Saturday, December 5, 2009

In defense of performance art, Guillermo Gómez-Peña

Question: "Excuse me, can you define performance art?”
-“A bunch of weirdoes who love to get naked and scream about leftist politics.” (Yuppie in a bar)
-“Performance artists are…bad actors.”(A “good” actor)
-“You mean, those decadent and elitist liberals who hide behind the art thing to beg for government money?” (Politician)
-“It’s…just…very, very cool stuff. Makes you… think and shit.”(My nephew)
-"Performance is both the anti-thesis of and the antidote to high culture." (Performance Artist)
-“I’ll answer you with a joke: What do you get when you mix a comedian with a performance artist?…A joke that no one understands” (A friend)

For twenty years, journalists, audience members and relatives have asked me the same two questions in different ways: What "exactly" is performance art? And, what makes a performance artist be one, think and act like one? In this text, I will attempt to answer these questions elliptically by drawing a poetical portrait of the performance artist standing on a map of the performance art field, as I perceive it. To be congruent with my performance praxis, while attempting to answer these thorny questions, I will constantly cross the borders between theory and chronicle; between the personal and the social realms; between "I" and "we," in hopes to come across some interesting cross-sections and bridges. I will try to write with as much passion, valor and clarity as I can and for non-specialized readers, but take heed: the slippery and ever-changing nature of the field makes it extremely hard to define in simplistic terms. As Richard Schechner told me after he read an early version of this text, "The 'problem,' if there is a problem, is that the field 'in general' is too big and encompassing. It can be, and is, whatever those who are doing it say it is. At the same time, and for the same reason, the field 'in specific' is too small, too quirky, too much the thing of this or that individual (artist, scholar) who is doing the doing." In this sense, in this text I will attempt to articulate "my thing."
Since I object to master discourses, specially those involuntary ones engendered by my own psyche, I am fully aware that my voice within this text is but one in a crowd of subjectivities. By no means am I attempting to speak for others, establish boundaries and checkpoints in the performance field, or outlaw any art practice that is not captured by my camera. If the reader detects some conceptual contradictions in my writing, --especially in my strategic use of the dangerous pronoun "we" or in my capricious placement of a border--, I beg you to cut me some extra slack: I am a contradictory Vato, and so are most performance artists I know.
To finish this introduction, I wish to politely thank Richard Schechner Carolina Ponce de Leon, Marlene Ramírez-Cancio and Nara Heeman for having so intelligently challenged earlier versions of this text suggesting that I open more doors; and Rebecca Solnit, and Kaytie Johnson, for their incommensurable patience while revising my awkward syntax and conceptual inconsistencies. Future versions of this text will include responses and interventions by other colleagues.


First, let's draw the map.
I see myself as an experimental cartographer. In this sense I can approach a definition of performance art by mapping out the "negative" space (as in photography not ethics) of its conceptual territory: Though our work sometimes overlaps with experimental theater, and many of us utilize spoken word, stricto sensu, we are neither actors nor spoken word poets. (We may be temporary actors and poets but we abide by other rules, and stand on a different history). Most performance artists are also writers, but only a handful of us write for publication. We theorize about art, politics and culture, but our interdisciplinary methodologies are different from those of academic theorists. They have binoculars; we have radars. In fact, when performance studies scholars refer to “the performance field”, they often mean something different; a much broader field that encompasses all things performative including anthropology, religious practice, pop culture, sports and civic events. We chronicle our times, true, but unlike journalists or social commentators, our chronicles tend to be non-narrative and polyvocal. If we utilize humor, we are not seeking laughter like our comedian cousins. We are more interested in provoking the ambivalence of melancholic giggling or painful smiles, though an occasional outburst of laughter is always welcome.
Many of us are exiles from the visual arts, but we rarely make objects for display in museums and galleries. In fact, our main artwork is our own body, ridden with semiotic, political, ethnographic, cartographic and mythical implications. Unlike visual artists and sculptors, when we create objects, they are meant to be handled and utilized without remorse during the actual performance. We actually don't mind if these objects get worn out or destroyed. In fact, the more we use our performance "artifacts," the more "charged" and powerful they become. Recycling is our main modus operandi. This dramatically separates us from costume, prop and set designers who rarely recycle their creations.
At times we operate in the civic realm, and test our new personas and actions in the streets, but we are not “public artists” per se. The streets are mere extensions of our performance laboratory, galleries without walls if you will. Many of us think of ourselves as activists, but our communication strategies and experimental languages are considerably different from those utilized by political radicals and anti-globalization activists.
We are what others aren’t, say what others don't, and occupy cultural spaces that are often overlooked or dismissed. Because of this, our multiple communities are constituted by aesthetic, political, ethnic, and gender rejects.

