“The Functional Site” – James Meyer

from “Space, site, intervention: situating installation art” – ERika suderberg, 2000

Focus on origins of site specificity

  • Literal site: an actual, singular, location. Artists intention conforms to restraints of this place/situation. Formal outcome determined by a physical place. (e.g Richard Serra: Steel monuments designed for a specific place)

    Richard Serra, “Tilted Arc” 1981, Federal Plaza, New York
  • Functional Site: May or may not incorporate a physical place. Process/ operation occurring between sites. “Mapping of institutional and textual fictations and the bodies that move between them”. (e.g Robert Smithson)Temporary vs for eternity. Mobile site is self-destructive, “wilfully temporary”, it is in its nature to come down, or to barely physically exist at all.

Becomes a critique of the gallery? Site specificity originated in the gallery. Makes the viewer conscious of their body within the space. Site specific work is “aware of its surroundings” as opposed to modernist work which simply existed and was hung – surroundings not important. Created somewhere and hung somewhere else.
Merleau-Ponty: Presence. Experience of actualness and authenticity to counter an increasingly “one dimensional” society.

Becomes a critique of “the system”. Aesthetics of minimalism with the real space and time experience of site specificity. e.g Lawrence Weiner, Bochner, Buren.

Daniel Buren, “Les Deux Plateaux” 1985-1986, Palais Royal, Paris

Crimp: Meaning of minimalist artwork created by “situated spectator’s” perception of the object in relation to the site of it’s installation. Attack on the prestige of the artwork and artist. Power transferred to viewer.

Today, work has begun to explore the “expanded site” (not just site specific within a gallery, i.e minimalists).
– E.g “Platzwechsel” – 1995 exhibition by Mark Dion, Ursula Biemann, Christian Phillip Muller and Tom Burr. 4 distinct points of view.
– “Devoid of a unique place, Platzwechsel led the viewer on a “tour” from one landmark to the next”
– The work is thus not a single entity/ the installation of an individual artist in a given place. It was, instead, a function occurring between these locations and points of view.
– Kunsthalle became an “elaborate non-site”. “Fabric of allusions”
– Installations and texts set up a semantic chain that “traversed physical borders”
– e.g concrete plinth by Muller alludes to monument in the park
– e.g wooden ‘surveillance booth’ = turrets of museum
– e.g flora and earth taken from park and put in hall
– e.g oral accounts of parks visitors

Mark Dion, Ursula Biemann, Christian Phillip Muller, Tom Burr, “Platzwechsel” 1995

“Mobile Site” : happenings, situationism, Richard Long (walks), On Kawara (postcards), Tadashi Kawamata (temporary shanty towns), Andre Cadere (“Barres de Bois Rond”).

Andre Cadere, “Barres de Bois Rond”, 1970’s

Robert Smithson: “work exists in the OVERLAP of textual account, photographic and film recording, guided tours by the artist, and the literal site”
– “Place… is a vectored relation; the physical site is a destination to be seen or left behind… it is only temporarily experienced…if it is seen at all” – the site / physical ‘thing’ itself becomes of little importance.
– Network of sites referring to an “elsewhere”. Non-site / site.
Owens: “The Jetty is not a discrete work, but a link in a chain of signifiers which summon and refer to one another in a dizzy spiral”
– Spiral Jetty now exists only in film, photo, narrative, maps, diagrams, drawings etc. In fact the title “Spiral Jetty” actually refers to the film made about the jetty, rather than to the jetty itself.

Robert Smithson, stills from “Spiral Jetty”, 1970

“Mobile notion of site and a nomadic subjectivity”
-Martha Rosler: travel snapshots
-Stephen Prina: gallery critiques
– Gabriel Orozco: floaty balls, scooters
– Rirkrit Tiravanija: tents and dinners
– Renee Green: “secret”. Sleeping in a tent in the exhibition.

Books 2/3 : STUDIO and Draw and ellipse…

I have found books to be an extremely effective method of presentation. Much of my work is temporary or time-based which means I have to think carefully about how I choose to present my work, as this is the only form it fully exists in once the ‘actual’ piece is gone.

Books allow me to make compile a collection of images, make comparisons, show changes over time and so on. Most of my books have been to show images of visual research and experiments, but I consider these elements just as valid as the ‘final’ piece (I very rarely even have something that could be considered ‘final’ – my work tends to just be an ongoing series of experimentation). This means I want to have the visual evidence somewhere other than trapped inside a sketchbook. I also enjoy making them and like them as objects as well as a records.

Books also allow me to give my work a title. I think this is effective as it gives some context to the images; because my work is very conceptually driven, it can be difficult for an audience to connect with it if given no explanation whatsoever. A title doesn’t over-explain the work, but helps to guide the viewer.

Selection of pages from “STUDIO”

Selection of pages from “Draw an ellipse…”

Distortion Context

Since I started looking at how spaces can be tweaked into uselessness (parade ground, conference room and studio), I have been noticing instances of this happening in the world – sometimes intentionally, sometimes not and sometimes difficult to know.

