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GabrielVillalobos
ProfessorDavidRodowick
ProseminarinFilm&VisualStudies:Theory
October15,2012
OnePlaceAfterAnother,byMiwonKwon
Thetermsitespecificityhasproliferatedinrecentdiscussionsregardingartthatestablishes
anexplicitpositionwithinthecontextofitsproductionorreception.Commonlyassociated
withinstallationart,urbansculpture,urbanintervention,publicart,andrelationalart,this
theoreticallychallengingtermimplicatesanequallycomplexanddiverserangeofartwork,
practicesandattitudes.
OnePlaceAfterAnother:SiteSpecificArtandLocationalIdentity,byMiwonKwon,isa
significantrevisionofcontemporaryartisticpracticesthathavebeenassociatedwiththe
notionofsitespecificity.Kwonoffersanaccountofthediversityofrelationshipsthathave
been conceived to be possible between the work of art and its context, discussing the
aesthetic,critical,andethicalproblemstheserelationshipsgenerate.
Thetermsitespecificartdoesnotdenoteaparticularlanguageormediumofproduction;
rather, it suggests a more conceptual approach to the role of art within a certain
context.Thiscomplicatesthetaskofidentifyingrecurrentthemesorcommonprocedures.
Kwonevaluatesavarietyofprojectsinordertomapthediverseinterpretationsand
outcomesofthisartisticapproach.Usingthisanalysisasevidence,theauthorargues
thatthetransformationofsitespecificityhasinfluencedcurrentperceptionsofthe
artistandthesocialimpactofaworkofart.Moreover,thisdiscussionrevealsthe
particular situation of every individual subject within the world, as well as
contemporarynotionsofplace,identity,community,andthepublicrealm.
OnePlaceAfterAnother istheresultofresearchpursuedbyKwonforherdoctoral
thesis, which she presented in 1998 at the School of Architecture at Princeton
University(Kwon,viii).Thepreviousyear,anarticlebyKwonwaspublishedinthe
journalOctober.Whencontrastingthisarticletothebookpublishedfiveyearslater,it
ispossibletoidentifytheunderlyinginterestsandfurtherdevelopmentofKwons
research.Withminorchangesandadditions,theOctoberarticleisreproducedinthe
firsttwochaptersofthebook,andinformspartoftheconclusion.Asshestatesinthe
introductionofthebook,herobjectiveistocriticallyexaminesitespecificitynot

exclusivelyasanartisticgenrebutasaproblemidea(Kwon,2).Kwonisparticularly
interested in the implications of sitespecificity for artistic, curatorial, and critical
practices.

OnePlaceAfterAnothercontinuestobeuniqueamongthepublishedworksthataddress
thisparticularartform.Otherbooksfocusingonsitespecificity,suchasErikaSuderburgs
Space,Site,Intervention:SituatingInstallationArt;andClaireDohertysSituation,arein
factcollectedessaysfromartistsandcritics,andwerepublishedafterMiwonKwonsbook.
Hers is therefore an unprecedented scholarly examination ofthis practice. This means,
however,thatKwonsaccountisinfluencedbyherownconcernsandherpositionwithin
theartworld. Asafirstincursioninsitespecificity, OnePlaceAfterAnother omits
artisticexperiencesandtheoreticalviewpointsthatcouldberelevantforitsanalysis.
Itcanbearguedthatwhileherbookoffersavaluableframeforthestudyofsite
specificart,thisframeis partialand requiresfurtherinquiryandcomplementing
literature.

ThemanyplacesofSiteSpecificity
Theemergenceofsitespecificartinrecentdecadesechoesthecriticalstandpointofart
practicesofthelate1960s,whileaddressingthelimitationsposedbypublicsculpture,Land
Art,conceptualart,andotherformsthatchallengedthetraditionalrelationoftheartwork
toitscontext.Throughsculpture,Minimalistartistsquestionednotonlythisrelationship,
butalsothewayitdeterminestheviewersperceptionoftheworkofart.Thisimpliesthat
thepresenceoftheviewerasabodilyentitywasconceivedasnecessaryfortheworktobe
meaningful.
Theinterrogationoftheboundariesofartwithinitscontextincitedtheexaminationofart
institutionsasneutralmeaningproducingcontexts.Towardsthe70s,artistssuchasHans
Haacke,MichaelAsher,andMierleLadermanUkelescreatedworkthatconfrontedthe
museumandgalleryasexclusivespaces,aspoliticallydrivencorporateentities,andas
consumersofartturnedcommodity.Thesitesthattheseprojectsaddressarethusnotsolely
physical,butalsoinstitutional.Kwonpointsouttheparalleldematerializationofthesite
and the artwork through these explorations verifying a more general and ongoing
dialecticalunhingingofcontemporaryart.
Thisallowedforamoreconceptualunderstandingofthesiteofaworkofartnot(only)asa
particularphysicallocation,butasadiscursivecontext.
Fromthelate1970sonwards,sitespecificworkhasdealtwithmattersofgender,race,
sexual preference, human rights, political abuse, and ecological detriment among other

