has become prevalent in dance performances in recent years, especially in major cosmopolitan areas such as New York City and Hong Kong. In 2008, Tom Pearson and Zach Morris presented their evening-length dance piece, Vanishing Point, as part of the City/Dans series in New York City. In this piece, the dancers and choreographers utilize the beautiful architectural structure of St. Mark's Church to create a stirring example of site-specific dance choreography. The white columns of the church are simultaneously evocative of both a sanctuary and the old rural south. The performance, depicting a fictional funeral at the altar of the church, explores familial relationships that have been complicated by secrets, lies, and liquor. The New Yorker described the piece as "musings on mortality and heritage, innapropriate revelations, repeated runs smack into the altar wall, and dance segments that are touching and deep [that] add up to a vague sense of of Faulkernian doom, set to good music." This award-winning piece is only one example of site-specific dance choreography performed and created by the dance group Third Rail Projects.

Click here to view a couple segments of Vanishing Point.
Click here to learn more about Third Rail Projects.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Jochen Gerz & Esther Shalev-Gerz's "Monument Against Fascism"

In 1986, a monument called the "Monument Against Fascism, War and Violence -- and for Peace and Human Rights" was constructed in Hamburg, Germany. Two artists, Jochen Gerz and Esther Shalev-Gerz,designed a structure which has come to be called a countermonument. (Countermonuments tend to criticize traditional monuments by stating that a monument can only do so much and that it is the people who must take a stand.) Once their design was approved, the city wanted to place the monument in a park, however, Gerz and Shalev-Gerz chose instead to place their piece in a busy shopping center. Their design was by no means aesthetically pleasing but their purpose in designing this monument was to raise awareness. Due to its placement, the monument was noticed by many, catching many an eye. In addition to its ugly design, the artists intended for it to contrast its surroundings and hung pens from each corner of the 12-meter tall pillar, inviting people to sign their names on it. An inscription at its base read "We invite the citizens of Hamburg and visitors to the town, to add their names here to ours. In doing so, we commit ourselves to remain vigilant. As more and more names cover this 12 meter tall lead column, it will gradually be lowered into the ground. One day it will have disappeared completely, and the site of the Hamburg monument against fascism will be empty. In the end, it is only we ourselves who can rise up against injustice." The monument was eventually lowered entirely into the ground in 1993, sealed into the ground by a piece of glass through which people can still see the top of the column. Though the monument itself is not as easily visible as it was when first erected, its location in the middle of the busy shopping center reminds passers-by of its significance.
The original monument:

What can be seen today of the monument:

Questions to consider:
-Can all monuments be considered site-specific?
-If the artist intends for the piece to eventually disappear, is that considered "destroying the work"? (Remember Richard Serra's quote: "To move the work is to destroy the work".)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Grace and Composure

Today's in-class discussion of Fried's Why Photography Matters began with a focus on the work of French photographer Roland Barthes. Barthes exhibits concepts known as punctum and studium. The latter refers simply to the content of a photo, while the former focuses more on the effect a photo has. Being a belletrist, i.e. one who places importance on aesthetics, Barthe often muses on his photos with an air of intuition, rather than education. Indeed, many true works of art, or photography, possess a certain "greatness" that is often unable to be truly explained. Stemming from the works of Barthe, and the aforementioned concepts, the discussion shifted to the ideas of aesthetics in photography, named grace and composure. Many photos, while appearing to come off as natural, may in reality be quite contrived. Several photos were shown, with many proving to be quite revealing in their intentions. As the topic of grace was brought up, a specific importance to the human body seemed to arise. The idea of grace, or gracefulness, generally refers to a certain elegance and relative ease with which a body (or object) interacts with its environment. Similarly, the concept of composure highlights a certain harmony between the movements of the body, in relation to the surroundings as well.
As the discussion of grace and composure moved forward, the idea that came first into my head was that of an athlete on his/her competitive field. To witness such a great physical specimen display such unique and awe-inspiring body control, as well as control over, say, a ball, is perhaps one of the truest forms of grace. This spark of inspiration, combined with the dovetailing concepts aforementioned got me thinking of how they might be essential to the idea of site-specific art. Indeed, one of the basic underlying concepts of site-specific art is the piece's relationship with its environment, or, one might argue, the grace with which it exists harmoniously with all aspects of its habitat. To combine the world of athletics with that of site-specific art is no easy task, however I was able to find an excellent example in the form of the iconic Michael Jordan. Playing with the Chicago Bulls for his entire career, MJ won 6 NBA championships and set innumerable records en route to becoming the greatest basketball player of all time. To pay homage, the City of Chicago erected a bronze statue of His Airness outside of the United Center, where the Bulls play their home games. Displaying Jordan flying through the air, in the same pose seen on the Air Jordan line of Nike products, the statue is a truly graceful representation of a player who played the game of basketball more beautifully than perhaps anyone in history. The fact that it stands tall on the outskirts of the arena, in the heart of the city in which Jordan forged his legacy, makes it a truly site-specific work, as well as an aesthetic and masterful representation of the high-flying sport of basketball.

