The functional site : James Meyer

The functional site : James Meyer (1995)

The primary distinction I wish to make concerns two notions of site : a literal site and a functional site. The literal site is, as Joseph Kosuth would say, in situ, it is an actual location, a singular place. The artist’s intervention conforms to the physical constraints of this situation, even if it would subject to critique. The work’s formal outcome is thus determined by a physical place, by an understanding of the space as actual, reflecting a perception of the site as unique, the work is itself unique. It is, in other words, a monument, a commissioned work designed for the site. (20-21)

In contrast, the functional site may or may not incorporate a physical place, it certainly does not privilege this place. Rather, it is a process, an operation occurring between sites, a mapping of institutional and textual filiations and the bodies that move between them. It is an informational site, a locus of overlap of text, photographs and video recordings, physical places and things: an allegorical site, to recall Craig Owen’s term. The work is no longer an obdurate movement, a chain of meanings devoid of a particular focus. The functional site thus courts its destruction, it is willfully temporary, its nature is not to endure but to come down. (21)

To begin with, site specificity was understood, in its very constitution, as a mode of refusal of the system of art’s commodification. .. It was claimed that site specificity would impede this process. 

But let us first consider another claim made on behalf of site specificity, which concerned the viewer. … The body of site-specificity was a physicalized body, aware of its surroundings: a body of heightened critical acuity. Thus the premise of site specificity to locate the work in a single place, and only there, bespoke the 60s call for Presence, the demand for the experience of “being there”. An underlying topos of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, of the Happening and Performance, Presence became an aesthetic and ethical cri de coeur among the generation of artists and critics who emerged in the 1960s, suggesting an experience of actualness and authenticity that would contravene the depravations of an increasingly mediated, “one-dimensional society.”(23-24)

The mobile site thus courts its destruction; it is willfully temporary; its nature is not to endure but to come down…

Certainly, earlier institutional critique did much to expose the functional or informational character of the gallery and museum…. What were the benefits of this literal orientation? .. The site-specific work exposed this space as a material entity, a no longer neutral place, a backdrop for the merchandising of portable art objects. (25)

The body of site-specificity was a physicalized body, aware of its surroundings, a body of heightened critical acuity. The viewer of the modernist work, in contrast, was purportedly blind to its ideological nature. Thus the premise of site specificity to locate the work in a single place, and only there, bespoke the 1960s call for Presence, the demand for the experience of “being there.” An underlying topots of Merleay Pont’s phenomenology, of the happening and performance. (26)

Thus the notion of site specificity allied a New Left Critique of commodity culture with a phenomenology of Presence. Here we see the origins of site specificity in the aesthetics of Minimalism. … This displacement form work to frame, from the portable modernist sculpture to an environmental practice located in the literal space of the viewer, Michael Fried characterized as the distinction between art and theater. (26)

As Crimps observed, “Minimal sculpture launched an attack on the prestige of the artist and artwork, granting that prestige instead to the situated spectator, whose self-conscious perception of the Minimal object in relation to the site of its installation produced the work’s meaning.” (26)

Site specificity had a more implicit, and less recognized, intellectual source: the modernist discourse of reflexivity. Modernist reflexivity was a reflexivity of medium… Minimalism displaced the object of relfection from the work’s medium to the ambient space, form tis optical and tactile qualities as painting and sculpture to the perceptual conditions of its display. Institutional critique caused a further displacement, from the exposure of the white cube as phenomenological space to a critical exposure of the art institution…. Yet, for all its radicality, its materialist commitment, this work still operated within a Kantian cognitive model of reflexivity: it is still confined its analysis to the “frame.” The criticality of such work was perspicuous only within the physical confines of, or in close proximity to, the gallery site.  (27)

The functional work explores an “expanded site; the “art world”, in this activity, becomes a site within a network of sites, an institution among institutions. … But the final focus of this work was the art system as such. Today, much practice explores an expanded site, enlarging its scope of inquiry into contingent spheres of interest, contingent locations… the “work” was thus not a single entity, the installation of an individual artist in a given place. It was, on the contrary, a function occurring between these locations and points of view, a series of expositions of information and place. (27)

However, the exploration of an expanded site may produce differing results; projects reflect the specific interests, educations, and formal decisions of the producer. While some artists who work in this vein do so from a functional understanding of site, still others reveal a literal site orintation. (27)

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari have described as nomadic, a shifting deterritorialized site at odds with sedentary, striated space, the organized ambience of the polios; a space inhabited by nomadic peoples or “fringe groups.” The nomad goes from one point to another,,, . Delueze and Guattariwire. “Every point is a relay and exists only as a rely. A path is only bewteen two points, but the in-between has taken on all the consistency and enjoys both an autonomy and a direction of its own.” (32)













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