issues.Ithasalsofoundtheoreticalandpracticalaidinawiderangeofdisciplinesand
spheres,fromphilosophyandanthropologytoarchitectureandurbandiscourses.Miwon
Kwonschematizestheseconceptionsofsitespecificityphenomenological,institutional,
and discursive not as chronological, mutually exclusive developments but as
simultaneousandcontendingmodels.
As sitespecificity has become increasingly popular within the institutional circles of
contemporaryart,ithasbroughtaboutdaringconsequencesfortheartists,aswellasforthe
critical reception and appraisal of the work. The persistent drive for possession and
historicalrevisionismhasmotivatedmuseumsandgalleriestocreatereproductionsofwork
thatwasinitiallyconceivedtobeirreproducible.Thishasbeencombinedwithatheoretical
examination of sitespecific work within the frame of a particular artists aesthetic
language,discursiveinterestandprofessionaldevelopment,ratherthanasstatementsonthe
complexity of a particular context. At the same time, institutions across the globe
increasingly commission artists who work sitespecifically, inducing them to become
nomadicserviceproviders.
Thecriticaledgeofsitespecificityisostensiblycompromised.MiwonKwonwarnsofthe
extenttowhichsitespecificityhasbecomeamethodorstyle,superficiallyreceivedas
criticalityandonceagaincommodifiedforthemarketandthemasses.
Thebookrevealshowthetheoreticalcomplexityofsitespecificitycanbegraspedbestby
analyzing concrete examples of its application. Kwon discusses and contrasts the
experiencessurroundingRichardSerras TiltedArc of1981andJohnAhearnssculpture
projectforSouthBronxSculptureParkin1991.Theseexperiencesprompttheauthorto
reviewthesuccessiveviewsonpublicsculpturebyculturalauthoritiesandgovernment
agenciesintheUnitedStatesfromthelate1960stothe1990s.Thefirstinstanceofpublic
artintheUS,undertheparadigmoftheArtinPublicPlacesProgram,producedagreat
numberofmonumentalsculpturesinopenurbanspacesacrossthecountry.Mostofthese
modernist abstract sculptures by internationally renowned artists (such as La Grande
Vitesse by Alexander Calder, 1967, or Red Cube by Isamu Noguchi, 1968) are self
referentialandestablishnorealdialoguewiththeirurbansetting.Theywere,andstillare,
deemedpublicduetotheirplacementinopen,accessibleplaces.
Thisapproachsoondrewcriticism,asthesculpturesoperatedmoreasonesidedmeansof
selfpromotionfortheartiststhanastrulypublicventures.Newguidelinesdeterminedthat
publicartworksshouldengagewiththesite.Thiswasmostlyunderstoodtomeanthat
publicartworkhadtoserveapublicfunctionthatwouldimprovethelifequalityofthecity
bythe1980s,worksofartinpublicspacesservedasstreetfurnitureanddecorative
elements.Authoritiesonceagainequatedtangibleembellishmentwithsocialadvancement.
Thiscontinuestobeanauthoritarianstance,sinceitimposesaparticular(official)aesthetic
totheimageofthecityandpresupposesarightwayofusingandenjoyingpublicspace.

