Risky Approximations Between Site-Specific and Locative Arts



Risky Approximations Between Site-Specific and Locative Arts


We usually share definitions that could be applied to a number of artistic works that are established in dialogue with their surroundings: as in site-related, context-specific, context-related… site-oriented… . These are the ‘places’ of the word, in its range, differences and associated connotations that both imprison and cause reverberations at the same time.

the semantic exceptions of ‘site’ and its related dis-locations –originates with the use of the term ‘site-specific’. When translated literally to Portuguese, it accumulates even more linguistic risk. In the text-project “sitespecific and (un)translatability”,

What matters here is not ‘re-searching’ another discussion on ‘site-specific’, but emphasizing aspects concerning the exteriority of the work of art, in surroundings that include the publicness of shared outside spaces. As Barreto and Garbelotti suggest, “it is through its relation to context that the work starts to build its meaning and its complexity. It’s by dealing with its surroundings that the object or artistic installation reaches its potential.” (1)

As Miwon Kwon reveals in “One Place After Another: Notes on Site Specificity,” the term ‘site’ is not defined as a pre-condition but “discursively determined” (2000).2 Quoting James Meyer, Kwon discusses location in its functional aspect (‘functional site’) as a process, as an operation that happens between sites, defining location as a place that also overlays information.

For these authors, location becomes functional when it gets defined as a field of knowledge, intellectual exchange or cultural debate (including the eventual confrontation of the subject/artist in space, immersed in information such as text, photos, videos, data, physical elements and objects). This is the theoretical space that allows us to review location in the current mobility climate, under the influence of global positioning and geo-localization technologies. (3)

Krzystof Wodiczko’s large-scale projections also point to how immaterial information can structure urban public space as much as physical, built architecture – particularly with regard to a common space construal.

The political aspect of these works occupies a hybrid position, traced to the power generated by the meeting of their immaterial presence with the physicality of circulation spaces. Dan Graham’s architecture-related video projects (designed for social interaction in public spaces) are landmarks given the manner in which social and architectural space, along with immaterial imagery, fuse together.

Nevertheless, every time we think about physical space, we tend to fall upon nostalgic notions of place. As we walk in the streets, gardens, parks or come closer to sculptural or architectural constructions located in public spaces, we would say, ‘nothing compares to the physicality of the space’, when observing or feeling the ambience produced by such constructions … These are nostalgic means for the reading of space, of location, of intimacy – a sense of physicality that nowadays gets mixed with the stimuli we receive from information connected to these places. It’s no longer simple to differentiate architectonic formations from the semiotic idealization of a space, a place or the city itself. (4)


The term ‘locative media’ is new, strange (unfamiliar?) and often strongly contested in ways that are not always constructive. Perhaps “It is a concept that can be misleading or, at least, imprecise” (Bastos & Griffis, 2007). In technical terms, locative can mean locatable, traceable, tending to be intrusive, and/or serving surveillance purposes, with disciplinary vocation. But deviations are possible, and it is interesting to understand the technological deviations/approximations in the urban space. The so-called locative arts (as defined by Drew Hemment) “are simultaneously opening new paths to worldly dissemination and mapping its own domains and geopolitics”.3

Hemment proposes understanding the term in an inclusive manner, instead of an exclusive one. This can sometimes imply the risk of non-differentiation between locative media and other forms of space-mediated involvement. But it also lead us to face the context, instead of prematurely putting the field in a drawer.

Lately the only options available for people worried about some of the implications brought by new networking technologies is to either turn them off, or never start making use of them to begin with. New mobility politics will arise somewhere between turning it on and turning it off. (Drew Hemment, 2006 lecture at arte.mov symposium)

The construction of a reconfigured idea of ‘site-specific’ in the terms presented until now configures ‘site’ as a space of non-material possibilities, while pointing to actual spaces. (6-7)

As such, we see an evident yet tentative proliferation of works that deal with great scale and magnitude (i.e. parks, cities), which simultaneously present themselves as almost invisible interventions in physical space. (나와의 차이점) Their configurations affiliate such works with unstable and uncertain categories, just like the concepts related to locative media, but they suggest a possible appropriation of ‘site-related’ or ‘context-specific’ ideas – devoid of physicality, and because of that, so reliant upon it.


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