choose text: Sotirios Bahtsetzis - Elpida Karaba - Anne-Laure Oberson
PLACE: A PHILOSOPHICAL VOCABULARY by Sotirios Bahtsetzis
“Is not space already a system of places?” (Husserl, The World of the Living Present ) “The bare space is still veiled over. Space has been split up into places.” (Heidegger, Being and Time ) “Spatial existence […] is the primary condition of all living perception.” (Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception )
HETEROTOPIAS – FOUCAULT (1969)
“The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-byside, of the dispersed. We are at the moment, I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of network that connects points and intersections with its own skin.” “Our epoch is one in which space takes for us the form of relation among sites.” (Foucault, Of Other Places ) The contemporary experience of space or place is entirely dominated by site. Even unquestioned spatial oppositions, which derive from either anthropological or sociological categories, such as private space versus public space, personal space versus social space, leisure space versus work space, have to take into account the ‘master' signifiers of site and relation. (These are, by the way, the categories, which inform the purely positional and relational ‘modern' model of space or place, constructed as site, a notion that was born in the era of Descartes and brought to full expression by Leibnitz. Foucault recognizes two exemplary cases in point: utopias and heterotopias. Whereas utopias are “sites with no real place” and represent a perfect (and thus radically transformed) state of society, heterotopias are real places that contextualize and reverse sites within a given society. In my opinion, the transition from utopias to heterotopias can also indicate the historical moment when modernity was born. These ‘countersites' include places where the human presence is obvious only as a trace (cemeteries and gardens), thus as an absence), or places of crisis and treatment, where human presence is narrowed down to specific characteristics, aptitudes and economies –libidinal and monetary- (boarding schools, hospitals, prisons), thus where human presence is apparent as mass. One might say, that in both cases, these countersites function either as a frame (garden) or as a panopticum (prison), both characteristics that reveal the presence of an all encompassing subject ‘outside' the given site. Presence and function of this subject is guarantied by the site (as master signifier). As such the subject is informed also by the actual site. As Foucault has pointed out, the predominance of space as site, brings with it the predominance of a de-subjectified subject.
PRODUCTION OF SPACE – LEFEBVRE (1974)
“What is an ideology without a space to which it refers, a space which it describes, whose vocabulary and kinks it makes use of, and whose code it embodies?” (Lefebvre, The Production of Space ) Building upon Marx and Nietzsche -and alongside the work of Guy Debord- Lefebvre insists on the primacy of space and its reappropriation. For him, capitalist false consciousness is not the false consciousness of time, but the false consciousness of space. Social practice shouldn't concentrate on regaining time as (eschatological) historical time, but on the reappropriation of space. To abolish the capitalist state, space must be reappropriated on the planetary scale; historical time will indeed be rediscovered, but “in and through [reappropriated] space.” As for the content of Lefebvre's analysis, the society of abstract space has three essential aspects: the visual-spectacular, the geometric, and the phallic. For Lefebvre, these three aspects “imply one another and conceal one another,” in part because they arose as part of the same historical process. Speaking about (supposedly pre-spectacular) thirteenth century gothic architecture, Lefebvre says that “the trend towards visualization, underpinned by a strategy, now came into its own and this in collusion on the one hand with abstraction, with geometry and logic, and on the other with [phallic] authority.” Lefebvre speaks of “the predominance of the geometric-visual-phallic” in modernity. This implies a specific construction of the social. It is abstract space (the space of bureaucratic politics) that produces, imposes and reinforces social homogeneity. The goal is to destroy the society of abstract space and its visual-spatial homogeneity, visible in the industrial suburbia, by focusing on spaces of diversity and difference.