For me performance art is a conceptual “territory” with fluctuating weather and borders; a place where contradiction, ambiguity, and paradox are not only tolerated, but also encouraged. Every territory a performance artist stakes, including this text, is slightly different from that of his/her neighbor. We converge in this overlapping terrain precisely because it grants us special freedoms often denied to us in other realms where we are mere temporary insiders. In a sense, we are hardcore dropouts of orthodoxy, embarking on a permanent quest to develop a more inclusive system of political thought and aesthetic praxis.
“Here,” tradition weighs less, rules can be bent, laws and structures are constantly changing, and no one pays much attention to hierarchies and institutional power. “Here,” there is no government or visible authority. “Here,” the only existing social contract is our willingness to defy authoritarian models and dogmas, and to keep pushing the outer limits of culture and identity. It is precisely in the sharpened borders of cultures, genders, métiers, languages, and art forms that we feel more comfortable, and where we recognize and befriend our colleagues. We are interstitial creatures and border citizens by nature— insiders/outsiders at the same time—and we rejoice in this paradoxical condition. In the act of crossing a border, we find temporary emancipation.
Unlike the enforced borders of a nation/state, those in our "performance country" are open to welcome nomads, migrants, hybrids, and outcasts. Our performance country is a temporary sanctuary for other rebel artists and theorists expelled from mono-disciplinary fields and separatist communities. It's also an internal place, a fernhah, invented by each of us, according to our own political aspirations and deepest spiritual needs; our darkest sexual desires and obsessions; our troubling memories and relentless quest for freedom. As I finish this paragraph I bite my romantic tongue. It bleeds. It's real blood. My audience is worried.

Traditionally, the human body, our body, not the stage, is our true site for creation and materia prima. It's our empty canvas, musical instrument, and open book; our navigation chart and biographical map; the vessel for our ever-changing identities; the centerpiece of the altar so to speak. Even when we depend too much on objects, locations, and situations, our body remains the matrix of the piece.
Our body is also the very center of our symbolic universe—a tiny model for humankind (humankind and humanity are the same word in Spanish, humanidad)— and at the same time, a metaphor for the larger sociopolitical body. If we are capable of establishing all these connections in front of an audience, hopefully others will recognize them in their own bodies.
Our scars are involuntary words in the open book of our body, whereas our tattoos, piercings, body paint, adornments, performance prosthetics, and/or robotic accessories, are de-li-be-rate phrases.
Our body/corpo/arte-facto/identity must be marked, decorated, painted, costumed, intervened culturally, re-politicized, mapped out, chronicled, and documented. When our body is ill or wounded, our work inevitably changes. Frank Moore, Ron Athey and Franco B have made us beautifully aware of this.
Our bodies are occupied territories. Perhaps the ultimate goal of performance, especially if you are a woman, gay or a person "of color," is to decolonize our bodies; and make these decolonizing mechanisms apparent to our audience in the hope that they will get inspired to do the same with their own.
Though we treasure our bodies, we don't mind constantly putting them at risk. It is precisely in the tensions of risk that we find our corporeal possibilities and raison d'etre. Though our bodies are imperfect, awkward looking and frail, we don't mind sharing them, bare naked, with the audience, or offering them sacrificially to the video camera. But I must clarify here: it's not that we are exhibitionists (at least not all of us). In fact, it's always painful to exhibit and document our imperfect bodies, riddled with cultural and political implications. We just have no other option. It's like a "mandate" for the lack of a better word.

*Richard Schechner problematizes my body argument: (If the human body is the ultimate site of performance), "where do you put 'virtual' artists who operate only on the web using Avatars or wholly digitized beings?" Richard raises a hairy predicament: should we consider the 'virtual bodies' real?

Do we have a job?
Our job may be to open up a temporary utopian/distopian space, a de-militarized zone in which meaningful “radical” behavior and progressive thought are hopefully allowed to take place, even if only for the duration of the piece. In this imaginary zone, both artist and audience members are given permission to assume multiple and ever changing positionalities and identities. In this border zone, the distance between “us” and “them,” self and other, art and life, becomes blurry and unspecific.
We do not look for answers; we merely raise impertinent questions. In this sense, to use an old metaphor, our job may be to open the Pandora’s box of our times—smack in the middle of the gallery, the theater, the street, or in front of the video camera and let the demons loose. Others that are better trained— the activists and academicians— will have to deal with them, fight them, domesticate them or attempt to explain them.
Once the performance is over and people walk away, our hope is that a process of reflection gets triggered in their perplexed psyches. If the performance is effective (I didn't say “good,” but effective), this process can last for several weeks, even months, and the questions and dilemmas embodied in the images and rituals we present can continue to haunt the spectator’s dreams, memories, and conversations. The objective is not to "like" or even "understand" performance art; but to create a sediment in the audience's psyche.

The performance art field is obsessed with innovation and age, especially in the so-called "West," where innovation is often perceived as synonymous with transgression, and as the antithesis of history. Performance defines itself against the immediate past and always in dialogue with the immediate future—a speculative future, that is. The dominant mythology says that we are a unique tribe of pioneers, innovators, and visionaries. This poses a tremendous challenge to us performance locos and locas. If we lose touch with the rapidly changing issues and trends in "the field," we can easily become "dated" overnight. If we don’t produce fresh and innovative proposals, constantly reframe our imagery and theories, and rewrite our photo captions, so to speak, we will be deported into oblivion, while thirty others, much younger and wilder, will be waiting in line to replace us.
The pressure to engage in this ongoing process of reinvention (and in the U.S. of “repackaging”) forces some exhausted performance artists out of the rat race and others into a rock-and-roll type lifestyle—without the goodies and exaggerated fame, that is. Those who survive may very well feel like frustrated rockers. There's absolutely nothing romantic about it. Only a handful are granted the privilege, like Bowie or Madonna in the equally merciless world of pop, of having several reincarnations.

