Space, Place, Site – Critical Spatial Practice

In producing artworks outside the gallery new forms of curating have increasingly emphasized the importance of multiple sites. The three sections of this paper, ‘Between Here and There’, relate current discussions concerning off-site curating and site-specific art to the critical debates around site that emerged in connection to minimalist and land art in the late 1960s and theories of space and place in contemporary cultural geography.

Robert Smithson’s dialectic of ‘site’ (non-gallery) and ‘non-site’ (gallery), developed in the 1960s and early ‘70s, could be described as the first exploration of relational sites through art practice. The first section examines the current interest in locating work outside the physical confines of the gallery in relation to Smithson’s dialectic. The Dia Center for the Arts, located at 548 West 22nd Street in Chelsea, New York City, part of a much larger network of artworks sited across the city and the US, is taken as a point of departure. The section also looks at the UK, (specifically the work of Andrea Zittel at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham and Adam Chodsko at the Camden Arts Centre, London) where programmes of spatial dispersal in recent curatorial practice have located art outside the gallery in multiple sites, city-wide or even country-wide. The term ‘off-site’ has been adopted by many contemporary galleries to describe the commissioning and curatorship of works situated outside the physical confines of the gallery, where, in a strange reversal of Smithson’s concept, the gallery is the ‘site’.

If the relation of artworks organized through space in the first section could be described as a dispersion from an originating point, in the second section there is no reference to the central, if absent, site of the gallery. The second section examines projects, such as ‘In the Midst of Things’ (1999) in Bourneville, where the decision to locate a number of specially commissioned artworks across a specific territory is the strategic and conceptual decision of independent curators. This kind of work takes its inspiration from the on-going projects at Munster and Documenta at Kassel where artworks are curated throughout the city producing a pattern of multiple artworks which come into being at the same moment in time. This simultaneous production of artworks across multiple sites takes up Rosalind Krauss’ notion of an ‘expanded field’ first introduced in 1979 to describe the work of artists producing interventions into the landscape and asks whether contemporary practice raises new questions concerning terminology and method. Is the expanded field best understood in terms of site, place or space? Can the processes of art, architecture and landscape design be better described in an interdisciplinary way as spatial practices?

The third section looks at site-specific art in relation to de Certeau’s notion of ‘space as a practiced place’ and argues that in ‘practicing’ specific places certain art works produce critical spaces. The chapter examines the work of commissioning agencies such as Artangel, London and Public Art Fund, New York, who work with selected artists to produce art in unexpected places in the city. This section describes the artworks produced by such commissioning agencies as constellations, a little like a view the night sky, where each one of the many stars we can see has a different life span. At a given moment, each individual artwork can be understood as an isolated spot, however when viewed as a constellation over time, places in the city are positioned in relation to one another.

Publication Detials: ‘Space, Place, Site: Critical Spatial Practice’, Cameron Cartiere and Shelly Willis (eds) The Practice of Public Art, (London: Routledge, 2008).

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