Jan 10, 2010

Inside the Map

I am proud. It's not often that students are asked to dig into an idea as dense and evasive as that of "site-specificity" and then demonstrate some understanding of the notion through real, tangible projects. The UCCS students enrolled in my Special Topics course Curatorial Project: Site-Specificity in Art have done just that.

Throughout the semester we read Miwon Kwan and Lucy Lippard, examined lengthy passages of James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and discussed the legacies of Richard Long, Robert Smithson, Andrea Fraser, N55, Hans Haacke, and many other artists. For their mid-term project, each student presented a site-responsive exhibition (Creative Time's This World & Nearer Ones, Prospect 1 in New Orleans, Andrea Zittel's High Desert Test Site, to provide a few examples).

While much of our time was spent examining the legacy and theories of site-specificity in art, we also engaged in a semester-long exploration of a particular area of the university's campus. UCCS is an unusual place in that it owns 553 acres of extremely desirable land, most of which was gifted to the school or to the state, including the unique and inspiring Heller Ranch. Learn more about the Heller Center for Arts and Humanities here: http://www.uccs.edu/~heller/

Students developed proposals throughout the semester, first working as groups and then individually. The final projects were designed in concert with one another to illustrate a "curated" and complex sense of place. These projects were produced on-site and then documented in a catalog. This production was called Inside the Map.

Below is the curatorial statement I wrote for the catalog, followed by some images of student work. I wish I could upload the catalog in its entirety as it is quite impressive. Working with students has been one of my very favorite experiences. Especially rewarding are the retrospective statements of students who have struggled with difficult content. As one of them said, "I think site-specificity will change the way I look at art, but more importantly LIFE, from now on." Three cheers!

Inside the Map is the culmination of a semester-long exploration of the Heller Center by eight students enrolled in the Special Topics course, Curatorial Project: Site-Specificity in Art. Guided by an in-depth survey of site-specific trends and theories in contemporary art, students designed their own investigations of UCCS’s Heller Center. Their projects were produced in concert with one another, with aims to create a broad yet fluid representation of the property and its complex attributes.

These research-driven projects were produced on the Heller property; they were designed to respond to the place, getting beneath the surface or “inside the map” of formal understandings of the place. The projects are interdisciplinary, involving performance, social engagement, scientific inquiry, and other cutting-edge art practices. This catalog is the only public presentation of the artists’ work.

The power of art is that it offers new ways to see the world. Through site-specific practices, artists illuminate uniqueness and detail, confronting generalizations about people and places and providing opportunities for expanded sensual intellect. Our project, like many site-specific projects before it, removes art from the context of the gallery or museum, activating a new space – the world – for art’s consideration, production, and presentation.

We have come to regard site, not only in physical or spatial terms, but as a particular cultural framework characterized by a complex set of social conditions, historical happenings, geological, economic, and political circumstances that change over time. Each of the student projects in Inside the Map amplify elements of the Heller Center, illustrating that this, like any other place, is a hybrid of memories, fragmented events, and incredible potential. This concept of site as something more than a location signals an important development in defining the role of artists as harbingers of in-depth cultural considerations.

Lucy Lippard has said that “Artists can make the connections visible. They can guide us through sensuous kinesthetic responses to topography, lead us from archeology and land-based social history into alternative relationships to place. They can expose the social agendas that have formed land, bring out the multiple readings of places that mean different things to different people at different times… The dialectic between place and change can provide the kind of no-one’s-land where artists thrive.”[1] For us, the Heller Center is a tremendously rich context in which to develop site-specific projects, testing a variety of concepts and methods while cultivating an inherently progressive sensibility about getting “Inside the Map.”

[1] Lippard, Lucy. Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society. New York: The New Press, 1997, p. 19.

1 comment:

  1. This is really wonderful, erin. Your students are so talented and thoughtful. I love being around people who are engaged and ready to learn - it is such a good reminder about living well.