NOMADIC PLACE – DELEUZE & GUATTARI (1980)
“Nothing completely coincides, and everything intermingles or crosses over.” “Here the absolute is local, precisely because place is not delimited.” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus ) The crucial ‘other space' for Deleuze and Guattari is that belonging to nomads who exist on the fringe of settled civilizations. From this margin, raids and other incursions are made into the fixed and fortified strongholds ruled by the institutionalized power (the state apparatus). The static character of the state is contested by the fluid, flexible, metamorphic nature of the “war machine” of the nomads. State or ‘royal' science is contested by a ‘nomad' science and state language is contested by a “minor” language. For Deleuze and Guattari landscape terms describe issues of implacement, both as social and psychological categories. Where something is situated has everything to do with how it is structured. The major distinction between “striated” and “smooth” space designates the difference between a neutralized place that is numbered, assigned to determinate values and a heterogeneous place of “rhizomatic multiplicities” that resists exact centration or reproduction. Immersion in smooth space is at once body based and landscape oriented. Movement in a smooth space unravels all the properties of the space that means not only the measurable, visually fixed, representational characteristics but also its various haptic, kinesthetic modalities. Crucial is not what ones perceives; one negotiates one's bodily relation to the space. In a smooth space there are no permanent settled sites (cities) but dwellings (desert or steppe). One does not move in a smooth space to a dwelling, but dwells by moving. The difference between nomadic and sedentary space (places are not fixed to these categories, but can change from one to the other) can thus be translated to a difference between a nomadic and sedentary subject.
EVENT ARCHITECTURE – DERRIDA (1986)
“We appear to ourselves only through an experience of spacing which is already marked by architecture” (Derrida, Point de folie – Maintenant l'architecture ) In the grammatological perspective, place is the condition of the possibility of writing. All writing seem to be subtended by place as precondition. This place is also a psychological place, when Derrida detects, for example, in the Freudian unconscious an arena of psychographic inscription. When Foucault writes of ‘other spaces', Derrida speaks of ‘other spacing'. Derrida's idea of architecture as ‘event' (événement ) that happens, that takes place ‘now' (maintenant), re-introduces the subject in both time and space. Derrida's stress on the ‘now' (main-tenant) can be read as ‘tenant en main' (held-in-hand). We are comprehended by the building we occupy, we are also spaced out in it. The subject in question is therefore no longer self-enclosed. We can speak about subject-spaces. In the course of its own espacement, the subject spaces out in the very building that “makes a place for the event”. The space is subject to a ‘subjectifying' event. Deconstruction in architecture proceeds by such spacingout, which takes three basic forms: movement, dislocation, point.
GENDERED SPACE – IRIGARAY (1989)
“How can we mark this limit of a place in general, if not through sexual difference?” (Luce Irrigaray, Sexual Difference ) The question if place is sexually (gender) specific or if sex identity (gender) is place-bound was explored by a number of thinkers who believe that biological or socially constructed sexual identity (gender) does make a difference in how place is conceived and experienced by human beings. Also these perceptions and representations formulate (in a performative way) social and psychological behavior, thus identity. The initial thesis of Luce Irigaray, that the female body is both in principle open, “an open enclosure”, and doubly engaging, “the minimum number is two”, proposes the female body as a scandalous exception: the female body is not contained by a place, but becomes an intensely extensive place. Other theories have further developed this initial theory of “bodies- as-places” taking for granted that the sexually differentiated body or gendered body and its place are so intimately linked as to be virtually interchangeable. It seems that when theories of femininity become normalized and part of the mainstream argumentation, other sexualities, such as those who create queer identities, occupy the place of the other , they become the exception that proves the rule. Queer bodies-as-places, which are experienced in gendered places, oppose the heterosexual imperative and in doing so they criticize and re-evaluate the specific (gender oriented) processes of subjectification.
