A fundamental gesture in modern painting’s conquest of the canvas was the suppression of the frame. Experimenting freely with the possibilities of painting implied eliminating the ornaments, the unnecessary elements, the parerga. Nonetheless, as Jacques Derrida pointed out, the elimination of the parergon blurs the boundaries of the work; it is impossible to determine where a text ends and context begins. For the wall of a museum, the frame is part of the work of art; while from the work, the frame seems part of the exhibition context. When the frame is suppressed, the exhibition space acquires a relevance that is reflected in the contemporary interest for museum architecture and exhibition design innovation.
The recent work of Pablo Rasgado (Zapopan, Mexico, 1984) explores the pictorial possibilities of museographic ruins. Rasgado recovers exhibition remains and produces reconfigurations, which evoke the development of abstraction and assemblage of the mid-20th century, while alluding also to Renaissance mural painting techniques. Other projects, such as the one recently shown at Steve Turner Contemporary in Los Angeles, retrieve urban walls. The wall fragments are assembled to form abstract surfaces that, simultaneously, reveal their materiality. These pieces are reflected upon in the book Arquitectura Desdoblada (Unfolded Architecture), which was presented at Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City in July.
The archaeological efforts of Rasgado to recover the mute architecture of exhibitions shifts focus from the pictorial work to its context. The museum wall that was once a backdrop to the expressive freedom of the work of art now becomes visible as the object of display. This wall, of which only traces remain, becomes a pictorial palimpsest. The image is thus an assemblage, a composition of parts. This work can never be considered finished as it only communicates traces, whispers. The semantic reconfiguration of the utterances made by this wall suggests an authentic deconstruction of the museographic text.
The unfolded architectures of Pablo Rasgado conceive the exhibition space as an objet trouvé; architecture is matter for pictorial experimentation. The spatial context that legitimizes the work of art now occupies its place; the parergon turns over to the inside. The work of Pablo Rasgado blurs the boundaries between work and context, and reveals the potential of museum architecture as material for experimentation.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer (Mexico City, 1967) is a renowned electronic artist based in Montreal, where he studied chemical physics. Lozano-Hemmer appropriates electronic and digital tools from information systems, medicine and methods of vigilance and control. His work takes the form of installations, interactive objects and performance, in which the spectator plays a central role. As part of the annual Mexican art fair Zona MACO 2012, he presents at Galería OMR six recent projects under the title “X is not the new Y”.
Your work involves electronic and digital technologies, and is frequently described with the term new media. Do you think this term keeps this kind of artwork distanced from the mainstream spaces of art?
I have always rejected this classification. The use of technology in art is inevitable; there is nothing new or original in this. In fact, many of these works relate to past experiments: the first time a live camera transmission was used for an installation was in 1965 in Argentina, by Marta Minujín. Therefore, we could even speak of a tradition in the use of these technologies. I prefer Dick Higgins’s term intermedia art, it highlights the performative character of the work of art; this is a basic characteristic of works that involve technology.
What role does technology play at present? Do you consider a neutral use of technology possible?
The way I see it (and this is a very Canadian perspective) is that we can’t know the world without technology. It is not optional to be outside technology, and it is more of a language than a tool. Nowadays, technology not only establishes relationships with the individual, it even determines their identity.
Now, I like to point out that technology is not something neutral; the main technologies we have today, including the Internet, come from schemes of military power and control. The challenge of the artist is to use technology in a critical way, to generate situations of connection. Not of collectivity, or of the social, but of connectivity. I am interested in the idea that in space there are co-present realities, and that technology can create connections between them.
Therefore, rather than talking about public spaces, would you talk about spaces of multiplicity?
Exactly, spaces of co-presence. Every space is simultaneously public, private, corporate, gender-biased. Spaces present a diversity of layers, and this is not just for urban spaces: we see today the issues of the public and the private in the Internet.
Let us address the virtual. What is the difference between the virtual and the fictional?
The word virtual has been used (and misused) too much. I’d rather talk about simulation, the possibility for the fictional to seem real. I think that for an artist, it is very interesting to be able to create dissimulation, reality that seems fictitious. I admire the virtual as conceived by Bioy Casares, as it invades our own space and even our own body.