ForMiwonKwon,Serras TiltedArc promptedthedebatearoundthedefinitionof


publicart,theconsequencesofplacingartinpublicspaces,andthenotionofsite
specificity.TiltedArcwasa12foothigh,120footlongsteelplatewithaslightcurve.
Thisworkwasplacedin1981intheFederalPlazainNewYork,anopenspacesurrounded
bygovernmentbuildings,andaftertensedebate,hearingsandlawsuits,removedin1989.
The sculpture was soon criticized for obstructing people crossing the plaza, for its
uglinessanduselessness.ComplaintswerepresentedagainstSerra,onthegroundsthat
thesculpturethreatenedthephysicalandmentalwellnessofthecommunity.Someeven
arguedthattheworkhinderedvigilance,enablingvandalismandcriminalityandeventhe
possibilityofaterroristattack.
ItisinterestingtonotetheuseoftermssuchaspublicandcommunityintheTilted
Arcdebate.Thesewereusedindetrimentofarealcommunityandanauthentically
democratic, public space. The victimized community that ultimately removed the
sculpture was really the bureaucracy of the adjacent buildings. These employees
alreadyexertedtheirownmodalityofprivatizationandcontrolofthePlaza;thisis
evident in their worrying over security and vigilance. In this way, Tilted Arc
demonstratedtheinoperabilityoftheFederalPlazaasapublic,democraticspace.
RichardSerrasworkevidencedtheproblemsofplacingartinpublicspaces.Against
the idea that art embellishes the city and thus improves the life quality of its
inhabitants, Serra used art to denounce a dysfunctional and contradictory public
space.
The experiences surrounding this sculpture motivated cultural authorities in the United
Statestoreexaminetheirunderstandingofpublicart.Itwasacknowledgedthatapublic
work ofart should involve a form of active interaction with the public, especially the
communitythatitwilldirectlyimpact.However,producinganartworkwiththeapproval
orcollaborationofacommunitydoesnotguaranteeitssuccess,asJohnAhearnscase
shows.
Ahearnwascommissionedin1991forapublicartprojectfortheSculptureParkacrossthe
local police station. A resident of South Bronx, Ahearn had been interacting with the
communityfortheproductionofhisworkformanyyears.Hiscastsculpturesdepictlocal
residentsoftheBronx,focusingontheLatinoandAfricanAmericancommunity,andhave
beenexhibitedatmainstreamvenuesaswellaslocally.Nonetheless,thethreesculptures
thathecreatedforthecommissionwereseverelycriticizedbythecommunity;particularly
bymembersofthecommunitywhodidnotknowAhearn,andwhowereoffendedbyhis
depictionofsubjectstheydeemednegativelystereotypical.Theyallegedthathisportrayal
of dodgy people of color (who were neighbors and friends of Ahearns) as
representativesoftheSouthBronxperpetuatedthenegativeimageofthecommunity.Itis
precisely the notion of community that generated these complex issues; as all those
involvedbelievedthatAhearnsprojectshouldstemfromandreflectthecommunityina

truthfulway,yettherewasneveranexplicitagreementonwhoexactlyconformedsuch
community.
Throughthisexample,Kwoncastsherdoubtsovertheassumptionthatacommunity
based art project will necessarily produce a truthful, inclusive and advantageous
outcomeforthecommunityinquestion.Sitespecificworksofartthatoperatewith
social contexts are expected to benefit, reassure, or otherwise validate peoples
identityandqualityoflife.Conflictsusuallystemfromthemultilayeredrealityof
these identities and lifestyles, the organic composition of communities, and the
complexrelationsanindividualartistcanestablishwiththem.
The experiences surrounding Serras and Ahearns projects reveal the challenges of
working in the public sphere. Miwon Kwon compares these cases to the experiences
derivedfromtheexhibitionprogramCultureinAction,curatedbyMaryJaneJacobforthe
cityofChicagoin1993.Thisprogramsoughttobringaboutcommunityspecificprojects,
bynowtermednewgenrepublicart,throughwhichthespectatorwouldbecomeanactive
cocreator.Theshiftfromtheuseofthetermssitespecificartandpublicarttonew
genrepublicartrespondstoaconcernbyanewgenerationofartistswhoadvocatea
more critical, collaborative, and researchbased approach to site than their
predecessors.Pointingoutthedistinctionbetweensiteandplace,artistslikeSuzanne
LacyandMarthaFlemingandcriticslikeJeffKelleyalludetoanew,humbleattitude
that allows for truthful collaboration with real people. As the study of the
projects for Culture in Action shows, this attitude is not exempt from
misinterpretationorconfrontation.
Kwondistinguishesfourconceptionsofcommunitythatdrovetheprojects.Suzanne
LacysFullCircleexemplifiesthemodelofcommunityofmythicunity,anartificial
communityproducedthroughtheartistssearch foracommontrait.Inthiscase,
LacysetupcommitteesofwomentonominateprominentwomenofChicago.These
femalerolemodels,whointentionallyrangedinprofession,socialstatus,race,andso
on,werecommemoratedthroughonehundredbouldersthatwereplacedacrossthe
downtown area. As Kwon points out, this project was in reality based on a
reductionistviewoftheartistofadiversecollectionofpeopleasacollective,withno
furtherengagementwiththepeopleofChicago.
Anothermodelappliedin CultureinAction wasthatofsitedcommunities.These
areexistingorganizationswithdefinedentities,withwhichanartistorartistcollective
establishesatemporalrelationship.Inmanycases,suchasthetwoprojectsstudied,
theartistsarriveatapreconceivedconceptualizationandstrategyfortheproject,and
then are paired up with fitting organizations by the curating authority. Here,
althoughthecommunitybeingengagediswelldefined,andtheresultingoutcomemay
beaproductiveone,theartistmaintainsitsstatusasintellectualauthor.Accordingto

