Non-site

9 Oct

It has been a while since I’ve written because it has been a while since I’ve traveled. I don’t mean a trip here or there, but travel, where one trip trapezes from another or loops inside another, for weeks or months.  Being present with the unfamiliar is a mantra of the dedicated traveler, but to me the point of travel is that it puts you in more than one place at once. I am here and also elsewhere. This may be true always, but travel dramatizes the fact. With the internet this is more obviously true than ever. But it is also true that here has been partly elsewhere for a very long time. I hate the notion of hybridity because it presupposes that there were first two or more “native” things, which were then mixed. Any historian of culture can show you fairly easily that any of the posited native elements were themselves always already marbled with imports, borrowings, riffings–all the way down, all the way to the beginning. Mixture gave birth to culture.

Airplanes and Skype are only accelerating an old process, which has been global for a while. When your world is art, as mine is, the acceleration is very palpable, because we have (since about 1970) inhabited an exhibition culture. Artworks are now supposed to move; some are made to move. The mechanisms of the art world perform a constant triage, deciding what works will travel, how they will travel, to what degree the experience of a work requires physical presence and thus physical transfer, and to what degree it does not. Exhibitions are our medium and our mirror. They are emblematic of our condition.

Robert Smithson diagnosed the syndrome at a critical moment in its development; his terms provide the tools for understanding what has happened since his time. In 1967-68 he developed his Non-sites as a way of managing the status of a work of art between places. The artwork happens in the implied travel (or fictitious travel, or as he also called it, anti-travel) between a “here” that is present but somehow unreal, because it is weirdly extraterritorial (the White Cube), and a “there” in the world that exists but is in an indeterminate state–matter in undifferentiated form that is now constituted as a target by the samples and indications offered in this strange, displaced “here.”

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