Do you consider your work to be site-specific?
I would describe it as relationship-specific. Many of these pieces travel, and the conditions vary so much that you can understand them as performances. They are experimental platforms because you can never predict the outcome even though the variables are always the same ones. The relationships that are created by people who share this experience are not the ones of Politics or History; they are micro-politics and micro-histories, situations of encounter at a small scale.
You have also talked about relational architecture.
I started to call my work relational architecture precisely to avoid the category of the virtual and the category of visual art. I have been inspired by architectural ephemeral interventions such as Archigram’s; I have always been interested to generate volatile, practical, tangible and empirical proposals. I see the relational in the way Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica used to: space is not hermetic but unfolds from the participation of the spectator. The other source is the theory of databases, which were defined with network taxonomy rather than hierarchical schemes.
How do you envision the relationship between new technologies and the human body?
These technologies allow us to recognize our body. Contrary to what Gibson and cyberpunk foretold (our separation from our own flesh), technology leads us to new modes of intimacy with ourselves, an incorporation.
In any picture of my work there is always someone interacting with it. For me the integration of the spectator to the work is fundamental, and these technologies allow me to give the audience power over the work. The most interesting thing is that these technologies that were designed for control purposes, such as biometry, can be used for other, more poetic, kinds of creations. I stand for ambiguity, facilitating multiple readings. Non-imposition, that is hope.
Everything depends on how we use a material, not on the material itself
– Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1938
All architecture involves a physical effort. The task of edifying requires work, force applied to matter. Through construction, the architect introduces an abstract concept to the material world. This introduction is a violent one, as human will confronts the world. As Jan Turnovsky remarks, every architectural concept faces the inescapable materiality of construction; architectural syntax resists being translated into matter. The materials with which architecture is built are stubborn by nature, and reason violently subjects this nature.
For LIGA, Brazilian architect Carla Juaçaba addresses the great efforts involved in edifying. Isostasy manifests the physical, almost seismic displacements with which architecture arranges matter. Stone upon stone, steel merged with concrete, gravity defied: the work of Carla Juaçaba articulates materials decisively.
Architecture implies an effort as matter resists reason, reality challenges human will. A balance is therefore necessary, a truce between concept and construction. Juaçaba’s installation for LIGA materializes the delicate balance inherent in her built projects. With a deep sensibility, her architecture finds a way to organize materials, generating a balance between them.
Nevertheless, the schemes of order can only resemble reality. Impassive order is not natural, but a product of rational human will. Therefore, stasis is just apparent: materials work in constant tension. Architecture reveals itself as a complex balancing act, its momentary equilibrium prolonged indefinitely.
This situation is re-enacted with Isostasy: all of the elements work to the extent of their own intransigence. The arduous balance of architecture is materialized in an act of will, an act estranged from science and approaching magic. Carla Juaçaba has introduced an abstract concept to the material world, and at the same time, she has introduced the persistence of matter to the world of ideas. Isostasy is thus, a construction.
The projects in exhibition at Museo Experimental El Eco by artists Leonor Antunes and Praneet Soi, reveal and confront the aesthetic structures of the museum spaces. In a contemporary context, these pieces provoke a distanced, critical reading of the architectural conditions conceived by Mathias Goeritz.
The installation created by Leonor Antunes (Lisbon, 1972) derives from a revision of the formal discourse of the museum, in addition to other works by Mexican modernists. Her interest in aesthetic modern innovations leads to a dialogue with the greatest minds of the time, which enables her to produce disruptive interventions.
For Discrepancies with Mathias Goeritz, Antunes reinterprets the aesthetics of artists such as Goeritz and Carlos Mérida. These formal languages are reflected in the use of industrial materials and tensile and triangular forms. The patterns on the floor and ceiling mimic the geometries of the museum, and the hanging structures resemble the abstract shapes of an unrealized mural designed by Mérida for the museum. With these interventions, Antunes evokes the formal intentions of these modern artists, while generating a discrepant response. This discrepancy arises from Antunes’s anachronistic re-reading, thus revealing its contemporary condition.
