[-empyre-] Nonsite as influence

John Haber jhaber at haberarts.com
Sun Jan 13 03:07:47 EST 2008

First off, apologies for the redundancies in my posts yesterday. I 
simply worked too quickly. That and a bad cold. There I started with 
Smithson and Matta-Clark as paradigms of site and nonsite. But why worry 
about them in the first place -- other than as a deliberate affront to 
the artists contributing to Empyre?

For starters, their influence extends well beyond virtual reality, to an 
increasing range of options subsumed under site and nonsite. In this 
post, I want to run those down quickly, to see just what beyond those 
terms amount to today. Is the litany all too familiar? It should already 
get one asking what has changed in the conditions surrounding the making 
of art. Consider the scope of big shows from 2007 alone.

Their influence includes art that restages the outdoors indoors -- 
invariably in a state of incompletion, fragmentation, or deterioration. 
Museum-scale group exhibitions suggest a culture-wide obsession, as with 
"Undone" at the Whitney at Altria, followed in no time by "Unmonumental" 
at the New Museum. Their influence also includes semi-fictional 
recreations of an artist's private environment in the space of a 
gallery, such as Pipilotti Rist in a group show at the Guggenheim last 
summer, Friedrich Kunath at Andrea Rosen, Rirkrit Tiravanija dishing out 
curry (yes, yet again) at David Zwirner, a cordoned-off memorial there 
to Jason Rhoades's living room soon after, and Beth Campbell right now 
at the Whitney.

It includes any number of artists dedicated to trashing the joint big 
time. Ironically, any record of the disastrous run-in with Christoph 
Buchel has vanished from MASS MoCA's Web site. At the same time, 
galleries and museums have shown more willingness to sponsor off-site 
transformations, as when Roxy Paine blends his steel trees into New York 
City parks.

In all these works, one should not see site and nonsite as an opposition 
of the human hand and nature's, because the landscape under 
deconstruction is a human one, too -- just as with Smithson's "Buried 
Woodshed" or Matta-Clark's "Building Cuts." When Urs Fischer broke right 
through a gallery floor this fall, he discovered a Manhattan built more 
on sand and thus probably landfill than on bedrock. When Mike Nelson 
staged an abandoned Essex Street food market as "A Psychic Vacuum," he 
competed with an active market across the street, but he brought his own 
tools and some of his own dust.

Arthur C. Danto called his essay on Peter Fischli and David Weiss "The 
Artist as Prime Mover." He thus pointed to their dual role as omnipotent 
creators and as absent from the creation. One does not usually think of 
their fabulous Rube Goldberg contraption on film as a site or nonsite, 
but their work's ambiguity underlies every use of the terms.

One reason, then, for a continued influence is how productive it has 
proved to be. Later today, I shall offer a couple more reasons, even 
closer to platitudes. One had better get the good news out of the way fast.

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