If you would like to do a site-specific Glassroom project in 2020, please send your proposal to [email protected].

The Glassroom is the glassed-in space on the ground floor of NAS Building 28, accessed via the door facing Building 26. It has been used to show student and staff works since it was constructed as part of the renovation of the building a few years ago. Glassroom Projects aims to formalise this use into an In_Situ program that focuses on experimental, site-specific projects. This focus suits the peculiar structure of the Glassroom as well as making a site available for artists to develop new site-specific work. Site-specificity is discussed further below where it uses site-specific to identify artworks that value the actual places in which they are located by making them a major part of their construction of meaning.

Exhibiting arrangements

Projects are planned to be a month or 3 weeks duration during semester and longer during other times. Proposals in which the work is constructed in the space are encouraged.

Works will not be invigilated as the door can be locked if security is needed. This does not prevent limited use of space outside as long as it does not affect movement through the space. Vitrines are usually available if needed.

The Glassroom is 1655mmx 1840mm, and approximately 3000mm high, with two glass walls, one of which has a glass door. The floor is currently grey-painted cement, walls white-painted plasterboard, with fluorescent lights in the ceiling. It has 2 double power points, access to wifi, and ladders are available.

Glass, walls and floor etc need to be returned to their found condition. Spak and small quantities of wall paint will be available from John Stanfield who can provide access and some support, and will also check it is returned to the found condition.

Set-up and pull-down time can be incorporated – explain your needs in your proposal. Artists are asked to maintain the work during the course of the show. Documentation of the work will be included in this Glassroomprojects blog. Please send text, images and links for posting on that site.

Program dates: In_Situ

What makes a work ‘site-specific’?

Because there are differing opinions about what ‘site-specific’ means, the term is discussed here. Site-specific is most commonly understood as meaning artwork that cannot survive being moved from its specific location. This view reflects Richard Serra’s 1980s claim about the immovability of Tilted Arc [1] from Foley Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan. As Tilted Arc only makes sense when located in this plaza—where, for example, its role in reducing plaza-accessibility echoes the inaccessibility of the Federal Government building already constructed nearby—Serra famously argued that to remove the work is to destroy the work.

However, in practice, apparent moveability may not always disqualify a work from being site-specific, as how a work engages with its site, or what its site actually is, also needs to be considered. If a work engages with the unique history, use or form of its location in the construction of its meaning, as Tilted Arc does, then movability would usually be problematic, as it may make unavailable one of the work’s major components or ‘players’ (the site). However if the site is the actual space we bodily occupy [2] or the formal qualities found in many built places [3], or the whole planet even [4], then parts or variants of that site may be found in so many places that movability of such site-specific work may be reasonable because its site is so big.

Moveability was seen as an important defining element of early site-specificity because its advocates hoped that immovability would enable it to resist its own commodification. Art historians have argued that site-specificity has failed in this respect—James Meyer pointing to site-specificity’s failure to achieve ‘the desired disruption of the commodity system’, and Miwon Kwon pointing to the appropriation of site-specific art by city governments as a way of marketing their cities [5].

However the failure of artwork to ‘win’ its battle—to actually change whatever it is critical of—does not in principle invalidate any artwork or critique. Also, what was early seen as an expression of anti-commodification can also be read in other, related ways. The critical side of site-specificity also lies in its potential to act as a model for the revaluation of place, showing by contrast, the devaluation of place characteristic of the modern context out of which it evolved as a potentially critical form.[6] This critique is needed at this time in history when its devaluation is linked so strongly to the global climate crisis.[7] Even if, like the anti-commodification claim, this potential also fails to stop climate change (assuming such ‘outcomes’ of artwork could be measured), that also does not invalidate the contribution that site-specific art may be making to the broader environmental movement; any failure by the environmental movement to stop or reduce climate change says more about its power and influence than about the validity of its aims.

These interpretations of site-specificity rely on the view that content of site-specific work is found in its media and construction—specifically, the idea that artworks value their actual locations by giving them a major role in the work, which they do by making their physical integration with their locations part their construction of meaning. They also rely on sites being actual physical locations. These interpretations do not apply however to works in which the ‘site’ is broadened to encompass a community of people, a body of knowledge, and so on—sites that do not need to be physical places[8]. They also raise questions about the validity of using ‘site-specific’ for spatially-autonomous paintings and other works that represent places, and that do not incorporate their actual location as part of their literal construction.[9]

Margaret Roberts, 2019

[2] eg Robert Morris L-Beams 1965 – https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-1010/minimalism-earthworks/a/robert-morris-untitled-l-beams

[3] eg Jim Lambie Zobop 1999- https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/video-jim-lambie-zobop/EAGzXxwdi1CXDw

[4] eg Piero Manzoni, Socle du Monde (Base of the World), 1961 https://www.orbit.zkm.de/?q=node/6

[5] James Meyer The Functional Site; or, The Transformation of Site-Specificity in Erika Sudenburg (ed), Space Site Intervention, University of Minnesota Press, 2000, p 23-37: p 26; ‘Site-specificity …supplies distinction of place and uniqueness of locational identity, highly seductive qualities in the promotion of towns and cities within the competitive restructuring of the global economic hierarchy.’ Miwon Kwon, One Place After Another – Site-Specific Art And Locational Identity, MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts and London England 2002 p 54.

[6] Commentaries on early site-specific work reflect this ‘revaluation’ by discussing the new awareness of spatial location that site-specific works give to visitors.

[7] Anthony Giddens identifies the modern culture as appearing in the about the seventeenth century and spreading throughout the world through colonialism and globalisation, by both producing—and further evolving out of—the devaluation of place. He identifies the current environmental crisis as one of the main consequences of modernity’s global reach. Anthony Giddens The Consequences of Modernity Stanford University Press 1990. Also see Henri Lefebvre’s discussion of the appearance of ‘abstract space’ in Europe after the Middle Ages, and its growth over later centuries to devalue the ’space of the body’. Henri Lefebvre The production of space (translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith) Oxford, OX, UK: Blackwell, 1991

[8] as defined by Miwon Kwon’s Discursive Site and James Meyer’s Functional Site (Miwon Kwon, op. cit. ; James Meyer, op. cit.)

[9] The 2017 AGNSW Art Appreciation Lecture Series titled Site Specific, used the term site-specific for the work of artists who repeatedly painted specific country or locations as their subject matter, without incorporating the actual place into their works: https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/calendar/art-appreciation-lecture-series-2017/