The Wrong Place

The Wrong Place

Miwon Kwon Source: Art Journal, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Spring, 2000),

pp. 33-43 Published by: College Art Association


…inconveniences and psychic destabilizations of ungrounded transience, of not being at home (or not having a home), of always traversing through elsewheres. Whether we enjoy it or not, we are culturally and economically rewarded for enduring the “wrong” place. It seems we’re out of place all too often. .. And what are the effects of such mis/displacements for art, subjectivity, and locational identities?

Within the limited critical discussions concerning present-day site-oriented art, one tendency has been to valorize the nomadic condition. Referencing the writings of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari as theoretical support, some critics have championed the work of artists such as Andrea Fraser, Mark Dion, Renee Green, and Christian Philipp Muller, among many others, for having abandoned the phenomenologically oriented mode of site-specific art (best exemplified by Richard Serra’s sculptures). This is a mode that is seen to be outdated now. Moving beyond the inherited conception of site-specific art as a grounded, fixed (even if ephemeral), singular event, the works of these artists are seen to advance an altogether different notion of a site as predominantly an intertex-tually coordinated, multiply located, discursive field of operation.’

This is the reading, for example, of the art historian and critic James Meyer, who has coined the term “functional site” to distinguish recent site-oriented practices from those of the past.2 This conceptual shift has embraced the idea of meaning as an open, unfixed constellation, porous to contingencies -an idea that most of us accept and welcome. But in the process, the idea of the fluidity of meaning has tended to get conflated/confused with the idea of the fluidity of identities and subjectivities, even physical bodies, to such an extent that a certain romanticism has accrued to the image of a cultural worker on the go. It is not only the artwork that is not bound to the physical condi-tions of a place anymore, it is the artist-subject who is “liberated” from any enduring ties to local circumstances. (33)

By contrast, qualities of uncertainty, instability, ambiguity, and impermanence are taken as desired attributes of a vanguard, politically progressive, artistic practice. But I remain unconvinced of the ways in which a model of meaning and interpretation is called forth to validate, even roman-ticize, the material and socioecon-omic realities of an itinerant lifestyle. Kwon은 이런 전형적인 이분법이나, nostalgic perspective에 동의하지 않는다. 

Place is, according to Lippard, “a portion of land/ town/cityscape seen from the inside, the resonance of a specific location that is known and familiar.. . ‘the external world mediated through human subjective experience.'”3 It is Lippard’s contention that despite the fact that our sense of identity is fundamentally tied to our relationship to places and the histories that they embody, the uprooting of our lives from specific local cultures and places-through voluntary migrations or forced displacements-has contributed to the waning of our abilities to locate ourselves. 현대인의 잦은 이동 등, 변화한 lifestyle이 place/ locate/ sense of place인식 바꾸었다.

Consequently, a sense of place remains remote to most of us. And this deficiency can be seen as a primary cause in our loss of touch with nature, disconnection from history, spiritual vacancy, and estrangement from our own sense of self. Her argument is not only that we need to pay closer attention to the role that places have in the formation of our identities and cultural values, it is to encourage a particular type of relationship to places so as to divert or turn around the trends of the dominant culture. Vaguely recalling Martin Heidegger’s phenomenological philosophy on dwelling and place, which diagnosed the modern condition as one of an existential “homelessness” (according to the philosopher, the world hasn’t been the “right place” for humanity for a very long time), Lippard pre-sents the notion of a sense of place as therapeutic remedy: sense of place is “the geographical component of the psychological need to belong somewhere, one antidote to a prevailing alienation” (7). (34)

In this regard, even as she recalls the conservatism of Heidegger, or more accurately the conservatism of his subsequent interpreters such as Yi-Tu Fuan and Christian Norberg-Schulz, Lippard seems to incorporate aspects of the Marxist analysis of the “production of space” as well. She begins, for instance, from the basic premise that space is not a neutral container or void with in which social interactions take place but rather an ideological product and instrument in itself. More specifically, she believes that the rapacious growth and transformation has subsumed the distinctions of local differences and cultures, and that the particularity of places is continually being homogenized, genericized, and commodified to better accommodate the expansion of capitalism via abstraction of space (or “non-places” as some sociologists prefer). These processes, in turn, exacerbate the conditions of alienation and placelessness in contemporary life.