*Brazilian performance artist Nara Heeman responds: "I see the need of being 'connected' to the field. But I feel quite sad with the perspective of being caught inside the cage of having to produce in order not to be forgotten. I believe that if we define ourselves as performance artists within the highest cathegory we can reach, we might get stressed with the demands of the market. But if we define ourselves just as living beings this concern could become secondary."

Performance has taught us an extremely important lesson: we are not straitjacketed by identity. Our repertoire of multiple identities is in fact an intrinsic part of our survival kit. We know very well that with the use of props, make-up, accessories and costumes, we can actually reinvent our identity in the eyes of others, and we love to experiment with this unique kind of knowledge in everyday life. In fact, social, ethnic, and gender bending are an intrinsic part of our daily praxis, and so is cultural transvestitism. To give the reader an example: when my Chicano colleagues and I cross international borders, we know that to avoid being sent to secondary inspection, we can wear mariachi hats and jackets and instantly reinvent ourselves as “amigo entertainers” in the eyes of racist law enforcement. It works. But even then, if we are not careful, our fiery gaze and lack of coolness might denounce us.

Our audiences may experience vicariously, through us, other possibilities of aesthetic, political and sexual freedom they lack in their own lives. This may be one of the reasons why, despite innumerable predictions over the past thirty years, performance art hasn’t died, nor has it been replaced by video or made outdated by new technologies and robotics. Stelarc's early 90's warning that the body was becoming "obsolete" turned out to be untrue. It is simply impossible to “replace” the ineffable magic of a pulsating, sweaty body immersed in a live ritual in front of our eyes. It’s a shamanic thing.
This fascination is also connected to the powerful mythology of the performance artist as anti-hero and counter-cultural avatar. Audiences don't really mind that Annie Sprinkle is not a trained actress or that Ema Villanueva is not a skillful dancer. Audiences attend the performance precisely to be witnesses to our unique existence, not to applaud our virtuosity.
Whatever the reasons, the fact is that no actor, robot, or virtual avatar can replace the singular spectacle of the body-in-action of the performance artist. I simply cannot imagine a hired actor operating Chico McMurtrie’s primitive robots, or reenacting Orlan's operations. When we witness Stelarc demonstrating a brand new robotic bodysuit or high-tech toy, after fifteen minutes we tend to pay more attention to his sweating flesh than to his prosthetic armor and perceptual extensions. The paraphernalia is great, but the human body attached to the mythical identity of the performance artist in front of us, remains at the center of the event. Why? I just don't know.
Recently, Cuban performance artist Tania Bruguera has embarked in an extremely daring project: abolishing her physical presence during the actual performance and therefore defying her own performance mythology. She asks curators to find in advance a "normal person," not necessarily connected to the arts, to replace her during the actual performance. When Tania arrives to the site she exchanges identities with the chosen person becoming a mere assistant to his/her wishes. Curators are flipping out.


Yes. I am at odds with authority; whether it is political, religious, sexual, racial, or aesthetic, and I am constantly questioning imposed structures and dogmatic behavior wherever I find it. As soon as I am told what to do and how to do it, my hair goes up, my blood begins to boil, and I begin to figure out surprising ways to dismantle that particular form of authority. I share this personality trait with my colleagues. In fact, we crave the challenge of dismantling abusive authority.
Perhaps because the stakes are so low in our field, paired with the fact that we are literally allergic to authority, we never think twice about putting ourselves on the line and denouncing social injustice wherever we detect it. Without giving it a second thought, we are always ready to throw a pie in the face of a corrupt politician, give the finger to an arrogant museum director, or tell off an impertinent journalist, despite the consequences. This personality trait often makes us appear a bit antisocial, immature or overly dramatic in the eyes of others, but we just can’t help it. It’s a visceral thing, and at times a real drag.
I secretly envy my "cool" friends.

We see our probable future reflected in the eyes of the homeless, the poor, the unemployed, the diseased, and newly arrived immigrants. Our world overlaps with theirs.
We are often attracted to those who barely survive the dangerous corners of society–hookers, winos, lunatics, and prisoners are our spiritual brothers and sisters. We fell a strong spiritual kinship with them. Unfortunately, they often drown in the same waters in which we swim—the same waters, just different levels of submersion.
Our politics are not necessarily ideologically motivated. Our humanism resides in the throat, the skin, the muscles, the heart, the solar plexus and the genitalia. Our empathy for social orphanhood expresses itself as a visceral form of solidarity with those peoples, communities, or countries facing oppression and human rights violations; with those victimized by imposed wars and unjust economic policies. Unfortunately, like Ellen Zacco recently pointed to me, "(we) tend to speak for them, which is quite presumptuous." I cannot help but to agree with her.

The cloud of nihilism is constantly chasing us around , but we somehow manage to escape it. It's a macabre dance. Whether conscious or not, deep inside we truly believe that what we do actually changes people’s lives, and we have a real hard time being cool about it. Performance is a matter of life or death to us. Our sense of humor often pales next to our sobriety when it comes to committing to a life/art project. Our degree of commitment to our beliefs at times may border on fanaticism. If we suddenly decide to stop talking for a month (to, say, investigate “silence”), walk non-stop for three days (to reconnect with the social world or research the site-specificity of a project), or cross the U.S.-Mexico border without documents to make a political point, we won’t rest until we complete our task, regardless of the consequences. This can be maddening to our loved ones, who must exercise an epic patience with us. They must live with the impending uncertainty and the profound fear of our next commitment to yet another transformative existential project. Bless the hearts and hands of our lifetime compañeros/as— always waiting for us and worrying about us. And the risks we take in the name of performance, aren't always worthwhile.