In Kati Heck’s exhibition “Heimlich Manoeuvre” at Sadie Coles , 6 paintings are shown in a carpeted, hexagonal space. One of the paintings, however, is obscured by a pillar, preventing the viewer from having a proper, front facing view.

Kati Heck – title unknown.

The whole show is presented as a kind of installation, so it feels like the pillar must be deliberate – it seems they could have built the hexagon one metre to the side to avoid this obstruction. However, I can’t find anything that even mentions the pillar, let alone explain it, it is as if noone has even noticed it is there, including the press release. This one glitch in the entire show has taken away the prime function of a white cube gallery space: to present works simply and accessibly to the viewer.

There was a similar situation in Sprüth Magers Gallery. After walking downstairs I suddenly felt as if I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been. The sign said there was two rooms of Andreas Schulze’s work, however, I couldn’t tell you what his work actually was, as in the centre of both rooms was a large desk. The rooms felt like private offices. I don’t know if this was part of his work or not, as I was too scared to properly venture in. Whether this is deliberate or not, I find it super interesting.

In the Zilkha Auditorium at the Whitechapel Gallery, Liam Gillick has taken over with his ‘social sculpture’ “Prototype Conference Room” in which he covered all the seats with brightly coloured fabrics, subverting the usual hierarchy of a cinema. The audience’s attention is first captured by the seatsm rather than the film. This piece is very deliberate, as opposed to the other two works which I am not sure about. Gillick’s practice is concerned with the “aesthetics of social spaces” exploring how “materials, structure, and colours affect our surroundings and influence the way we behave”. I like how this work unapologetically hijacks both the space and the work of the other showing artists. This is what I have been to afraid to do with my own work (probably for good reason as a student…)

Liam Gillick “Prototype Conference Room”

Distorting spaces III

Thinking about how to make a studio useless as a studio.

This was difficult as I wanted to make the studio impossible to use, but didn’t want to actually disrupt anyone’s work or do anything irreversible (e.g take table tops off and not be able to put them back, cut holes in walls etc).


Distorting spaces II

In a workshop thinking about site specificity, we were asked to create a piece of site specific work in a conference room. The room was actually made up of two rooms that can be divided by a big sliding door (which was open). In between the rooms was a large conference table, which we spent the first half of the session sitting around as a group.

Floor plan of room

Thinking, again, about how one small change can be made to make a space unusable, we shut the shutter doors, leaving the table where it is, making the one space into two. 

Poorly documented – work like this needs to be well photographed as it doesn’t exist in any other form.

The response from the group was very interesting once we had done this. Instead of it being one room split into two, it became two very distinct, separate rooms. The power also weirdly changed – noone really came into ‘our’ side, all the other groups worked in the other one. We started to play with this, forcing people to leave through ‘their’ door and in through ‘ours’, rather than going through the sliding doors.

We tried to exaggerate this, making ‘our side’ as uncomfortable to enter as possible. We played loud music and started rearranging the chairs so they all faced the door – making it feel like you were walking into some kind of auditorium. However, part way through doing this, we realised that the piece was much more powerful as its original intent. The whole point was that we were making the one big conference room useless, but still considering it one big conference room.



Perec’s “Species of Spaces” talked about imagined spaces vs real spaces. for example, if you close your eyes and imagine the space you are in / a space you know well in as much detail as possible, how does this compare to the actual, physical space? And how can you say which is more ‘real’? This concept reminded me of the game you play as a child whereby one person does a drawing then explains it to the other person, breaking it down into shapes, lines and angles. The other person recreates it as closely as possible.

This made me wander if a similar thing could be done with a space (e.g a room). This prompted the start of a collaboration with a first year sculpture student at Camberwell, who is also interested in the qualities of spaces. Can we ‘send’ a space from one part of London to another part? Breaking it down and building it back up in whatever way we see best.

We started with the original game as a kind of ‘warm up’.

Presented all together on a wall

4 examples of our attempts.

Distorting spaces I

“public space, politics and event” workshop With lucy gunning

Workshop notes:

  • What does ‘politics’ mean? Politics of the world, a country, a space. Politics = news, rules, systems put in place by those with power. Politics = the way things are, the everyday. Politics of life vs politics of politics/government.
  • Restriction. Virginia Woolf “A Room of One’s Own” — inspired Lucy Gunning’s piece for “Planned and Unplanned” exhibition. Ownership of space (e.g uni / museum quad) – reading Virginia Woolf in quad.
  • Spectacle or lack of. Merge with everyday life rather than causing a scene. Not a hired space, rest of the space continuing as usual.
  • “Text mapped on to an environment, that you were moving through”
  • Participants also the audience
  • Event in relation to exhibition: exhib a way to advertise event (not pre filmed etc as something to present in an exhibition)
  • Carrying dancer down the street; acknowledgement of audience; subtle, short, fitting into everyday.
  • Mirrors in Lake district; can only witness by being part of it; Noone can witness the whole thing
  • Posters/stickers – integrating with public space