In the case of Critical Estrangement, Praneet Soi (Kolkata, 1971) explores the position of the body within the goeritzian space through drawing. Soi’s work examines the discursive potential of human silhouette as a means to question contemporary political and spatial structures. The body is revealed as object and victim of conflict. This condition is addressed with the possibilities of drawing, as well as media imagery, as spatial formats.
Consequently, human figures appear on paper and cardboard, and inhabit the white walls of the room. By folding these media, the implications of drawing are transferred to space. The pieces of cardboard are cut and pleated to produce spatial drawings; the silhouettes on the walls occupy corners, sometimes invading contiguous walls only fragmentarily.
In this way, drawing overcomes its flatness. The fold generates space; the drawing becomes body. The body portrayed by Soi is a victim of the contemporary condition: Soi obtains his silhouettes from the press, bodies that confront political, social, economic and ecological conflict. The drawn body therefore reveals its contemporary situation; at the same time it invades space and architecture.
These are the last exhibitions at Museo El Eco under the direction of Tobías Ostrander. Since Ostrander took the role in 2010, the museum has generated an authentic effervescence in its commissions and public programs. With the project Museum as Hub, the Eco was linked to an international circuit of museums (which includes Museo Tamayo and The New Museum in New York) that join forces to position the contemporary museum as a place for discussion, criticism and learning. This vision has been the starting point for the series of architectural pavilions and commissioned art interventions, as well as collaborations with other organizations like Liga or Storefront for Art and Architecture.
The projects in exhibition explore the role of Museo Experimental El Eco, both as an institution and as space, among the heritage of Mexican modernism and recent aesthetic explorations. Leonor Antunes and Praneet Soi propose critical interpretations that confront modernist innovations with the contemporary. The Eco thus reinforces its position as a truly experimental museum
Contemporary critique has become fundamental to architecture as a discipline. The theoretical processes that nourish architectural production demand proper spaces for their development. The Mexican firm Productora, with the support of other organizations, has created Liga, a platform for the exhibition, promotion and discussion of current architectural work.
Liga has developed an exhibition program to divulge emergent design practices. The exhibitions take the form of large-scale models that reinterpret the main strategies of the creatives in turn. These shows are complemented with talks that promote new work to the design community and the general public. The first exhibition showed the work of Chilean couple Pezo von Ellrichshausen, who offered a talk in Museo Experimental El Eco.
Recently, Paisajes Emergentes from Colombia were invited to share their work at Liga and the Polyforum Siqueiros. Their practice is founded on a deep understanding of landscape, in the way it creates place and relates to building. This is manifest preeminently in the integration of the ground as a generative component of architecture.
The projects on show take advantage not only of topographical and climate conditions; landscape is understood in its urban dimension as well. A proposal for converting an abandoned airstrip into a recreational complex is particularly relevant, as is a project to recover open spaces in Venice. These works aim to connect city dwellers with landscape, while architecture becomes elegantly discreet.
Projects like Liga allow for the reflection on the role of architecture in contemporary culture. This kind of platforms enriches the discipline through exchange and debate, in an international scale. The proposals set forth in Liga ought to stimulate architectural critique and practice in our country.
The work of Slovak artist Roman Ondak can be associated with a tendency in recent performance art of actively involving the audience, as well as the institutional frame in which it is presented. This summer Museo Tamayo presented three projects that shift the place of the spectator with respect to the work of art; the series was justly titled “The exhibition vanished without a trace”.
Let us focus on the piece “Measuring the Universe”, originated for MoMA in 2007. This work is generated with the gradual accumulation of inscriptions in the walls of an empty room; the spectators leave the trace of their height and date of visit. The piece thus begins as an idea and materializes, paradoxically, through trace. Writing reveals itself as trace; it is the presence of an absence. The absence of the audience thus completes the piece.
This temporal displacement in which writing in the present acts as evidence of an earlier presence, is reinforced with the idea of documenting the process of growing up during infancy. Nevertheless, the practice of measuring children against a wall makes sense with time, thereby reflecting an evolution in the individual. In Ondak’s piece, there is a transient accumulation of individual circumstances. In this way, the condition of trace as evidence of change is lost.