Though we are always risking our lives and physical integrity in the name of art, we rarely kill ourselves and definitely we never kill others. In twenty years of hanging out and working with performance artists, I have never met a murderer; I have only lost three colleagues to the demons of suicide, and two to miscalculation during an actual performance.
In the process of finding the true dimensions and/or possibilities of a new piece, some of us stupidly have put ourselves, or our audience at risk, but somehow nothing extremely grave has happened yet. Knock on wood. I quote from a script:
"Dear audience, I’ve got 45 scars accounted for; half of them produced by art & this is not a metaphor. My artistic obsession has led me to carry out some flagrantly stupid acts of transgression, including: living inside a cage as a Mexican Frankenstein; crucifying myself as a mariachi to protest immigration policy; crashing the Met as El Mad Mex led on a leash by a Spanish dominatrix. I mean (to an audience member), you want me to be more specific than drinking Mr. Clean to exorcise my colonial demons? or, handing a dagger to an audience member, & offering her my plexus? (Pause)“My plexussssss…your madness,” --I said, and she went for it, inflicting my 45th scar. She was only 20, boricua, & did not know the difference between performance, rock & roll & street life. Bad phrase, delete.."

I quote from my performance diaries:
"Our intelligence, like that of shamans and poets, is largely symbolic and associative. Our system of thought tends to be both emotionally and corporeally based. In fact, the performance always begins in our skin and muscles, projects itself onto the social sphere, and returns via our psyche, back to our body and into our blood stream; only to be refracted back onto the social world via documentation. Whatever thoughts we can’t embody, we tend to distrust. Whatever ideas we can’t feel way deep inside, we tend to disregard. In this sense we can say that performance is a form of embodied theory…"
"Despite the fact that we analyze things obsessively and under multiple lights, when push comes to shove, we tend to operate through impulse (rarely through logic or convenience), and make decisions based in intuition, superstition, and dreams. Because of this, in the eyes of others, we appear to be very self-involved, as if the entire universe revolved around our psyche and body. Often our main struggle is precisely to escape our subjectivity—the imprisonment of our personal obsessions and solipsistic despair—and performance becomes the only way out. Or rather, the way for the personal paradigm to intersect with the social..."

*Post script: I re-read this section and get angry with myself. I sound like a fucking 19th century bohemian.

If I were to anthropologize my everyday life, what would I find?
I quote from a series of personal e-mails with a Peruvian friend who struggles to understand "what is my everyday life like in San Francisco."
"Dear X: The nuts and bolts of everyday life are a true inferno. To put it bluntly, I simply don't know how to manage or discipline myself. Typically, I am terrible with money, administrative matters, grant writing, and self-promotion—and often rely on the goodwill of whoever wishes to help. I have no medical or car insurance. I don't own my home. I travel a lot, but always in connection to my work, and rarely have vacations, long vacations, like normal people do. I am permanently in debt, but I don’t mind it. I guess it's part of the price I have to pay to not be permanently bothered by financial considerations. If I could live without a bank account, a driver’s license, a passport, and a cell phone, I would be quite happy, though I am fully aware of the naiveté of my anarchist aspirations. Many of my colleagues here are in a similar situation. What about performance artists in your country?
…No, my most formidable enemy is not always the right wing forces of society but at times, my own inability to domesticate quotidian chaos and discipline myself. In the absence of a 9-to-5 job, traditional social structures, and the basic requirements of other disciplines (i.e., rehearsals, curtain calls, and production meetings in theater, or the tightly scheduled lives of dancers or musicians), I tend to feel oppressed by the tyranny of domesticity and get easily lost in the horror vacui of an empty studio or the liquid screen of my laptop. Sometimes, the screen of my laptop becomes a mirror, and I don't like what I see. Melancholy rules my creative process.
…Performance is a need. If I don’t perform for a long period of time, say three or four months, I become unbearable and drive my loved ones crazy. Once I am on stage again, I instantly overcome my metaphysical orphanhood and psychological fragility and become larger-than-life. Later on at the bar, I will recapture my true size and endemic mediocrities. The irreverent humor of my collaborators and friends contributes to this 'downsizing process.'
… My salvation? My salvation lies in my ability to create an alternative system of thought and action capable of providing some sort of ritualized structure to my daily life…and of course, my Chicano sense of humor…No, I take it back. My true salvation is collaboration. I collaborate with others in hopes of developing bridges between my personal obssesions and the social universe.
…True. I'm kind of…weird in the eyes of my neighbors and relatives. I talk to animals, to plants, and to my many inner selves. I love to piss outdoors and get lost in the streets of cities I don't know. I love make up, body decoration, and flamboyant female clothing. I love to cyborgize ethnic clothing. Paradoxically I don't like to be stared at. I am a living, walking contradiction. Aren't you?
… I collect unusual figurines, souvenirs, chatchkes, and costumes connected to my 'cosmology,' in the hope that one day they might be useful in a piece. It’s my 'personal archeology,' and it dates back to the day I was born. With it, wherever I go, I build altars to ground myself. And these altars are as eclectic and complex as my personal aesthetics and my many composite identities.
…Why? I am extremely superstitious, but I don't talk much about it. I see ghosts and read symbolic messages everywhere. Deep inside I believe there are unspoken metaphysical laws ruling my creative process, (everything is a process to me, even sleeping and walking), my encounters with others, and the major changes in my life. My shaman friends say that I am 'a shaman who lost his way'. I like that definition of performance art."