Kwon, some have even condemned this model as abusive, as the community in
questionisonlyemployedfortheconsecutionoftheartistsowninterests.Asimilar
issueariseswhenanewcommunityiscreatedfortheproductionoftheproject,andis
dissolvedwhenitconcludes.Thesetemporaryinventedcommunitieshavealsobeen
regarded as manipulated by critics, serving as agents for the concretion of an
extraneousintent.
The fourth model of community engagement identified by Kwon produces a new
communitythatprevailsafterthecompletionoftheartproject(or,rather,theprojectis
maintained by the newly constituted community after the initial engagement with the
artist).ThisisthecaseoftheprojectsinitiatedbyartistcollectiveHaha,andartistIigo
ManglanoOvalle.BeingresidentsofChicagothemselves,theybenefitedfromprevious
relationships; these bonds sparked the conceptualization of the projects as well as the
assemblage of groups of people that would carry them out. Both projectcommunities
persisted until the time of Kwons research. As the author argues, this hometeam
advantage an artist belonging to the community with whom they work does not
guaranteeamoresuccessfulormeaningfulartproject;thiswasevidencedinthecaseof
JohnAhearn.Itisalsodebatablewhetheracommunitybasedartprojectismoresuccessful
because it endures. These assumptions would imply aparticular expectation of what a
contextspecific work of art should produce. The cases studied by Kwon manifest the
theoreticalcomplexityofanalyzingandevaluatingsitespecificandcommunitybasedart.
Thelastchapterofthebookfurthersthediscussionoftheethicalrolethatanartist
assumes when working sitespecifically. Communitybased artists claim that their
workexpandsartbeyonditselitistinstitutionalboundaries andactuallygenerates
beneficial interactions. However, critics like Grant Kester question the ethical
neutralityoftheartisttoengageobjectivelyanddisinterestedlywithacommunity.He
isskepticalofwhathetermsaestheticevangelism,thenotionthatartistscanreally
improvethelivingconditionsofothersthroughtheirart.Thisnewnomadartist,who
approaches a community with the institutionally granted authority to generate a
critical reading of its conditions, may well be promoting new forms of colonizing
consumption of authenticity. The dialectical unhinging of contemporary art
allegedlyupholdsitscriticalauthority,butatthesametimemaybereinforcingthe
alienation of its subjects. This is said of artists like Santiago Sierra, who openly
exploitshiscollaboratorsformenialandsometimesdegradingtaskswhilegaining
internationalacclaim.

Kwon concludes the book by assessing the creative potential of the postmodern
artistsowndeterritorialization.Theinterestinauthenticity,memory,meaningand
placeemerges asareaction tothehomogenizingforceofglobalcapitalism.Other
viewsembracethisnomadiccondition,celebratingimpermanenceandambiguityas
progressivequalitiesofadvancedartpractices.DonDeLillosplayValparaisoallows
Kwontoreflectontheideaofbeinginthewrongplace.Valparaisoisaportrayalof
a contemporary businessman who finds himself within an overarching system of
globalconnectednessthatdisplaceshimfromhisdestination.Thisnarrativesuggests
thatouridentitiesandsenseofplaceareshapedmorebynondecisionstowardsthese
systemsthanbyactiveselfformation.
Sitespecific practices are thus experiments on the relational possibilities of
contemporary society. These rhyzomatic bonds are based on adjacencies and
distancesbetweenentities,andthereforecannotbeexpectedtoproducedefiniteand
univocal meanings, outcomes, or identities. Not only should artistic practices be
understoodunderthisparadigm,butcriticalandinstitutionalroleswithintheart
worldaswell.
Kwonconcluyeellibro,evaluandoelpotencialcreativodelapropiadesterritorializacin
delartistaposmoderno.
Elintersporlaautenticidad,lamemoria,elsentidoyellugarsurgecomounareaccinala
fuerzahomogeneizadoradelcapitalismoglobal.Otrasopiniones abrazanestacondicin
nmada,celebrandolaimpermanenciaylaambigedadcomocualidadesprogresistasdelas
prcticas artsticas avanzadas. La obra de Don DeLillo Valparaso permite Kwon para