Indeed, we should question the extent to which the piece really profits from an active role of the public. Not only is the personal history of the visitor neglected; the institution mediates his participation. A museum employee, in representation of the artist, makes the inscription of height and date on the wall. The impossibility of the visitor to leave its own trace of presence suggests that this presence is, from the outset, nullified. The spectator is dehumanized: his prerogative as an individual is subdued by his condition of body.
In this way, this particular work shows more similarities with the strategies of Santiago Sierra than those of Tino Sehgal. The spectator is used as a body, without acknowledging his personal history or the individuality of his writing. The museum gathers the trace of a homogenous crowd, devoid of history, reduced to bodies.
All in all, the work remains conceptually and aesthetically rich. The buildup of inscriptions on the white walls of the room creates a singular effect, which results differently in New York, Amsterdam or Mexico City. This work offers an important perspective on the notion of participation in recent performance art, and reinforces the capacity of individuals to leave trace through art.
From the opening of UNAM’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MUAC) in Mexico City, its largest room has featured projects that explore the possibilities of installation art within an institutional space. The development of MUAC’s exhibition program has brought names of the height of Cildo Meireles, Félix González-Torres and, recently, the impressive interventions by Cai Guo-Qiang and Doris Salcedo.
It is necessary to discern the expressive potential of this kind of installations from their aesthetic value. Installation art is a singular medium, as it presents a spatial-discursive situation rather than representing an external reality. It has been described as an immersive art experience, which in the sixties responded to the institutionalized rhetoric of modern visual art. The new medium was thus adopted by the efforts of feminism, sexual liberation and social protest.
This leads to Doris Salcedo, whose work is charged with dense political connotations. The discourse behind “Silent Prayer” is situated in the context of violence and social victimization in Latin America. Even though the work is claimed to emerge from a specific social situation, the installation is not a site-specific work and has been exhibited, with great acclaim, in different settings. Despite the artist’s social rhetoric, this installation is difficult to interpret beyond aesthetic enjoyment.
In comparison, the work of Cai Guo-Qiang for MUAC, “Sunshine and Solitude”, is based on his personal experience of Mexico, and has been completed with the help of local collaborators. This installation materializes a particular interaction between the artist and a specific cultural, social and geographic context. However, on closer inspection, we see Quetzalcóatl, an eagle, the volcanoes of the Valley of Mexico. It seems that rather than reflecting a profound and truthful experience of our culture, Cai offers the stereotypes of what supposedly symbolizes Mexico. It may be due to this perspective, as opposed to other artists like Ai Weiwei, that Cai Guo-Qiang stands as the politically correct artist of China.
It is therefore important to discuss the extent to which installation art, situated in institutional spaces today, is an effective medium to communicate or materialize specific yet external social conditions. Cai’s intervention, like Salcedo’s, offers an immersive experience in which the visitor can establish a spatial, physical, relation to the work of art. In this way, they are true pieces of installation art, as they are aesthetically effective. Despite this, the inability of Cai Guo-Qiang to go beyond cultural stereotypes can be compared to the inability of the spectators to empathize with the victims approached by Salcedo, exclusively from her wooden tables with soil.
Even so, “Silent Prayer” is not just a call to empathy. This and other works by Salcedo have suggested a certain role of fabrication as a healing process. Consequently, the installation is the result of an artistic process in which the situation of others allows the artist to produce. A similar situation could be argued for Cai Guo-Qiang’s processes, which derive from understanding local powder and from close collaboration with local hands.
In addition, Salcedo’s installation is not limited to condemning a particular social situation; the political impotence of the individual, especially the artist, is also addressed. The piece symbolizes silence, absence. Its mute nature becomes clear. Then again, is it intentionally silent, or is it ineffective as a vehicle of communication? Is the installation at MUAC a medium, or the result of an artistic process of a more relational nature?
We have said that sociopolitical activism has predominated in the history of installation art. Nevertheless, the true value of this medium lies in the kind of experience offered to the visitor: an integral, unique and personal experience. Through this immersive experience installation art activates the visitor’s reflective mechanisms.
