[-empyre-] Nonsite as information
stalbaum at ucsd.edu
Sun Jan 13 18:30:29 EST 2008
As John demonstrates, Smithson's notion of the nonsite has been an
inspiration for many different riffs on various artists, their works
and the zeitgeist of the arts at many moments in time since the
1960s. One of the versions that remains compelling to me is the
nonsite as the clearest early crystallization of the core issue of
postmodernity: representation escaping the gravity of the real and
entering into orbital relationships with yet more representation.
Smithson saw the nonsite as a differentiation that effaces the
limitlessness of the real. Based on that I would hold that it is
wrong to discuss his later heroic land art works as closely relating
to the nonsites. They fall on different sides of what for Smithson
was the fundamental issue with representation in the first instance.
In a sense, in his nonsites he saw the hall of mirrors (quite
literally in the case of the Cayuga Salt Mine Project) that
postmodernism was becoming, and embodied the problem of
representation replacing the real in his problematizing of the white
cube through the nonsite. And this negation turned out to be the most
powerful of all postmodern riffs, as Rosalind Krauss for example
would explore in Sculpture in the Expanded Field.
But that Smithson abandoned the nonsite is often overlooked. The
heroic land art sites were an expression of his dissatisfaction (his
temperament disallowed anything else) with the differentiated site.
He longed for the "unbounded state" that site can deliver, and in his
later work dispensed with the problematized gallery representation
and the conceptual gold he had mined with it, and moved on to the
real as its own map and its own representation. (Unafraid of Borges?)
I find this maneuver to be sadly underestimated by many who have
taken him up. That he wanted to return to the boundlessness (and
therefore uncertainty) of the real is of critical importance. Why?
Because it demonstrates that he saw past postmodernity even if he did
not live past it.
In other writing, I have related Smithson's leveraging of the play
between bounded state of the differentiated site and the unbounded
state of the dedifferentiated site, (which could be stated as the
limits of representation and the wide openness of experience), to
Kant's take on beauty vs the sublime and the very contemporary
problem of data vs information. The distinction between the latter
pairs (beauty/sublime and data/information) have been poorly
understood by artists and humanists - the number of times I have seen
them conflated in my own discipline area (practicing artist) over the
years is frankly astounding. (Especially data and information.) But
the bottom line for my little riff on Smithson here is that he was
able to see past postmodern negation (and its hall of mirrors circus
of relative meaning) and get beyond it to presage many of the most
interesting problems that face artists today.
It relates tightly to problems in information aesthetics (the fact
that Moore's law is being far outpaced by the fact that the data to
be processed is doubling every *twelve* months), and as Lev Manovich
might say the interesting problem of the subjectivity of being
immersed in immense data. While some computer artists try to process
the data into nonsites (visualizations) that fits in the space of
representation and meaning, others are trying explore what kinds of
experiences might be produced as we engage with (and are inflected
by) data. Call it data romanticism if you will. Nonsite is beauty.
Site is is sublime. Nonsite is information we can digest and use.
Site is data that we can at best do our best with: it activates our
capacity to reason, as Kant might say. Or, stimulates Edmund Burke's
terror. I believe this matter to be one of the great issues in
aesthetics today, and is sadly under-considered because it is in fact
one of the issues that demonstrates we are already well post-
postmodern, and perhaps well beyond the hall of mirrors of image and
representation as salient issues. But as artists at least, we are
having a hard time letting go.
Brett Stalbaum, Lecturer lsoe
University of California San Diego
Department of Visual Arts
Winter 2008 office hours
ICAM40/VIS40 Wed. 1-2PM, Man 221
ICAM/Media(computing) faculty advising Wed 2-3PM Man 221
VIS141A - Thurs. 4-6PM, UC201-230
(ICAM 120 students welcome)
More information about the empyre