  • DAVID HAMMONS: Selling snowballs on the street, documentation only exists because a photographer (unhired) took photos
  • FRANCIS ALYS: Recording. If the work is made up of experiences is there any value in filming etc
  • OLAFUR ELIASSON: “Green River”. Unannounced. Starts a fear/buzz/rumour. Wakes people up to their environment.
  • MEIRELES: Working with the circulation of things, e.g recycled coca cola bottles, editing the labels etc then returning them, go undetected and back into the system. E.g instructions on how to make a molotov cocktail; no control over what happens to them/no control over the audience; also with money “yankees go home”
  • VALIE EXPORT: Working with her body in public; posters; performance; “street cinema” – but its her boobs! Questioning the male gaze by confronting them with her as a human.
  • Always relates back to capitalism / control / boundaries. Capitalism as a network/map/web. Boundaries as a system.

For me , this workshop became more about the politics of space; how do we use spaces? I was thinking about the formal rules that dictate our use of spaces as well as the informal rules that influence how we move around, behave in and interact with spaces.

I was thinking about this in relation to Perec’s “Species of Spaces”. As well as talking about Spaces, he sets what he refers to as ‘exercises’, for example, listing sitting in one places and listing everything you see, without prioritising the out-of-the-ordinary over the mundane. This forces the participant to look more carefully at their surroundings and to notice things. 

I did this for the Chelsea College Parade Ground. I think the Parade Ground is an interesting space as it sits somewhere between poublic and private; it is owned by the college, yet is open for the public to pass through. I think of the Parade Ground as a kind of transitionary space – it is used to get from one place to another. My main interest lies in how people use spaces, so I focused my recordings on the entrances/exits and the people who pass through them:

This kind of written ‘map’ of activity prompted me to think about other ways of mapping/tracking how people interact with the space. Because of limited time, I focused on the area outside the Triangle space, at the bottom of the ramp. This area is one that has to be walked on in order for people to get to the Parade Ground from the main building, the workshops and the Triangle Space, as well as being the only route in between the three.

Despite this, once i started laying down the newspaper, people were extremely reluctant to walk there (even though there is literally no other option). I tried to make extend the edges, forcing people to walk across, rather than jump over. By laying water around the edges of the newspaper I could see exactly where people were walking, and all the stains were around the very edges.

It is interesting how a small change made people so aware of themselves and of the space. Ordinarily, you wouldn’t think twice about walking on a newspaper on the ground, however here, where it was clearly more deliberate, everyone was reluctant to. They either skirted round the edges, or walked in a funny ‘minimal contact’ kind of way, hesitating before crossing.

My intention for this experiment was to simply see how people moved in a space, however, it became about me as the artist changing the space and preventing the people from using the space how they usually would. This relates back to my earlier work exploring my power as artist. I have made a space that’s only purpose is to be walked across, completely useless.


“The New York Trilogy: City of Glass”

Paul Auster

“City of Glass” is a work of detective-fiction, however, it explores the city in a way that interests me. The roads of the city are used as a means of communication. Patterns are created using the systems of the streets, which form letters. It is interesting to consider how something like this would be untraceable unless looked for, and even then, the viewer would have to be present. It only makes sense from above, but dissolves instantly. No trace is left behind except the knowledge that it has been done. Undetectable event.


“Species of Spaces and Other Pieces”

Georges Perec

I read “Species of Spaces” because I felt it would be useful to address and explore my work’s clear, unavoidable link to the city. However, once I started reading I got very got up in, and excited by, the possibilities of spaces as a concept, rather than just specific place (e.g city). The more excited I got, the further my thoughts drifted from everything I have done up to this point and I started to see “Space” and “Mapping/Intervention” as two very different strands of interest. However, once I sat down and tried to organise my thoughts, I realised that these two strands are extremely intertwined and I could use what I had got from “Species of Spaces” to push my work forward, rather than using it as a new starting point.


  • Space as invention/illususion/perception : visual / grammatical ‘declaratives’ (I say it is this, therefore it is)
  • Questioning and distorting givens
  • Imagined vs real : is there really a difference?
  • Changing London – have I? / Can I?
  • Cataloguing and Breaking down. Can space be broken down and formalised? Using this as a means of manipulation.



I am interested in how I can show my ideas in the most stripped down way possible. The pile of tags I had leftover piqued my interest in the remnants of other works. These can be a very effective way of breaking down a work into only the elements it needs to be: taking away all the unnecessary parts. Sometimes these remnants represent ideas in a way that is less explicit to the audience which, therefore, draws them in and encourages questions to be asked. There is a sense of something greater in a way that is difficult to achieve when trying to create a minimal piece straight of the bat. 

My key concern with this body of work is the network/systems that I can create – so are the objects themselves necessary? Or do they actually take away more than they add – stealing the attention?