Performance artists have huge archives at home but they are not exactly functional. In other words, “the other histories of art” are literally buried in humid boxes, stored in the closets of performance artists worldwide. And—let’s face it— most likely no one will ever have access to them. Much worse, some of these boxes containing one-of-a-kind photos, performance documents, rare magazines, and master audios and videos, frequently get lost in the process of moving to another home, city, project, or lover—or, to a new identity. If every art and performance studies department from every university made the effort to rescue these endangered archives from our clumsy hands, an important history will be saved, one that rarely gets written about precisely because it constitutes the "negative" space of culture (as in photography not ethics).

With a few venerable exceptions (Tim Miller, Rodessa Jones, Felipe Eherenberg, Suzanne Lacy, Keith Henessy and a few others), performance artists make clumsy political negotiators and terrible community organizers. Our great dilemma here is that we often see ourselves as activists and, as such, we attempt to organize our larger ethnic, gender-based, or professional communities. But the results, bless our hearts, are often poor. Why? We get easily lost in logistics and pragmatic discussions. Besides, our iconoclastic personalities, anti-nationalistic stances and experimental proposals often put us at odds with conservative sectors within these communities. However, we never learn the basic lesson: organizing and negotiating are definitely not our strengths. Others, better skilled, must help us organize the basic structure for our shared madness—never the other way around.
We are much better at performing other important community roles such as animateurs, reformers, inventors of brand-new metafictions, choreographers of surprising collective actions, alternative semioticians, media pirates, and/or “cultural DJ's.” In fact, our aesthetic strategies (not our coordinating skills) can be extremely useful to activists, and they often understand that it is in their best interest to have us around. I secretly advice several activists. Others, like Marcos and Superbarrio who are consummate performance activists, continue to inspire me.

We are no more or less beautiful or fit than anyone else, but neither are we average looking. Actors, dancers, and models are better looking, sportsmen and martial artists are in much better shape, and porn stars are definitely sexier. In fact, our bodies and faces tend to be awkward looking; but we have an intense look, a deranged essence of presence, an ethical quality to our features and hands. And this makes us both trustworthy to outlaws and rebels, and highly suspicious to authority. When people look into our eyes, they can tell right away— we mean it. This, I may say, amounts to a different kind of beauty.

Celebrity culture is baffling and embarrassing to us. Luckily, we never get invited to the Playboy mansion, or to parties at our embassies when we are on tour. If we go to the opening of the Whitney Biennial, most likely we’ll either get bored, or overwhelmed, really fast. Despite our flamboyant public personas and our capability to engage in so called “extreme behavior,” we tend to be shy and insecure in social situations. We dislike rubbing shoulders (or genitals) with the rich and famous, and when we do it, we are quite clumsy—spilling the wine on someone's lap, or saying the wrong thing. When introduced to a potential funder or a famous art critic, we either become impolite out of mere insecurity or remain catatonic. And when our “fans” compliment us too much, we just don't know how to respond. More likely we will disappear instantly into the streets or will hide in the nearest restroom for an hour.

At times, our performance universe can be threatening to our loved ones. Our perceived “extreme behavior” on stage, paired with our frequent association with sexual radicals, social misfits, and eccentrics, can make our loved ones feel a bit “inadequate” or “lightweight” next to our performance universe. To complicate things even more, the highly sexualized energies and naked bodies roaming around the space before a performance can easily become a source of jealousy for our partners who often have a hard time differentiating between the real and the symbolic. The great paradox here is, despite our (largely symbolic) sexual on-stage eccentricities, and our willingness to perform nude, we tend to be quite loyal and committed to our partners and family. Our kinkiness is an urban legend, and pales in comparison to that of talk show guests and Catholic priests.