Studium, Punctum, & Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes retains a sense of profundity in his work. His ideas of transforming everyday things into true science, the punctum & the studium, and his criticism in general have had great impact on the world of modern art and criticism. Focusing on the punctum and studium, today I will look at its relation to the situation.

As noted, images will outlast their producers. That being known, it is interesting to see that situation, something that is so dynamic, can be captured in film. We can look at any given photo and without hesitation point out that there is a situation, whether manufactured or natural; that is, the difference between theatricality and absorption. Going back to my own photos, there is a distinct punctum that is quite irritating in almost every picture. The absorption that is associated with candidness is something I firmly believe comprises any punctum. Looking at Nicaragua, I see that the punctum is a product of the situation itself. If the nuns were not walking one way, the soldiers another, there would be no situation (of course depending on your standards for a situation), hence no punctum. It is, as I see it very difficult to have art devoid of a punctum, for almost everything creates some sort of tension, even if it’s the aesthetics of the thing that please you in the first place.

This is not to say the punctum is limited to the realms of photography, for its applications extend far beyond. Let us look at Chris Burden’s performance art. The crux of performance art, especially Burden’s, lies at the situation; Burden puts himself in a situation in which he leaves the outcome to the external stimuli that are involved (whether or not they want to be).

Every situation carries with it a “punctum,” a sense of tension, of “pricks.” The sensation is familiar, mostly because from situation to situation we feel this. We are pelted with punctums thus desensitizing us, making it easier to find in works of art.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: "Surrounded Islands"

Like Francois Davin, Christo and Jeanne-Claude employed hundreds of members of the community of Greater Miami, Florida in order to create "Surrounded Islands." This work, in which eleven islands in Miami's Biscayne Bay are surrounded by over 6.5 million square feet of floating, pink fabric, required the help of seamstresses, contractors, and engineers alike. The woven polypropylene fabric exteded 200 feet from each island out into the bay. According to their website, "The luminous pink color of the shiny fabric was in harmony with the tropical vegetation of the uninhabited verdant island, the light of the Miami sky and the colors of the shallow waters of the Biscayne Bay." The artists and helpers worked on the project for three years before its official presentation (1980 to 1981). The work stayed on display for two weeks after its completion.

original sketch

completed work
For more information on Christo and Jeanne-Claude, click here.

Francois Davin: Site-specific Art for the General Public

Francois Davin is a relatively unknown artist that has dedicated most of his career to creating site-specific works. He was born in Paris, France in 1945. He currently lives in Lahaymeix Meuse, France. At a lecture given for the University of Tasmania in Australia, Davin stated that he believed site-specific art was the only way for contemporary art to reach the public. The work shown below is entitled "Le blues de l'escalier" which translates to "Blue on the Stairs." In this work, Davin painted where water would flow, should it come down the stairs and form a puddle around the drain. The general public can appreciate this work because it is a little more skin-deep and easily understood than some of the more abstract pieces that we have looked at. Not only does Davin's work make art more accessible to the general public, but he also uses members of the community to help him create some of his works. Another one of Davin's more famous works is entitled "Golden Tree of Broceliande." For this work, Davin required the help of more than 250 workers to help him clean and carry the chestnut tree to the site.

