April 26, 2007

Transcendence of Site

Administrator’s Note: This week, Antea Roberts grapples with the dilemma of “site-specificity” and the “late Modernist” sculpture of Richard Serra.

Juli Carson speaks of Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc and the controversy surrounding his site-specific piece, but can a site-specific work really be site-specific if it interferes with the environment? Carson states there is “…a dialectic between a work seen to transcend any physical union with its site and a work seen to transcend any physical contradiction with its site” (pg 332). So what are you really trying to comment on with a work of art like this? How the work interacts with the environment or how the public reacts to a work placed in their environment, disrupting life?

Carson goes on to question whether sculpture can be defined neither as architecture nor as landscape. Could Serra’s Tilted Arc be defined as all three? Can sculpture be site-specific in a gallery space? The lighting, public surrounding the piece, and how they fit into the space, [the] environment it’s placed in - a gallery space - is the quintessential site.

Carson tried very hard to bring a new perspective to the debate on Tilted Arc, but I found her trite diatribe about “Father as Source” and “logos as being” a poor linkage to our Earth’s history to one man’s selfish quest through his sculptural/architectural/site-specific piece that ultimately meant more in its destruction that [in] its presence.

Reading for 2 May: Ch. 29: Repossessing Popular Culture by Laura Kipnis.


M. Cameron Boyd said...


To begin a critical discussion of Juli Carson’s essay, let us re-approach your selected quotation in its true context. Two sentences before, Carson states that with the publication of The Destruction of “Tilted Arc,” the sculpture’s presence had become “inextricably bound up with the rhetoric from which it was conceived (late modernist, phenomenological notions of site-specificity) and to which it contributed (postmodernist notions of the discursive site).” She then continues with: “For the ‘object’ destroyed was the very one borne within the modernist dialectic over a work’s physical site-specificity, bound up, as it were, in the logic of transcendence - a dialectic between a work seen to transcend any physical union with its site and a work seen to transcend any physical contradiction with its site.”

This is Carson’s rather elegant consideration of Tilted Arc, both as a physical, now mythological, “object” hatched from those “late modernist” ideas of works that transcend their location, and now (ironically, again) as a “placeless” object, freed of its earth-bound presence as imbued within a postmodern discursivity.

Further still, I find Carson’s archaeological analysis of Serra as origin (the Father) of Tilted Arc (the Son) to be quite poetic rather than “trite,” especially if we now consider that in its demise the sculpture has transcended the physicality of Federal Plaza and sustains new life within a discursive site.

It may also prove enlightening for us to return to Rosalyn Deutsche’s distinctions between an assimilative work that integrates within the environment, and an interruptive work that “functions as a critical intervention into the existing order of a site.” (pg 50)

Nicholas said...

An interesting idea brought up here is the notion of a work functioning through the site of the debate surrounding it. A work that is specific only to the conversation, an "orphaned" work that no longer functions as an object but as an abstracted discussion and idea of what it once was. Would it be possible to name conversation as a possible site for work to operate in? Imagine making something, destroying it then documenting the memory of it then getting someone to summerize the documentation and then discussing the final product.

M. Cameron Boyd said...

Exactly. Furthermore, "conversation" is but a single facet of this "discursive site," as print media, including the Internet, magazines and books, plus seminars, institutional forums and coursework populate and fuel discursivity. Artists need not create work "specific only to the conversation," as artwork that significantly extends upon the ideas and art theories of historicity and "carries it forward" especially inhabits the discursive site.

patrickjdonovan said...

Serra's sculpture may live on in memory and the discussion of it generated by its removal. In this sense it could considered site specific to its discursive context.

Randolph said...

It is perhaps impossible to limit the conversation of a specific artwork. There are no universal signifiers to symbolize anything truly specific outside of its current context. If one takes curatorial pracitce into consideration, all works are in a way site specific, as they are forever compared and contrasted to their surroundings. The image's continuity or lack thereof with its surroundings allows for a much broader discussion than any artist living, or dead could hope for.