Much of this I agree with, but unlike Henri Lefebvre, who provides the deepest dialectical consideration of the “production of space” (his phrase), Lippard seems unable to resist the nostalgic impulse. In the end, the task of a progressive oppositional cultural practice is conceived as a retrieval and resuscitation of a sense of place, a sense that ostensibly once was but now is lost. Her project implicitly calls for a slower, more sedentary mode of existence. Despite her disclaimers, hers is a vision that favors the “return” to a vernacular, non-urban sociality of small-scale spaces and face-to-face exchanges. Not that such a vision isn’t appealing. The problem is that perhaps it is all too appealing, not only to us individually but to the machinations of capitalism itself. 리파드의 solution은 결국 nostalgic 하다. return을 요구한다. 새 모델을 제시하는 것이 아니라. (35)

Yet it is not a matter of choosing sides-between models of nomadism and sedentariness, between space and place, between digital interfaces and the  handshake, between the “wrong” and “right” places. Rather, we need to be able to think the range of these seeming contradictions and our contradictory desires for them together, at once. (36)양자택일의 문제가 아니라고 kwon은 보고있다.

I want to remember the lessons of two scenes-or “wrong” places-in this context. One is Fredric Jameson‘s by-now famous telling of a deliriously confounding spatial experience at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. It is an historically unprecedented experience of hyperspace that, for Jameson, serves as an emblematic ft^^ _^ ~ instance of “the originality of postmodernist space.” The second scene is one described by novelist Don DeLillo in his recent two-act play Valparaiso(I 999), in which the pro-tagonist, Michael Majeski, an average middle-class business-man (assumed white), on an ordinary business trip to Valparaiso, Indiana, ends up in the other part of the world in Valparaiso, Chile, presumably by mistake, to then have to confront himself as a minor media celebrity on his return home.  Kwon은 두 가지의 cast studies를 통해서 설명하고 있다.

In both Jameson’s and DeLillo’s work the disruption of a subject’s habitual spatio-temporal experience propels the breakdown of its traditional sense of self.(36)

In other words, the breakdown of spatial experience in both perceptual and cognitive registers being lost, disoriented, alienated, feeling out of place, and consequently unable to make coherent meaning of our relation to our physical surroundings-is the cultural symptom of late capitalism’s political and social reality. (38)

But a point of particular interest in the context of this essay is the idea that a new spatial paradigm has developed at a faster rate than our capacity to perceive and understand it. It is implied that economic changes have a more direct bearing and quicker impact on cultural forms, like architecture, and that our bodies, with their physical habits, and our consciousness, locked into received knowledge, trails along belatedly. So places can feel wrong not because they do not correspond to our self-perception and world view, but rather because our self-perception and world view are out of synch, too outmoded, to make sense of the new spatial and economic orga-nization that confronts us. 시스템이 변하는 속도보다 우리가 새로운 관계를 인지하고 받아들이는 속도가 현저히 느려서 생기는 문제들이라고 보고 있다. (38)

I implied earlier that a place that instigates a sense of instability and uncertainty, lacking in comfort, a place unfamiliar and foreign, might be deemed “wrong.” And by extension, a place that feels like “home” might be deemed “right.” But this is wrong. The determination of right and wrong is never derived from an innate quality of the object in question, even if some moral absolutes might seem to preside over the object. Rather, right and wrong are qualities that an object has in relation to something outside itself. In the case of a place, it indicates a subject’s relation to it and does not indicate an autonomous, objective condition of the place itself. So it is not so much that the Bonaventure Hotel is a “wrong” place (although critics like Lippard would think it so, and to some degree, as with most Marxist geographers and cultural critics, Jameson too is likely to deem such spaces as politically and ethically problematic). The more important point here is that it is we who are wrong for this kind of “new” space. We fall far short of being able to under-stand the organization of its logic, which means we are subjected by it with-out even recognizing our own subjection. 