I must first acknowledge the important contributions of experimental theater (the Living Theater, The Performance Group, Jodorowsky, etc.) and of happenings (Kaprow, Fluxus) to the development of performance; as well as the most recent influence that performance art has had over theater, every time theater is in crises.
Having said this, I will now attempt to venture into the dangerous border zone between theater and performance. Despite the fact they often occupy the same stage, there are some fundamental differences. Virtuosity, training and skills are highly regarded in theater; whereas in performance, originality, topicality and charisma are much more valued.
Even the most experimental and antinarrative forms of theater which don't depend on a text have a beginning, a dramatic crisis (or a series of), and an end. A performance “event” or “action” is just a segment of a much larger “process” not available to the audience, and in this sense, stricto sensu, it has no beginning or end. We simply choose a portion of our process and open the doors to expose the audience to it.
Most Western theater structures (even those of ensemble theaters and rebel theater collectives) tend to be somewhat hierarchical with a specialized division of labor (the leader or visionary, the best actors, the supporting actors and the technical team each taking care of their specific task); whereas the structure of performance tends to be horizontal, decentered, and constantly changes. In performance, every project demands a different division of labor. And when we do solo work, we become the producer, writer, director, and performer of our own material. We even design the lights, the sound and the costumes. There's nothing heroic about this. It's just the way it is.
In most theater practice based on text, once the script is finished, it gets memorized and obsessively rehearsed by the actors, and it will be performed almost identically every night. Not one performance art piece is ever the same. In performance, whether text-based or not, the script is just a blueprint for action, a hypertext contemplating multiple contingencies and options, and it is never "finished." Every time I publish a script, I must beware the reader: "This is just one version of the text. Next week it will be different."
Rehearsals in the traditional sense are not that important to us. In fact, performance artists spend more time researching the site and subject matter of the project, gathering props and objects, studying our audiences, brainstorming with collaborators, writing obscure notes and preparing ourselves psychologically, than “rehearsing” behind closed doors. It’s just a different process.
On stage, performance artists rarely “represent” others. Rather we allow our multiplicity of selves and voices to unfold and enact their frictions and contradictions in front of an audience. "To 're-present' would mean to be 'different' from what we are doing."-Says Nara Heeman. "Our embodied knowledge and images are only possible because they are truly ours." Whether we are trained or not (most of the time we aren't), this separates performance artists dramatically from theater monologists performing multiple characters: When Anna Deveare-Smith, Elia Arce, or Eric Bogosian “perform” multiple personas, they don't exactly “represent” them or act like them. Rather, they slightly morph in and out of them without ever disappearing entirely as “themselves.” Perhaps they occupy the space between acting and being themselves. At one point in their lives, certain theater monologists like Spalding Grey and Jesusa Rodriguez, decide to cross the thin line into performance in search of extra freedom and danger. We welcome them.
Clearly, there are many exceptions to the rule on both sides of the mirror; and there are many mirrors around.

*Schechner bewares me: "I would say that some distance needs to be made theoretically separating theatre that presents dramas (plays) from theatre that is 'direct' or presents the performer without plays. Also that in drama theatre the actors are usually not also the authors; while in performance art the performers are almost always the authors."

Notions of time and space are complicated in performance. We deal with a heightened “now,” and “here,” with the ambiguous space between “real time” and “ritual time,” as opposed to theatrical or fictional time. (Ritual time is not to be confused with slow motion). We deal with “presence” and “attitude” as opposed to “representation” or psychological depth; with “being here" in the space as opposed to “acting;” or acting that we are being. Shechner elaborates: "In performance art the 'distance' between the really real (socially, personally, with the audience, with the performers) is much less than in drama theatre where just about everything is pretend -- where even the real (a coffee cup, a chair) becomes pretend." In this sense, performance is definitely a way of being in the space, in front or around an audience; a heightened gaze, a unique sense of purpose in the handling of objects, commitments and words and, at the same time, it is an ontological “attitude” towards the whole universe. Shamans, fakirs, coyotes, and Mexican merolicos understand this quite well. Most drama actors and dancers unfortunately don't.
Like time, space to us is also “real,” phenomenologically speaking. The building where the performance takes place is precisely that very building. The performance occurs precisely in the day and time it takes place, and at the very place it takes place. There is no theatrical magic, no “suspense of disbelief.” Again, the thorny question of whether performance art exists or not in virtual space remains unanswered.

Our relationship with the Art World (in capitals) is bittersweet, to say the least. We have traditionally operated in the cultural borders and social margins where we feel the most comfortable. Whenever we venture into the stark postmodern luxury of the mainstream chic— say to present our work in a major museum— we tend to feel a bit out of place. During our stay, we befriend the security guards, the cleaning personnel, and the staff in the educational department. The chief curators watch us attentively from a distance. Only the night before our departure will we be invited for drinks.
Mainstream art institutions have a love/hate relationship with us (or rather with what they perceive we represent). Whenever they invite us in, they are always trembling nervously, as if secretly expecting us to destroy the walls of the gallery, scratch a painting with a prop, or pee in the lobby. It’s hard to get rid of this stigma, which comes from the days of “the NEA 4,” (1989-91) when performance artists were characterized by politicians and mainstream media as irresponsible provocateurs and cultural terrorists. Every time I complete a project in a big institution, the director pulls me aside the day before my departure and tells me: “Guermo [intentional spelling], thanks for having been so…nice.” Deep inside, he may be a bit disappointed that I didn’t misbehave more like one of my performance personas.

The self-proclaimed “international art world” is constantly shifting its attitude toward us. One year we are “in” (if our aesthetics, ethnicity, or gender politics coincide with their trends); the next one we are “out.” (If we produce video, performance photography or installation art as an extension of our performances, then we have a slightly better chance to get invited more frequently). We get welcomed and deported back and forth so constantly that we have grown used to it. In twenty-two years of making performance art, I have been deported at least seven times from the art world, only to be (re)"discovered" the next year under a new light: Mexican, Latino or Hybrid Art? "Ethno-techno" or "Outsider Art"? "Chicano cyber-punk" or "Extreme culture"? What next? "Neo-Aztec hi-tech post-retro-colonial art?
The fact performance artists don’t produce sleek objects for display makes it hard for the commercial art apparatuses, and the critics who sanction it, to justify our presence in mainstream shows and biennials. And it is only when the art world is having a crisis of ideas that we get asked to participate, and only for a short period of time. But we don’t mind being mere temporary insiders. Our partial invisibility is actually a privilege. It grants us special freedoms and a certain respectability (that of fear) that full-time insiders and “art darlings” don’t have. We get to disappear for a while and reinvent ourselves once again, in the shadows of Western civilization. They don't.