NON PLACES – AUGÉ (1995)
”If place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which can not be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place.” (Marc Augé, Non-places ) Marc Augé testifies three basic transformations of the current world order: an acceleration of history, a spatial shrinking of the world and an increase of individuation. All these developments form the condition of supermodernity (surmodernité). Augé argues, that the acceleration of historical development is the result of the extension of life expectancy, which has brought social changes so that the coexistence of three generations changed into the possible coexistence of four generations. In addition, the shrinking of the planet and its change of scale is caused by technological advances that are set off by rapid means of transport and communication, such as aeronautics, satellite communication and the Internet, the means that offer fast and sometimes even instant access to information or events. It results to an abundance of images, followed by an abundance of relations to the actual physical space. In addition to that and as a result of these two conditions, Augé sees in the crisis of collective identity (bound to the decline of mega-narratives, religion, nation, class, etc.) a crisis of individual identity. The ego is particularly enhanced by the contemporary liberal political language of individual freedoms as well as by the advertising apparatus. Especially through the use of telematic media images and fantasies, which circulate around the world and create a new planetary state of “in-search-of-identity”. They create an instant and simultaneous vision of the world, which forms a non-spatial identity bound to the claim of individuality. According to Augé, supermodernity creates non-places (nonlieux). Non-places are the results or perhaps some kind of side effects of the excess of time, excess of space and excess of ego. The main characteristic of supermodernity is also excess. Nonplaces are temporary spaces for passage, communication and consumption: the motorways seen from car interiors, motorway restaurants and petrol stations, large supermarkets, duty-free shops and the passenger transit lounges of airports. Non-places are contrary to places. Places constitute spaces that symbolize identity, relation and history. In reference to that, Augé defines non-places as having no identity, no history and no urban relationships. They represent the decline of the public man and the rise of the self-obsessed man, who is defined always as a transient individual, as a customer, a traveler. Found and edited texts by Sotirios Bahtsetzis.
POLITICAL by Elpida Karaba
The idea of dealing with time and space is not something new in art, on the contrary it has been emblematic for the 20th c. especially if one takes into consideration parallel developments and shifts in philosophy and science. But for the last decades, sitespecificity developed as a new, under problematization thought, genre for visual arts. From the Practice of Everyday where Michel de Certau reflects on the relationship between place and space, adopting the semiotician Ferdinand de Saussure reads place as an ordered and ordering system realized in 'spatial practices', to the anthropologist's Marc Augé non-places of supermodernity, to Deutsche's urban aesthetic and spatial cultural discourse, to Kwon's context-specific and community specific places, the site has been introduced in spatial and physical terms as a discursive vector, as site of action or intervention, as repressed history, as political cause, as disenfranchised group. In this exhibition we invited people to reflect on these issues. To reflect on one of the fundamental ideas behind artworks like that, which is to create a dialogue between artists, the locality and the public, to encourage the artists to create projects that dealt with conditions in the town, in the exhibition space, the architecture, the urban planning, history and the social structure of society, to form a place for a natural confrontation between history and contemporary art; to reveal the clash between choice of materials and a site for their artwork, to consider if the very meaning of that artwork can change or deviate from the intended message or significance, to investigate the exactions required in order for the targeted audience to perceive the intended message. Under the very general umbrella of site-specificity one comes across with the slippery surface of dealing with that indiscriminately, but if one looks more carefully he will realise that the term itself and the different practices are determined by diversity and contradictions where different subjects and differentied objects are exposed. Within this context, one can reflect on questions regarding the possibility to reveal frictions, antagonisms and clashes that the different approaches entail; as Kwon 1 summerised it, to reveal the passage from Jameson's 'cognitive mapping', to Lucy Lippard's 'lure of the local', to Kenneth Frampton's 'critical regionalism', to Henri Lefebvre's 'production of space', to, we would add, 'taking - parts', 'making a position' space.
