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_Site as situation [txt]
ESSAI PUBLISHED IN THESITE exhibition newspaper august 2006

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 first 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-en-abîme, 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 site-specific 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.

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.

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