So under such circumstances, what do we do? For Lippard and many others, the goal is clear: retrieve the older model of spatial experience so that we can feel comforted, secure, empowered, and “whole” again in rela-tion to our surroundings. Conditions of groundedness and connectedness are themselves imagined as resistant to the forces of the dominant culture. Kwon이 보기에 이것은 old, out moded solution.

But to my mind, this kind of old-school oppositional politics seems unproductive, limited at best, since, as noted earlier, it fails to recognize the extent to which such opposition sustains dominant cultural trends. Instead, it seems it is only from the position of being out of place that we can attempt to develop new skill-perceptual and cognitive to map the new hyperspaces wherein we have to survive. But I don’t want to celebrate, as some critics might, the conditions of dis-juncture, instability, uncertainty, and estrangement as a basis for self-knowledge or for a critical cultural practice. Because to embrace such conditions is to leave oneself vulnerable to new terrors and dangers. At the very least, we have to acknowledge this vulnerability. (39)  이러한 최신의 trends들을 celebrate하고 싶지 않다. 왜냐면 그것은 vulnerability를 전제하기 때문이다. (39)

Majeski ends up in Chile not out of absentmindedness, but because he recognizes a hitherto unknown logic of belonging. (41)

Often we are comforted by the thought that a place is ours, that we belong to it, perhaps even come from it, and therefore are tied to it in some fundamental way. Such places (“right” places) are thought to reaffirm our sense of self, reflecting back to us an unthreatening picture of a grounded identity. This kind of continuous relationship between a place and a person is what is deemed lost, and needed, in contemporary society. In contrast, the wrong place is generally thought of as a place where one feels one does not belong-unfamiliar, disorienting, destabilizing, even threatening. This kind of stressful relationship to a place is, in turn, thought to be detrimental to a subject’s capacity to constitute a coherent sense of self and the world. But thanks to the perfection and formal beauty of Majeski’s mistake, we can think about the “wrong place” in altogether new ways. Rather than “los-ing himself’ because he ends up in the wrong place, quite the opposite seems to happen in Valparaiso. It is from the instance of being in an airplane headed for the wrong city that Majeski begins to recognize himself, or rather his own estrangement, and is set on a journey to account for his identity. And it is in the telling and retelling of the tale that his rather tragic and fractured sense of self is revealed not only to us, the audience, but to the character himself. Which is to say, it is the wrongness, rather than rightness, of place that brings Majeski into focus. Furthermore, as the play progresses, it becomes less and less clear as to whether Majeski was trapped in a journey headed for the wrong place or if the trip was in fact an attempt to escape from a wrong place-his home, his job, his marriage, his family, his life, “himself.” A lesson to be drawn here is that an encounter with a “wrong place” is likely to expose the instability of the “right place,” and by extension the instability of the self. (42)

즉, right / wrong place의 notion은 상대적인 것이지, 절대적인 것이 아니다. relationship 안에서 정립되는 것이고, good/bad라고 규정지을 수 없다. 

But if we return to a consideration of art at this point, it is clear that the idea of the right place or the wrong place has less to do with chance or luck and more to do with the distinctions of propriety and impropriety as set by social conventions, ideological regimes, religious dictates, or habitual familiarity. Thought in these terms, one could argue that throughout the twentieth century, the history of avant-garde, or “advanced” or “critical,” art practices (however one might want to characterize those practices that have pressured the status quo of dominant art and social institutions) can be described as the persistence of a desire to situate art in “improper” or “wrong” places. That is, the avant-garde struggle has in part been a kind of spatial politics, to pressure the definition and legitimation of art by locating it elsewhere, in places other than where it “belongs.” 이게 right/ wrong 이 essay의 포인트.

It bears the burden of the necessity and impossibility of modeling new forms of being in-place, new forms of belonging. This precarious and risky position may not be the right place to be, but it is the only place from which to face the chal-lenges of the new orders of space and time.









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