BEYOND SPATIAL AND BODILY LOCATIONS… TO POLITICAL LOCATIONS, TO 'SPATIAL POLITICS'
From site-specific installations to site-specific works of relational type, I would like to turn the attention to something that frequently seems to permeat many of these different forms of site-specificity, and this is the negotiation of the political and the discussion of a public sphere. Site-specific art, as connected many times with debates on public art, has been related to renewed theories of democracy and the definition of public space as an arena of political activity and thus 'public-issue' art has be redefined in term of art that participates in or creates a space of politics. Since any site has the potential to be transformed into a public or a private space site-specific art can be viewed as an instrument that either helps produce a public space or questions a dominated space. Art, thus, participates or creates a political space and is itself a space where we assume political identities and the public sphere is itself a site, not only a site of discourse, it is also a discursively constructed site. Site specificity in this context entails a different perspective as it can be mobilised to deal with wide spread questions of what is happening to public debate in Western cultures, to ideas that our public sphere is disintegrating,, to an increasing lack of respect for traditional authorities or, as Deutsche put it, even to problematize the authoritarianism of certain redefinitions of public space as a public sphere? 2 As many critics are concerned that our society no longer has a rational, informed and unified space where everyone can communicate on the issues that affect us all can this type of art offer an additional public sphere or on the contrary expedites the erasure of differences via the commodification and serialisation of places and sites? Or even more, is this form emmanent as self-protecting, careerest and satisfied and remains a means to the recovery of ambition? 3 Or even, is it really something in danger of getting lost in the art world's dealing with these issues, something that "champions of lost public spheres" seem bent or even delight in, loosing? Questions that summerise the fact that, many times discussions often betray a suspicion of art practices that question subjectivity, as if this question distracts from public concerns, or jeopardizes political struggle, diverting attention from 'real' problems. 4 But is it after all possible for art and an exhibition in the usual sense to be in itself a public sphere? For an exhibition to become a public sphere, something must be added: a position. But whose positions? Who are the subjects who take the positions and in what framework, infrastracture, institutions they are reffered? 5
FROM DEALING WITH OBJECTS TOWARDS DEALING WITH SUBJECTS…
If public sphere is a space where we assume political identities, conceived as a site where "our communality is uncertain and therefore open to debate" 6 , art itself is as well a space where we assume identities, and if, as Laclau 7 has written, the main task of postmodern culture is "to transform the forms of identification and construction of subjectivity", art can be such a site. This serves from the part of the curator as a challenge of problematization, an inclination to face the contradictions or even 'the antagonisms'. A challenge given to problematize the term site-specificity, firstly in relation to the subjects involved, who, according to their taking-parts, adopting a position, are different subjects and secondly in relation to the context of a particular exhibition, which aims not to be generic and has particular characteristics as it is held in a specific place, in a particular time. A place and time which create a 'site' identified by various gaps and ruptures in relation to the broader discourse of late modernity. How one in this particular context understands, deals and reflects on the idea of public, community, publicity, democracy, public sphere? Do we refer to the same thing? Do we have the same representation of these terms as other continental european thinkers and theorists? Do artists share similar references to their colleagues who work in other parts of the world and employ spatial tactics, which were developed in posmodern art, site-specificity, institutional critique, critiques of representation to reveal the social relations that constitute both the aesthetic and spaces? In that sense, how can the curator reenforce politicizing rather than comfort depoliticizing? How can he draw attention to these conditions that do not reduce art's social meaning to a simple reflection of an 'external' social reality, a model that leaves art per se politically neutral? 8 As curatorial practice as well as artistic practice participate voluntarily or not in the construction of sites, of institutions, artistic and curatorial practice have to be conscious that construction of sites and institutions can also happen by taking into consideration the interruptions of the regulated processes, responsibilities and hierarchies and by being aware or revealing what lies behind antagonisms and consent, what lies behind the political, what lies behind the (impossible) unconditional consensual meeting of the aesthetic and the social.
1. Kwon Miwon, 2002, One Place After Another, Site-Specific art and Locational Identity , Massachusetts, MIT Press. 2. Deutsche Rosalyn, 1998, Evictions, art and spatial politics , Massachusetts, MIT Press, p.xxi . 3. Greil Marcus, 2002, Guy Debord and the Situationist international , Massachusetts, MIT Press. 4. Deutsche Rosalyn, 1998, Op. cit., p. 312. 5. See Marchart's Oliver, Art Space and the Public Sphere , www.eipcp.net. 6. Deutsche Rosalyn, 1998, Op. cit. , p. 319. 7. Laclau Ernesto, 1990, 'Building a New Left' in New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time , London, Verso. 8. Deutsche Rosalyn, 1998, Op. cit. , p xvii.
