Space, Site, Intervention: Situation Installation Art has just been published by the University of Minnesota Press. Edited by Erika Suderburg, with 19 contributing art historians, artists, curators, and critics, this wonderful book seeks to expand the definition of site-specific work while dissolving its categories. In her comprehensive theoretical and historical introduction, Suderburg proposes “juxtaposing installation alongside ongoing political and cultural activities … exploring the contexts for these works … including community space, corporate space, architectural hybrids, multimedia, cyberspace, environmental action, public and private ritual, political activism, governmental and private patronage systems.” Such scope involves “issues of class, sexuality, cultural identity, race, and gender.”
This is a monster of an undertaking and a treat to read. One of the most poetic pieces is John Coleman’s meditation relating his installation, A Prayer for My Son and Myself (1997), to those of David Hammons, Ed and Nancy Kienholz, notes on the demise of alternative spaces, and ending with the powerful poem “Flophouse” by Charles Bukowski. This is a prime example of how porous this form is and how it and writing can amplify and inform each other. Alexander Kluge would be pleased.
Susan Stewart’s essay, “Garden Agon,” examines the allegorical impulse in Ian Hamilton Finlay’s ongoing project in Scotland, Little Sparta (1996-present). Linking parallels between art and war mirroring nature’s creative and destructive forces, Stewart brilliantly demonstrates that “the garden is not about nature, but is rather a transformation of nature,” reinforcing man’s inner struggle with these opposing tendencies.
Several of the contributors are from the Los Angeles area, and Kevin McMahon writes wonderfully about the displacement of homes in Chavez Ravine when their inhabitants were evicted to make room for Dodger Stadium. These homes were moved intact to the Universal Studios lot, to become the set for the film To Kill a Mockingbird. McMahon also writes about Count Giuseppe Panza’s displacement of artists and artworks and explores the relationship between museum furnishings and home furnishings, ending up succinctly with, “Martha [Stewart] at Marfa.” Other Los Angeles contributors address the Latino semiotic landscape, lesbian and gay presence in conservative sites (the avant-garde art world, historical museums, and the Catholic state), and “disappeared histories” in minority cultures.
Still other essays address museums as machines and the recontexualization of film in installation as well as that of more recent media such as video, holography, and computer-based imaging. Space, Site, Intervention is a huge book, which is itself a conceptual and temporal site of exchange. It is so sensitive to the reader, to so many cultural and political issues, that in just looking out the window one can imagine the impact on Native Americans when sighting the first fences on the vast, open prairie as the great land grab began.
Space, Site, Intervention, Erika Suderburg (editor) was recently published by the University of Minnesota Press.