It is possible therefore to say that, beyond the discourse that support (or justify) a piece of installation art, its richest potential lies in the possibility for the spectator to recognize this discourse in the spatial situation that surrounds him. This is enhanced when an installation establishes bonds with relational processes, as the last decades of contemporary art have shown. The interpretative possibilities for the spectator open as an installation stays mute. We find, then, an artistic medium that leaves questions unanswered, a silent art.
A persistent theme in the contemporary arts has been its own role within society. In the face of generic and globalised consumerism, which has conquered many spheres of culture, art has allowed to reflect upon the notions of history, identity and authenticity. Diverse disciplines of art have produced works that deal with the relation between art and its contexts.
An interesting strategy among these practices is site-specificity. The goal of creating an aesthetic object linked to a particular place is ubiquitous in the history of art. Nevertheless, specificity acquires new meanings in our post-historic, post-modern, and cyber-globalised present. Various authors, such as Miwon Kwon, Erika Suderburg, James Meyer and Rosalyn Deutsche, have explored the underpinnings and possibilities of this tendency.
The study of contemporary, site-specific art can begin with Land Art. The artists related to this kind of art, also called Earthworks, dealt directly with landscape in response to the limitations imposed by art institutions. For Robert Smithson, the museum is a non-place, a space devoid of history, meaning or social relevance. Smithson’s works, as those of Richard Long, Walter de Maria and others, exposed the exclusory nature of museum and gallery spaces.
The use of natural materials in pieces like Michel Heizer’s ‘Double Negative’ (1969) or Smithson’s ‘Spiral Jetty’ (1970) corresponds to a preference for the ephemeral, also accounting for environments and early installation art (although, ironically, ‘Double Negative’ is preserved in the unchanging desert). With ephemeral pieces, these artists tried to reduce the art market and institutions’ control over the artwork. However, the main characteristic of Land Art works is that they are site-specific; they are impossible to recreate fully, and are located well away from the traditional spaces of art.
The relation between artwork and site has also been extensively explored within the city. Gordon Matta-Clark has been significant on this matter. This artist found houses that would be demolished, and made cuts, extractions and assemblages. Even though some of the fragments would later become conventional in museum shows, the explicit intervention of architecture was most innovative.
Matta-Clark denounced the abuses of the housing market, which in his opinion produced cages for a passive, resigned population. It is noteworthy that most of his interventions took place in derelict, immigrant or African American neighbourhoods. His works were also ephemeral, inasmuch as the houses were destined to destruction. Architecture was thus used as an element of assemblage and recycling, a site proper, onto which art could work.
By the 70s, important museums had taken interest in installation art as a serious medium. Artists such as Robert Morris, Dan Flavin, Michael Asher and Bruce Nauman received commissions for exhibits at MoMA and Whitney. Although they created installations specifically for these shows, they were not able to alter the physical structure of the museums. Therefore, the installations were mounted inside the galleries, creating spaces in a superficial, theatrical way.
In contrast, alternative galleries offered artists more freedom for experimenting with architecture. Thus, in 1970 Georges Trakas created ‘E (the piece that went through the window)’ and ‘D (the piece that went through the floor)’ for the 112 Greene Street Workshop. The first piece was a wood and glass structure tensed by a rope that went out the window. The second one consisted of a hole in the floor that allowed for visual continuity between the two storeys of the building. In another experimental space, in 1976, Michael Asher removed the doors and windows, opening up the space to the outdoors. This action transformed the building itself into an installation about the immediate outside.
Other sites which art engaged with were public spaces. A noteworthy case is Richard Serra’s ‘Tilted Arc’. This work was placed in 1981 in the Federal Plaza in New York, and after tense debate, hearings and lawsuits, removed in 1989. For Miwon Kwon, ‘Tilted Arc’ opened up debate towards the definition of public art, the consequences of placing art in public space, and the notion of site-specificity.
‘Tilted Arc’ was a 12-foot-high, 120-foot-long steel plate with a slight curve. It was placed at the center of the Federal Plaza, a space surrounded by government buildings. Soon the work was criticised for obstructing people crossing the plaza, for its “ugliness” and “uselessness”. Lawsuits were filed against Serra, on the grounds that the sculpture threatened the physical and mental wellness of the community. Some even argued that the work hindered vigilance, enabling vandalism and criminality and even the possibility of a terrorist attack.