Nomenclature and labeling have contributed to the permanent marginalization of performance art. Since the 1930s, the many self-proclaimed “mainstream art worlds” in every country have conveniently referred to performance artists as “alternative,” (to what, the real stuff?) “peripheral,” (to their own self-imposed “center”) “experimental,” meaning “permanently in the process of testing,” or “heterodox”(at mortal odds with tradition). If we are “of color,” (who isn’t?) we are always labeled as “emerging,” (the condescending human version of the “developing countries”) or as “recently discovered,” as if we were specimens of an exotic aesthetic tribe. Even the word “radical,” which we often use ourselves, gets utilized by the “mainstream” as a red-light, with the perilous subtext: “handle at your own risk.”*
These terms keep pushing the performance art field towards the margins of the "legitimate" one–the market-based art world–the big city from which we constitute the dangerous barrios, ghettos, reservations, and banana republics. Curators, journalists and cultural impresarios visit our forbidden cities with a combination of eroticized fear and adventuresome machismo. One or two of us, lucky outsider sofisticados, may be discovered this time by Documenta, Venice or Edinburg.

*Since September 11, the connotations and implications of this marginalizing terminology have increased considerably. Words such as “radical,” “transgressive,” “revolutionary,” and “rebellious” have been tainted overnight with the blood of generic "terrorism," and with the connotations of “evil” in the Bush doctrine.

Performance artists get easily criminalized. The highly charged images we produce, and the mythologies that embellish our public personas, make us recognizable targets for the rage of opportunistic politicians and conservative journalists looking for blood. They love to portray us as either promiscuous social misfits, gratuitous provocateurs, or “elitist” good-for-nothing bohemians sponsored by the "liberal establishment." Unlike most of my colleagues, I don’t entirely mind this mischaracterization, for I believe it grants us an undeserved respectability and power as cultural anti-heroes.
Conservative politicians are fully aware of the unique power of performance art. And when funding cut time arrives, performance is the first one to go. Why? They claim it is because we are “decadent,” “elitist,” or (in the U.S.), “un-American.” In fact US Republicans love to portray our work as some kind of bizarre communist pornography, but—let’s face it—the fact is that these ideologues know it is extremely hard to domesticate us. When a politician attacks performance art, it is because he gets irritated when he sees his own parochial and intolerant image reflected upside down in the mirror of art. The horrible faces of Helms, Buchanan, and Guliani immediately come to mind.

A perplexing phenomenon has occurred in the past seven years: the blob of the mainstream has devoured the lingo and imagery of the much touted “margins”—the thornier and more sharp-edged, the better— and “performance” has literally turned it into a sexy marketing strategy and pop genre. I call this phenomenon "the mainstream bizarre."
High Performance, the legendary magazine, is now a car motto; the imbecile conductor of MTV's “Jack Ass” and sleazebag Howard Stern both call themselves “performance artists;” and so do Madonna, Iggy Pop and Marilyn Manson. Performative personalities and mindless interactivity are regularly celebrated in "Real TV.," talk shows and "X-treme sports." In fact, everything "extreme" is now the norm.
In this new context, I truly wonder how can young and new audiences differentiate between the "transgressive" or "extreme" actions of Annie Sprinkle, Orlan, or yours truly, and those of the guests of Jerry Springer? What differentiates "us" from "them?" One might answer, “content”. But, what if “content” no longer matters nowadays? Same with depth. Are we then out of a job? Or should we redefine, once again, for the hundredth time, our new roles in a new era?
After reading this text, writer Rebecca Solnit asked me:"What is then the future of performance art as the boundaries of transgression move ever outward and as some of the boundaries of identity begin to blur even in the mainstream? How do you step across the line when the line moves and melts?" I have no idea. Caught between the old marginalizing lingo, and the new “everything shocking goes" type of ethos of the mainstream bizarre, the field is badly in need of restaking its territory, and redefining the now dated binary notions of center/periphery; and mainstream/subcultural. Perhaps one useful strategy might be for us locos and locas, to occupy a fictional center and push the dominant culture to its own truly undesirable margins.

Every time a journalist from a large paper or a commercial radio station interviews me, the conversation goes, more or less like this:
Journalist: "Is performance art something relatively new"?
GP: "Every culture has a space allocated to the renewal of tradition and a space for contestation and deviant behavior. Those who occupy the latter are granted special freedoms.
Journalist: "Can you elaborate?"
GP: "In indigenous American cultures, it was the shaman, the coyote, the nanabush who had permission to cross the dangerous borders of dreams, gender, madness, and witchcraft. In Western culture this liminal space is occupied by the performance artist, the contemporary anti-hero and accepted provocateur. We know this place exists and we simply occupy it."
Journalist: "So what is the function of performance art? Does it have any?
GP: (Long pause) "Performance artists are a constant reminder to society of the possibilities of other artistic, political, sexual or spiritual behaviors, and this, I must say, is an extremely important function."
Journalist: "Why?"
GP: "It helps others to re-connect with the forbidden zones of their psyches and bodies and acknowledge the possibilities of their own freedoms. In this sense, performance art may be as useful as medicine, engineering, or law; and performance artists as necessary as nurses, schoolteachers, priests, or taxi drivers. Most of the time we ourselves are not even aware of these functions."
Journalist: "But what does performance art do for you?"
GP: "For me?(Long pause) It is a way to fight or talk back, to recapture my stolen civic self, and piece together my fragmented identity."
Journalist: "Do you think about these big ideas everyday, all day long.?"
GP: "Certainly not. Most of the time I'm just going about my everyday life; you know, writing, researching, getting excited by a new project or prop, paying bills, recuperating from the flu, waiting anxiously for a phone call to get invited to perform in a city where I have never been…"
Journalist: "I'm not being clear: what I want to know is what has performance art taught you.?"
GP: "Ah, you want a soundbite, right? OK. When I was younger, performance taught me how to talk back. Lately, it is teaching me to listen to others."