"Le blues de l'escalier"

"Golden Tree of Broceliande"

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Absurdist Art, Silliman, & Situation

Ron Silliman, as discussed in class is very into the idea of streaming data and the human interaction. We, as humans, often avoid the idea of intangible streams of data and try to freeze things, like pictures do, in order to deal with it, this incomprehension of what real life is. Society, to this day, is irrational, and we can look at some of the absurdist art movement work (from the 50's) in order to see how they dealt with it. Specifically the theatre of the absurd played a huge part in the reflection of modern life during that time- for an example through Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" click here. Essentially it was a way to deal with the absurdity of real life.
The idea that theatre remained one of the most widely used mediums for absurd art shows situations immense importance. Again, we must assume that theatre is the construction and replication of situations in order to express an idea. In fact, situations are often more telling than anything that can be painted or captured in a photograph. It also is a lot easier to mimic the speed and stream of real life through a medium that utilizes real life.
As time passed, so has absurd art-in fact it is possible that it has lost its meaning completely. Here's a link to a blog that is constantly updating with modern day absurd art. Mostly it deals with celebrity absurdity, but it's quite interesting to see such a different type of absurd art. It also deals very little with situation, other than the fact that it is pretty much commentary on the social situation that exists in society today.
We can also go all the way back to 1896, and the production of the play "Ubu Roi," a precursor to the absurdist movement. Its humor took stabs at the bourgeois and the situation of the society during that point in time.
It's not far off when we look at Silliman's book, mostly because his poem goes to great lengths in trying to cope with the absurdity of modern life. Experience, we are told, comes all at once and it is incredible difficult to channel it the way that the absurdist movement people did. Silliman's book doesn't grapple with situation all that much, but is an ode to a movement that used situation in ways that were larger than life; maybe just a reflection of life.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Asheville Flatiron

A local piece of site-specific art you may have seen is the large black flatiron found in Asheville, NC. This iron structure was fashioned by artist Reed Todd in the shape of a laundry iron used in the early 1900s and placed in downtown Asheville across from the historic Flatiron Building. (Flatiron buildings earn their name from their formation, usually taking on the shape of an isosceles triangle.) The flatiron structure mimics not only the name and shape of the building, but also the time period in which the Flatiron Building was created.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Gas Works Hill Sundial

Located off of Lake Union in Seattle is Gas Works Park. One of the park's more well-known features is what is known to the locals as "Kite Hill", a man-made hill placed specifically where the wind has been known to pick up. Though it might be a bit of a stretch to call the hill a piece of art, it is site-specific, as are its features. The pathways leading to the top are placed strategically so that, when climbing up the hill, the walkers can avoid being overtaken by the wind. One of its most interesting features, however, is a sundial/calendar positioned on the top of the hill. Artists Chuck Greening and Kim Lazare fashioned and positioned this sundial so that when the sun shines upon it, a person can read both the time of day and the season based on where their shadow falls. The sundial serves both an aesthetic and a functional role due to its specific placement.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Karaoke Korner

Went to the city (New York city that is) today and a great deal of situation related thoughts began to brew. What is a man without a situation? Are we only as good as what we're placed into? Are the exceptions all that exceptional?
Look, I know this extends into the realms of the nature/nurture argument; tabula rasa or predisposition? Who knows? This is some real deep stuff, so it's not to be taken lightly. There was a homeless man with a microphone at Penn Station singing for cash (or coin-essentially currency). That same man on stage is a "star." Wasn't half bad either. How far do we allow situation to extend? I mean, this man is in a slew of situations; financial, present, past, public, internal-the list goes on. Is this man, without me, in the same situation? The answer seems to be a resounding no. But that seems strictly social. For instance if that same man feels internally indifferent with, or without, people than maybe it's only changing the situation for those who we see as "neutral" in the surrounding area. It sure was awkward for me when I didn't shell out cash for his performance, but what if he didn't give a damn and just kept on living his life? Got me thinking, maybe had I not been running for a train back to Long Island, would things have been different?
So I'll pose the question again: how far do we allow situation to extend its arms?
Hopefully not too far.
Like the nature/nurture debate you can't seem to give either too much leeway, otherwise you'll find yourself in a pit with other stubborn radicals. I don't believe too much in anything (somethings I do, don't get me wrong), and this seems to fall in that list: situation, to me, poses an endless number of implausible & indeterminable questions.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Oppenheim's One Hour Run

