July 20 Reading Response – Kwon “Introduction” and “Genealogy of Site Specificity”

Kwon’s Introduction addresses the definitions of “site” in order to unfold the development of site- specific art and delimitates them in three main ones which are: phenomenological, social/institutional, and discursive. In her “Genealogy” chapter she examines the relation between art objects and other elements such as place, economic and political terms, the art market, the art institution, etc., to finally conclude with a more contemporary definition of site- specific art.

Kwon locates the emergence of site- specific art as a response to the modernist movement that dealt with a “more autonomous and self- referential, thus transportable, placeless and nomadic” work of art. The site, on the contrary, became the tangible physical location where an art work would exist and which allow the viewer to have a context that included a space as well as a temporality. Later on, the idea of the location was challenged through a more conceptual understanding of art, and the site morphed beyond physical and spatial qualities. Like Kwon reframes it “to be specific to a site is to decode and/or recode the institutional conventions so as to expose their hidden operations…”. As these explorations continued on developing, the focus on site- specific art stopped relying solely on its relation to space and began examining the dynamics of art with the art institution transforming“the site”into the medium where art would become placeless, ephemeral, performative, etc., leading to a site- specific art that dematerialized the site by dematerializing the art work itself. The social and political concerns that artists had towards the issues of their times became more visible and as the site became more fluid so did the discipline of art, where not only the art institution was being questioned and not just by art on its own.

Today’s site-specific art is expected to have a discursive link between the work of art and the institutional frame in which it exists, here the discursive link is not a final aspect of the work but an ongoing process. The multiplicity of meanings that the site may acquire allows the artist to engage in a more profound political discourse and public questionings can be better represented than at earlier stages of this artistic movement.

Kwon acknowledges that site-specific art still has questions about aesthetics, authorship, mobility, commodification and capitalist resistance that have yet to be answered, but the importance of tracing a didactic timeline is clearly helpful to locate ourselves within this theoretical frame. However, I still have my doubts on where to trace the boundaries that separates site-specific art with non-site-specific art, within the contemporary performance, installation or documentary type of art. How is a critic able to find such fine similarities that can eventually create a whole new movement? How can we be sure that the evolution of site-specific art has not created another movement, or that is in fact still part of the site-specific tendency? I understand the need to categorize things in order to have a clearer understanding of them, but how can we differentiate them when they seem so similar?

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One comment

  1. Aleks

    Andrea – You identify the three paradigms of site-specific art that Kwon establishes, and raise some useful questions at the end. Understanding the nature of the discursive site is crucial as it moves the site away from a fixed physical space or the institutional frameworks of the art world. What are the implications for artists when the site, as Kwon writes, is defined as “a field of knowledge, intellectual exchange, or cultural debate” (26)? To discuss tonight!

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