SITUATION by Anne-Laure Oberson
“Space is the condition of the possibility of juxtaposition” (Schopenhauer)
From the onset, this quote gives me a key to differentiate the terms that will be at use in this discussion of site as situation. What is space?
Indeed we must establish the complexity of the specific vocabulary – site, place, space, lieu – whether it refers to concepts in mathematics, geometry, philosophy, common language or art theory, and its varying meanings in different languages. In French the word lieu is translated as place in English but alternately the French word place has several translations in English: room, place, space, seat, position, square, etc. In turn, these words are being translated in Greek and sometime replace one another: if we translate site as perioxi , how do we translate situation? As katastasi? As peristasi ?
A site is a pinpoint on the map, a location defined by x and y Cartesian coordinates. It is an undefined topos. Any site offers a variety of situations formed by context, environment, personal experience, stories and history, etc. A situation is defined politically, economically, socially, and historically. It is subject to terms of value. Whereas a situation arises from a subjective perspective, site remains defined in objectivity. In which situation am I now here? The answer will vary independently of the site: if the here is the same, the how is different. Thus, the question of perception of space will come to play an important role in defining our situation.
According to Schopenhauer's statement, Kodra Pro Taseis building, and precisely the 1 st floor allocated to our project, is the condition of the realisation of our exhibition; understanding that an exhibition is the juxtaposition of certain elements (art objects) chosen for one or several common denominators emphasised in the process of reciprocal relations. Juxtaposition establishes relations, and in turn relations define space. Space becomes place.
Situation is a spatial context. It defines space in relation to its external environment, it is the inscription of a site in a surrounding that qualifies it. This brings essential issues related to contiguity and connectivity (connexité), which will come forward in an empirical way successively as the visitor enters Kodra, the various buildings and the exhibitions, and experiences the works in relation to one another. This social dimension of space is thus what we will call situation rather than site. Space is not just a container but a delimited volume determined by its content. Maybe we could coin the term “place-specific” whereas place is not just space (site), but has an identity, a human appropriation by its representations (see Abraham Moles). It has a particular signification for man and that is the imprint that the site of Kodra left on the artists preparing their work. It was not just an empty raw space but a very specific place in a precise (sometime unclear) context. This context is what we will look at more closely.
Kodra is the given name of an existing site in northen Greece, precisely found at 40°35' N 22°56' E. Its situation is a little more complex.
Kodra is not a non-lieu in the modern sense. It is rather a disconnected place, disconnected from its original function, from any single or regular function, from time and actuality, and also somehow geographically, physically, in its condition and position bordering the notion of no man's land (terrain vague) as it is unkempt, open to all, undefined in its attribution. Kodra only becomes reconnected temporarily through occupation. Our occupation here is of an empty site, which we turn into a field for the exploration of site-specificity. By occupying this site we re-appropriate it for our purposes. We create a situation. Situations can overlay. There is an interesting double act at play here as Kodra is already subject of a prior re-appropriation: a former military barrack, it is already used by the municipality of Kalamaria as a temporary art space. So coincidentally it provides an ideal predisposition, in a neat mise-enabîme, to curate an exhibition about in-situ projects, as the exhibition space itself is already a site-specific “installation”. The space has not been transformed into a proper exhibition space but merely turned into one with means at hand: electricity cables running, light fixtures hanging are signs of the ephemeral infrastructure. This very transparency reveals the appropriation; its former attribution is allowed to permeate and the history of the site is revealed.
Kodra illustrates almost too perfectly the definition of a public place: “an area of land open to all collectively owned and managed in their name by delegated authorities”. A public place was also traditionally a place to voice concerns: the village square where the landsgemeinde (a political assembly, direct democracy's most simple system) meets, the agora. Where is our public place today? What has replaced the square? The tabloids? TV? Could the sitespecific exhibition space provide such a place of debate? Perhaps, but these propositions are pyramidal rather than collective, they function one way. The Internet is possibly the closest form of a new public place where people are reinventing very old forms of interaction based on exchange and share. So how could we contribute to the creation of a place based again on holoptism?
