“Site-specificity in a Shifting Field”

I came to Korea hoping to continue making a contribution to visual culture. After many discussions with friends, here and abroad, I came to the conclusion that my efforts had to be easily movable and multi-layered. Therefore, sitecited will be more than a web journal, but rather an integral extension to a larger, future, activity in a physical location—a flexible and adaptable entity that will respond to both sides (writers and makers) of the ongoing conversation about art on and off the web—a point of departure for works in situ. The aim of sitecited is to be a forum that showcases and discusses how art increasingly occurs in situ and to ask as many questions as it answers, maybe more; bring artists and writers together in an equal and interconnect way, without privileging one over the other, provide a space for the articulation of ideas, both visual and written; support contributors by paying them and giving their work proper respect.

Shifting mores and artistic attitudes, funding, access, critical and commercial reception and acceptance have over the last 50 years or so, challenged the definition of site specificity. If the earliest entries into this field were defined by their physical, set location, today clearly that which claims to be site specific does not necessarily mean art about a specific location, let alone a locked in position. Without doing an entire review of the history of site-specific work it can be said that the work of the last two decades has taken place where definitions are formed, as well as spaces defined. These works are moveable, re-doable, temporary, even hard to identify and still perhaps difficult to find. What current works in the category are can be comprehended in part through the history of Earthworks or Land Art, projects strategically placed outside the then normal parameters of exhibition in the remotest landscapes in the American Southwest. But with few exceptions, works made since the 1990s bare little or no relation in scale or intention, to those singular and iconic works. Those works, defined as a rupture with the history of sculptural practices,[1] placed the audience in the position of having to engage with the site or place, forcing a dialog that could mean driving far distances to reach the work. Works by artists, such as Smithson, Heitzer and Holt, moved away from the drama of modernist principles to more real theaters of the senses and time.

Today we have quite the opposite sense of time and space, particularly due to media. This is not to say that the origins of site-specific art were not mediated, as their remoteness dictated that their documentation would be the work in fact for most that have seen them. Nevertheless, if these earlier works were can be defined by the geological time of their locations, contemporary site-specific works may be defined by the quickness of sight and technology, or the persistence of vision. What that means for site-specific artists working outside of museums and institutions is that access to their works or their work’s accessibility can be trumped by the very speed at which we move through and take in space. Meaning that depending on where the work is, it may not be seen. In this way, site-specific works in general rely on documentation to support their existence. Furthermore, it seems as we enter fully into this new century that site-specific art can be defined more by where it does not happen, as it happens just about everywhere—online, in the street, on buildings, in discussions, in stores, at home. Additionally and because the global art scene has become incredibly small and large at the same time, with artists and curators traversing the globe in pursuit of exhibition opportunities, following the nearly endless cycle of biennales, artists are more and more likely to make sited works related to these events, rather than actual sites, with the exception of some large scale well funded projects that purport to be sited.[2] The former spaces mentioned are, granted, no longer considered entirely anti-institutional per se, but compared to works made within institutional frameworks or more exactly its authority, these more ambiguous spaces are perhaps where we can find raw, new interventions that embrace anti-instrumental ideas of resistance to institutionalism and administration of culture.

All this is not to say that funding is in someway negative, for without funds artists would make no work. The issue, though, as it relates to site-specific works, especially, shows that funding can and does influence outcomes. For instance, grant applications in the United States will frequently ask how the artist’s work will impact the community. Regardless of intent or methodology, this question requires artists to develop a way to think about their work in relation to the public. Maybe it is cynical to linger over questions how defunding the NEA affected art making. Yet the mandate for institutions to promote educational programming over the last 20 years, created to satisfy the critics of funding solo art projects, have clearly affected both the kind of works are funded and how those works are made. Specifically because work that is funded by government coffers must in some way reflect, if not be representative of the community, as defined by the state. But as community and public are both slippery slopes that are essentially tools of states and governments to appeal to citizen desire for inclusion and identification, yet denied, the only real outcome for artists is, that this kind of management, has diluted artists’ authority as the sole arbiter of content. Of course funding does not preclude agency. Here the concern is that money and support have yielded more complicity and co-optation than may be readily apparent, but more importantly shaped the content and intention of art making.[3]

Ultimately all these concerns rest on a single question: what is at stake in making site-specific art? As the scale of the art world or market, if you will, grows, what constitutes sited work continues to shift. Therefore, this site asks what is site specificity in a moveable world? Does it matter anymore? Where is this kind of work being seen and made and by whom? Has the backlash against galleries and the culture industry in the 1990s yielded anything important for society and culture? How has DIY responded to the chokehold of capital or is it merely an answer to the volume of product or something else?

In this first issue of sitecited, a seemingly small offering, I am pleased to feature an extended interview with Seo Hyun Suk on his latest work Heterotopia, a (wee late) review of the Gwangju Biennale and my first editorial essay. sitecited.com continues to invite proposals for visual works that are have been or are scheduled to be installed and essays about these works.

Julia Marsh December 31, 2010

[1] Rosalind Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” October Vol. 8 (Spring 1979): 30-44.


[2] The Editors, “Inside Out: Art’s New Terrain,” Artforum International, (Summer 2005): 263

[3] For a full discussion of the relationship between site-specific works and community involvement see: Miwon Kwon, One Place after Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004).