One artist whose work is predominately mentioned in the "Materials" section of our book by Nick Kaye, is Dennis Oppenheim. Oppenheim first entered the performance art world because of his critical take on the "studio ideology of the gallery." Many artists and art critics of the time believed that a work of art should be able to stand on its own and " should be isolated from everything that would detract from its evaluation of itself." This assumption seriously diminishes the perceived value of site-specific art, considering that the basic theme of this type of work is that it cannot stand alone and is completely dependent on its surroundings. As is most obvious in his work, Oppenheim strongly counters this assumption, stating, "...activity on land is charged, not passive like processed steel. Land holds traces of a dynamic past, which the artist may allow to enter his work if he so wishes." This backing of site-specific art aruges that when a work embodies its surroundings, it becomes more energetic than work that does not.

One of Oppenheim's most famous performance pieces was 1968's One Hour Run, in which he created a six-mile, continuous path of snowmobile tracks in St. Francis, Maine. While this is an example of the ephemeral nature of site-specific art, it is also a perfect example of an artist completely embodying his site.

Oppenheim's One Hour Run

For more information on Dennis Oppenheim, click here.

References: Site-Specific Art: Performance, Place and Documentation by Nick Kaye. Pages 151-152.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Tyga, Rap, & Sartre

I was thinking about situation & music today, specifically I was listening to Tyga's song "Cali Love" off his album "Outraged and Underaged." The song just kinda reminded me of a modern version of Sartre's preface in his "Situations." Of course, it's a completely different time period and we seldom keep lookout for the communist overthrow in our daily lives (of course it may be different in China and North Korea), but someone like Tyga expresses so much "situation" in his music. Tyga, a Compton native, knows more than most do about the American condition (let us use that as a variable for situation); the poor, crime-infested, violence-ridden, and "high culture" devoid lives of the Americans in places like Compton, Detroit, (parts of) Harlem, and whatnot. In his music you'll find not much else than the likes of his specific situation, at least in terms of content. Similarly, we can recall that Sartre so obviously pointed out that censored work is incomplete (duh), but it is truly unbelievable that a disparity in culture can have such vast differences in art; a California slum, opposed to a communist run group is unable to access so many amenities to even create art, yet somehow produces soulful art, whereas a communist culture that Sartre speaks of will never reach that level.
Rap is, conceptually, one of the most situation based art forms that exists today. Almost every song is about movement from poor situations to better situations. It's almost impossible to ignore. Without rap, there would be very little music that would rely so heavily on situation for its content.
Of course there are orchestra performances that are situation based and such, but that isn't really enough to go around. It is so uncommon and most people don't actually have any involvement or knowledge of those, at least not the way they do with hip hop and rap.

Monday, March 1, 2010

El Greco's "The Burial of Count Orgaz" (1586)

Although site-specific paintings are not as common in today's society, history has shown us many examples of paintings designed to fill a certain space. Most of these paintings were portraits commissioned by royals and other aristocrats who desired to fill a space in their homes. Though most of these paintings found a place in a member of the upperclass's personal collection, certain pieces were designed to fit into other (more public) spaces.

A prime example of the latter type of site-specific painting is "El entierro del Conde Orgaz" ("The Burial of Count Orgaz") by El Greco. This painting was commissioned in 1586 by the church of Santo Tome in Toledo after the death of Count Orgaz, a pious man who had dedicated much of his time, money, and effort to charitable deeds. The painting was designed to fit into the space above Count Orgaz's tomb inside the church of Santo Tome. For this reason, the painting has a uniquely rounded top so that the edges can fit in the space provided (as shown below).