The words public and municipality are one and the same in Greek. It is the word dimos . The link to the idea and body of the municipality plays a very important role in outlining our situation: we are not just curating an exhibition about site-specificity in a public place but under public auspices. What does it mean to curate an exhibition for the municipality (always read municipality as both a political body and also most important its very citizen) entirely paid and produced by the municipality in a building belonging to the municipality? Who is the municipality? You, me, the taxpayers. Needless to say, this is a very different context than if working for a private entity (museum, gallery, institution) and it raises the question of civil responsibility. If a collector, a museum director, a board of trustees, commissions a curator to do an exhibition, the engagement is clear and direct for both parties. Here our mandator is the citizen of Kalamaria and this engagement is not so obvious to either party because it is heavily mediated. We are in a remote kind of relation going through a series of agendas. To which extend the citizen are aware of our role, and what is our role? To which extend are they aware that we are doing this for them, that we are even taking them into consideration? And would they solicit us? What is their role? Isn't it, thus, our responsibility to address them rather than ourselves as it is so often the case with art exhibition's tendency towards hermeticism (hence the purpose of this very newspaper making available the process of our work) and to put them at the centre of the experience we are aiming to create? That is not to say that we are doing some sort of official or state curating; we are politically aware. We have been given complete freedom of action but we have acted within a situation and a product is always instrumentalized according to particular agendas. Each of us will make its own reading of it. It is of primary relevance for me to raise this issue for discussion because I don't think that the level of civic sense is as acute in Greece as, for example, in France or Switzerland, where I come from, and where these considerations might seem rather obvious. Identifying the sources of funds and the powers at play should never be overlooked in understanding the mechanisms involved in the construction of a project, even more so a site-specific one. In our case these are economical and political factors in understanding our given situation as relevant as the artistic, personal and historical ones.
Site-specificity is not an unknown territory. No one can be forgiven for ignoring its predecessors. Wagner's manipulation of the audience, Kaprow's creation of an environment, Gutai's first situationist experiments, the French Situationists, Kabakov's atmosphere of total illusion, etc. It is with the knowledge of past references and in the footsteps of these examples, but also in light of the more recent trends and developments, that we undertook the challenge of addressing site-specificity in such a providential setting, whilst allowing young Greek artists to work in this context in Greece.
In as much as a work of art always needs a public to exist completely, and furthermore so today in the age of relational aesthetics (see Nicolas Bourriaud), we have chosen to work here with artists whose practice take these considerations into account. They are aware and thus will allow, will invite, with the specific work they created, the public to reflect on the very space they own, they know, that is so familiar to them, and yet that they will rediscover entirely. Each artist raised his/her own situation in regard to the site of Kodra. Issues of gender, economy, religion, political affiliation, physicality, perception, are brought forward for evaluation. And for evaluation only, not for judgement, because no one here is taking a position of ascertainment.
In conclusion I would like to discuss the concept of perception, only briefly aforementioned, and refer to a cognitive approach of space in which we can grasp the material reality of a place only from the point of view where we stand – the “In which situation am I now here?” – from our personal experiences, our own identity and culture. In this light and with the knowledge of the works that are exhibited (even if at this moment of writing I have not yet seen them produced and installed, but have followed the processes of their making), I can say that the artists have succeeded in responding to such a personal yet challenging perspective. So inevitably the public must in turn – if he responds to our invitation of connecting to his sense of spatial perception – understand how site-specificity is not about grandiloquence, or trends but about opening the field of contemporary art to concerns that might be closer to the audience, that might reach his subjectivity, that might incite him to respond. If so only, will we have completed our mission and opened a place for discussion.
References: Bourriaud, Nicolas. Esthétique relationelle . Les presses du réel, Paris, 1998. Moles, Abraham and Rohmer, Elisabeth. Psychologie de l'espace . Casterman, Paris, 1972. Schopenhauer, Arthur. On the Will in Nature . (1836). Berg publishers, Oxford, 1991.