Richard Serra’s work evidenced the problems behind placing art in public spaces. 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. For Serra, an artwork is site-specific as long as it interferes with the political structures and power agents intrinsic to that particular site. Serra also argued that working site-specifically is working against architecture, as architecture materialises the political, economic and social status quo.
It is similarly interesting to note the use of terms such as public space, community, democracy or liberty in the debate towards ‘Tilted Arc’. These were used in detriment of a real community and an authentically democratic, public space. Not only was Serra criticised, but also were the authorities that commissioned the work in the first place. On the other hand, the victimised “community” that ultimately removed the sculpture was really the bureaucracy of the adjacent buildings. These employees already exerted their own modality of privatisation and control of the Plaza; this is evident in their worrying over security and vigilance. In this way, as Serra argued, ‘Tilted Arc’ evidenced the inoperability of the Federal Plaza as a public, democratic space.
This case has shown how art can be used to confront the politics of space. ‘Tilted Arc’ and the debate surrounding it are only relevant for the Federal Plaza. This differs from artworks that convey a certain spatial condition, but are aimed at a generic audience and can be transported to any site without losing its effectiveness. Another issue involved in the ‘Tilted Arc’ debate is the idea of public art, a popular tendency in 1970 urban and public policy in the United States and other countries. The placing of monumental sculpture by artists like Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Claes Oldenburg, Eduardo Chillida and Sebastián, reflects an intention to decorate the city. Art was (and still is) thought of as an antidote to the urban problems produced by modernity.
This reveals the assumption that improving the image of a city results in an improvement in social conditions. This attitude is thus related to neoliberal projects involving museums and cultural complexes in derelict cities, more in the interest of financial and market value than in social renewal. It is believed that the scale and location of a work of art (and the fame of its creator) is enough to make it socially relevant.
Quite the contrary, these actions privatise space, as it is used as an extension of the museum for the promotion of a certain artist. Moreover, authorities reveal their own cultural haughtiness, assuming that society gets cultivated by encountering art in everyday life. In most cases, large-scale sculptures neighbouring corporate or government buildings or crowning main road crossings, are in reality self-referent, with scarce relation to context. Needless to say, these objects are alien to the local communities. Even when they work as street furniture, there is an implicit imposition on the right way to use or appreciate a space.
It is therefore important to note the role of social forces in an authentic site-specific work of art. James Meyer distinguishes between a literal site and a functional site. The latter is no longer limited to a physical place, but can take the form of a determined social or political situation or theoretical discourse. For Meyer, this form of site-specificity is present from the moment environments explicitly questioned museums and institutions (or perhaps since Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’). Environments, like Land Art, not only criticised the museum space, but the museum itself as a political situation, as a site in terms of aesthetical discourse.
Over the last decades, curators, critics and art institutions have developed this perception of site-specificity, seeking to engage with local communities and social issues through art. Some recent artists have also used this strategy as a means to express their own situation within the art world. The work of Sophie Calle, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Gabriel Orozco, among others, reflects their dislocated position in a globalised network of artistic values. Nicolas Bourriaud finds in these and other artists a relational aesthetic: art that generates possibilities of social engagement and confrontation within a certain context.
The work of thai-argentine Rirkrit Tiravanija confronts the identity of spaces for art. Both inside and outside of the museum he recreates his apartment, which visitors can inhabit. He himself offers free thai food that he cooks live during the shows. Apart from symbolising his foreign condition through the food, Tiravanija reverts the hierarchy between artist and public and narrows the distance between them. In addition, by introducing daily activities to the museum, he questions the purity and cleanliness of its spaces, and the boundaries of art altogether.
In different instances, site-specificity has been applied in other artistic disciplines. Such is the case of experimental theatre works by Rimini Protokoll or La Fura dels Baus. These companies have dissolved the barriers between audience and stage, and have delivered the aesthetic roles and actions of theatre to the public sphere. By involving the audience in the creation of motives and narratives, these experiments integrate the particular conditions of the public space and its inhabitants.