reflexionarsobrelaideadeestarenellugar"equivocado".Valparasoesunretratodeun
hombre de negocios moderno que se encuentra dentro de un sistema general de la
conectividad global que le desplaza de su destino. Este relato sugiere que nuestras
identidadesysentidodelugartienenformadenodecisioneshaciaestossistemasqueporla
autoformacinactiva.
MiwonKwon,atravsdeesteanlisisycrticaexhaustivadeobrasyejemplos,define
finalmentelasprcticasdesitiosespecficoscomolosexperimentossobrelasposibilidades
de relaciones entre la sociedad contempornea. Y aclara que al estar sujetos estos a
mltiplesposibilidades,nosepuedeesperarproducirsignificadosdefinidosyunvocos,
resultados o identidades. Esta situacin explica el porqu deberamos entender dicha
prcticadelsitioespecficocomounparadigmaenconstantereinterpretacin.

ThesituatedvalueofOnePlaceAfterAnother
ItisevidentthatKwonsconcernsleantowardsthetheoreticalimplicationsofthevarying
interpretations of sitespecificity. The book is therefore not an account on all possible
relationshipsthataworkofartcanestablishwithitscontext,beitphysicalordiscursive.
Aswehavesaid,thecasessheexaminesallowhertoverifythemultiplicityofreactions
thatasitespecificworkofartincites,andthedialecticalredefinitionofsitespecificitythat
stemsfromsuchexperiences.

Inthissense,oneofthegreatestvaluesofKwonsbookisherdescription

of the complex panoramaof criticalthought that is implicatedin this


modalityofartisticpractice.Therichnessofherdiscussionsofthecase

studies provides an insight of the challenges of working in the public


sphere.
Ontheotherhand,thefactthatherfocusismoreonthetheoreticaldebatethanon
theaestheticpossibilitiesofsitespecificityraisesthequestionofwhetherthebookcan
be received as an objective and inclusive study of this practice. The omission of
relevantartistslikeGordon MattaClarkorAllanKaprow,orofexperiences that
stemfromotherartformsliketheater,soundart,orstreetart,mayrevealabiased
emphasis on the inheritors of visual art that serve the authors arguments. The
analysisisfurtherlimitedbecausetheartistsdiscussedareallbasedintheUnited
States.Itisunclearwhetherthiswasaconsciousdecisionoftheauthortolimitthe
scope of her research, or her book is part of an Americanspecific debate on
contemporaryart.ConsideringKwonsparticularconcernfortheglobalizationofart
practices,itissignificantthatshefailstomentionifanyrelevantsitespecificpractices
existinothercountries.
It could also be argued that an exhaustive, revisionist account would not reflect the
theoretically complex nature of sitespecific art. It may be that any study of such an
intermedial model of art necessarily places more importance on its ambiguity and
variability. Inasmuch as sitespecificity has come to involve social relationships, it is
evident that acriticalanalysis willadopt asociological standpoint. Regardless,Miwon
Kwonsbookundoubtedlyoccupiesaquitespecificplacewithinthetheoryandstudyof
contemporaryart.
Itcanthusbeinferredthat,whilethisbookoffersavaluableandunprecedentedbasisfor
the study and discussion of sitespecificity, a more detailed analysis requires
complementing with other literature. Because of its focus on the social facet of site
specificity, OnePlaceAfterAnother couldberelatedmorewithbooksthataddress
relational forms of art (such as Nicolas Bourriauds Relational Aesthetics, Grant
KestersTheOneandTheManyorClaireBishopsArtificialHells),thanwithstudies
that focus on defined formats like land art, installation art, or experimental
architecture.Anyscholarfocusingonaparticularstanceofsitespecificartorrelated
practicescanbenefitfromKwonsoverview,andthenproceedtootherappropriate
literature.
Practiceslikesitespecificartnotonlyrevolutionizetherelationshipbetweenartist,
workofart,andcontext,butalsodefytheirstudyandcritique.Thepluralityofthese
practicescomplicatescommontermsorobjectiveinterpretations. Suchchallenging
models for art production confront traditional forms of theoretical enquiry,
demandingofthecriticalucidandlearnedstandpoint.Inthissense,theyachieve
their quest in renewing the institutions and discourses of art, compelling them to
becomemorealert,informedandplural.

WorksCited
Kwon, Miwon. One Place After Another: SiteSpecific Art and Locational Identity.
Cambridge:MassachusettsInstituteofTechnology,2002.Print.
.OnePlaceAfterAnother:NotesonSiteSpecificity. October,Volume80(Spring,
1997),pp.85110.Print.