A Not-So-Site-Specific Study: An Application of Modern Western Art History

CompositionStudy in relation to a specific site:

Composition Study when stripped of the external environment:

In composition class we have been experimenting with site specific works and how they are effected when they are stripped of their site. I found that in the same week, we were learning about first Marcel Duchamp, and then minimalism, in my History of Art course. The two aligned in an uncanny way.

This comp study, in its original form, was a total cop out. Rather than being reliant on quality of movement, it was entirely reliant on the humor of me mustering the courage to buzz about barefoot and stupid through a crowd of people waiting for their afternoon caffeine fix. So, when stripped of external forces, was seemed to be an easy task was actually intellectually pressuring. While I didn’t have to grapple with the same boundaries as others, like losing an element of vertical suspension like a ladder or an element of weight share like a wall, I had to ask myself a harder question, what does this mean? When stripped of the glamor and thrill, what is the heart of this piece. Suddenly, my study turned from one of excitement to one of introspection.

In perfect correlation with this, as we studied Marcel Duchamp, my professor drilled on us the aspect of his work that made it “art” was the change of context. While he did not craft The Fountain or any of his readymade works with his own hands, he thought to change their context. Move a urinal from a utilitarian context to an aesthetic one and how does its meaning change? My mind nearly exploded with all the connections I was making to the composition class I was in not an hour earlier.

Two days later, as we continued the exploration of site-specific work without the site, we progressed through abstract expressionism and pop art onto minimalism in History of Art. Yet again, the lessons perfectly coincided. The essence of minimalism is both the importance of the audience and the fact that the work is site specific. She mentioned that a great deal of artists like Robert Morris would destroy their works once they couldn’t be exhibited in their desired locations. While it can be interesting to displace a site specific work and see what remains, occasionally, it just can’t be done. The desired message is stripped and there often isn’t one without the site. In my case, I was also heavily dependent on the audience because I tactically danced through an unknowing audience and played with their comfort levels.  However, mine was able to be displaced, whereas I saw many of my peers struggle and more or less fail and translating their site specific studies to the studio. Neither is wrong, and a heavy reliance on the original space was them conducting the original assignment well. The environment of an art is a large part of the work that is widely ignored but integral to how it’s message is dispersed and received.


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