Site-specific art has allowed exploring the cultural complexities of particular spaces, moments and institutional discourses, as well as the potential of art as an element of change within them. The site can be understood not only as a defined space, but also as a certain social condition that represents context for an aesthetic posture. This condition can also enrich other disciplines like architecture, urban studies, design or marketing. By engaging more deeply and creatively with the particularities of a certain site, these disciplines can generate fairer schemes of appreciation, consumption and appropriation.
- Bourriaud, Nicolas (1998) Relational Aesthetics. Francia: Le Presse du Reel
- Kwon, Miwon (2004) One place after another: site-specific art and locational identity. EUA: MIT
- Suderburg, Erika (2000) Space, Site, Intervention: Situating Installation Art. EUA: University of Minnesota Press
Umberto Eco has written about the open work of art. This condition, which has proliferated in contemporary art, turns the spectator, the performer, into an accomplice. This means that the work ceases to be a finite object and becomes alive. Through his most emblematic works, Cuban-American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres puts forth a new understanding of this condition of openness. His piles of photocopies and mountains of candy are open inasmuch as they require participation from the public to achieve their goal. In fact, these works depend on a particular role of the spectator, the art institution, and the artist himself, to make sense.
Now, it seems that spectator participation implies the destruction of these works of art. When the public takes hold of an element of the piece, they reduce it and at the same time formalize its meaning. In this way, Gonzalez-Torres questions the traditional notions of a finished work of art, of its appreciation and value, and simultaneously makes a personal commentary about loss.
Nevertheless, the museum actually does not allow for the work to disappear. The invisible threads of the museum, like those of a hospital, keep the work alive: death is postponed indefinitely. Why is it that Gonzalez-Torres denies his works the euthanasia of dissolving within the public? If the work disappeared, the institution would be most confronted with its loss. Would this not be a means of using the museum as a mere vehicle to appeal to the public, while avoiding the dynamics of possession and marketing of contemporary art?
Perhaps Gonzalez-Torres does not want his pieces to die. This economy of resources, an authentic economy of body, mirrors his wish to prevail against illness, death, discrimination, solitude. It also may be that this indefinite nurturing has been an institutional requirement, a sort of defense mechanism from the museum. Either way, the winner is the public: they own the work of art, and the institution is forced to an endless supply of the work for their benefit (eureka!)
The work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres is whole. It conveys his own experiences within society and art, and with illness, death and loss; and then it overcomes them. His work is simultaneously illness and antidote, life and death. It is deeply personal, and yet, it is for everyone.
It has been decades since Umberto Boccioni wondered about the opaqueness of the body in the modern condition. He argued that in order to paint the human figure, one has to paint the surrounding atmosphere and not the figure itself. To say, then, that the work of Antony Gormley deals with the body is to make a dangerous reductionism.
Perhaps it is possible to say that Gormley’s work (which was on view in the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City) speaks of the body’s other; that which defines what the body is not. We find that the body has been deconstructed (another risk), the outcome is tension. This operation unveils the components of the body (blocks of steel, spheres, fingerprints, as well as slices of bread, air and lines of light).
Robert Morris explains that for large objects, especially larger than ourselves, we need a further distance in order to appreciate them. They engage more space around them. Boccioni’s predicament is fullfilled; our bodies penetrate and are penetrated by their surroundings. The bond between Gormley’s objects and architecture is nearly tangible: those steel cubes, those lines that delineate the body, are confronted with the walls, the arches of San Ildefonso. Sculpture becomes an architectural gesture (or maybe anti-architectural). The body, every body, constitutes a threshold.
The works in the show are not metaphores, but indexes. They point to what is beside them, including the spectator. They confess the crime of not-being-other, and the spectator is an accomplice. Gormley’s graphical works are especially noteworthy; they show, maybe without the obviousness of the physical, the pain of being bodily.
Hence, the work of Antony Gormley is the result of body labour, and translates into a tension with space; it is installation. The different spatial acts, keenly distributed in the museum, are gesturing presences, and at the same time are anonymous and mute. It may be possible that in these small battles, these small fragmentations, the threshold is blurred and opaqueness fades, and if the body is prison it is also, perhaps, freedom.