Like performance, this text is incomplete, and will continue to change in the coming months. A warrior without glory, I turn off my computer…

above copied from:

I ACCUSE, Jean Toche

Dedicated to Marcel Broodthaers

Flyer, Judson Gallery, New York, May 10, 1968

"I am a prostitute,

You are a prostitute,

He is a prostitute,

She is a prostitute,

We are all prostitutes..."

That's what our trivial "Culture" is all about. WE MUST DESTROY THE CULTURE.

This is the time for a total change.

This is the time to be concerned with Man's development, not his exploitation.

This is a LIGHT SIT-IN.

I will throw the light in your face,

I will throw the light in your face,

I will throw the light in your face,

I will throw the light in your face,

I will throw the light in your face!

+ + + + +


I work with aggressive lights,

I work with aggressive sounds,

I work with aggressive situations.

I am against aggression.

+ + + + +


I am subversive, and I am a saboteur. I question the very validity of the Art Establishment. I question the very validity of that language called "ART". Can Art still fulfill our basic human needs, if it continues to compromise with a cultural society which is engaged in the very process of alienation of the masses, and repeatedly ignores, consciously, the very needs of that human race? In the early ages, art was not meant as art, but as a projection of the primitive urges of man, in order to appease the terrifying forces of nature. Did art not lose all its meaning by becomimg a merchandise, starting with the patronizing by the churches and the aristocracy, followed by the process of industrialization and business deals of western middle class man, including today's museums? Has art not become a weapon for the cultural gangs to corrupt people, a new kind of opium for the people?

+ + + + +

To shout fire, when there is a fire, is not enough. It is not necessary "ART" either. It is how you do it, which makes it art. But has not the very notion of "ART" become obsolete, because of its constant refusal to face the present crises of Humanity? Has real life, King's death, the shooting of Rudy " THE RED ", the destruction of Columbia University, Khe Sanh, made even Destruction in Art inadequate, because of "art" limitations?

+ + + + +


Has the time come for the artist to make a choice: Either to stay the adulated "creative" toy of an aristocracy engaged in the most atrocious hypocritical games of corruption, domination and violence, and so probably become irrelevant and meaningless, like an old rotten core. Or, to involve himself more directly in human crises, and maybe become something more complete than just an "artist", something which would include today's social problems, and a definite commitment to the development of the human race, as well as a firm stand against Man.s exploitation and manipulation. This might include bringing the arts into the streets, going on the barricades when necessary, and playing an active role - how, this has still to be defined - in this cultural revolution, which is shaking and knocking down, all over the world, and right now, the very foundations of a very decadent western white empire.

+ + + + +

When all over the world students are revolting against the corrupt carcan of the Establishment, is it right for the artist to stay passive and indifferent? Can art ever evolve in a more mature and human form, or will it disappear in its obsolescence and its corruption?

Can I go on just being an "artist"?
JEAN TOCHE: Born in 1932, in Bruges, Belgian. Moved to New York in 1965. In the early seventies he created the GUERILLA ART ACTION GROUP together with Jon Hendricks and organized actions and happenings directly attacking and provoking the New Yorker art-establishment. Involved in political mail art under the title OF PISS@N'PUSS.—Lives in Staten Island.

above copied from:

The Crystallization of Concept Art in 1961, Henry Flynt

(c) 1994 Henry A. Flynt, Jr.

[This sketch was prepared in conjunction with an interview. It is not comprehensive, and could not be. Other published treatments of the concept-art program are

"Introduction," Blueprint for a Higher Civilization
Henry Flynt: Fragments and Reconstructions from a Destroyed Oeuvre, 1959-1963 (Backworks, 1982)

"Philosophy of Concept Art," Io #41: Being = Space x Action

"Authentic Concept Art, Past and Future" in Workshop Meetings (Art Meets Science and Spirituality, Amsterdam, 1990)]

Concept art differs from the schools of art in that it was prompted by what I saw as an intellectual opportunity. It was not one style in a succession of styles seeking to appeal to the public; it was a recognition of a debacle of mathematics--cross-related to what I saw as an incoherence of aims in "new music." The intellectual hammer-blows which impelled concept art were logical positivism; the ascendency of syntax in metamathematics; and crucially, my own iconoclastic philosophy. (E.g. Philosophy Proper, written in 1961, published in Blueprint for a Higher Civilization.)

Concept art was meant to replace all of mathematics with an endeavor which involved a Rorschach-blot semantics; and which did not claim to be cognitive, at least not in the inherited sense. Mathematics had already been disconnected from claims of realism; and I was extending that disavowal to a disconnection from claims of a priori truth. Concept art's value consisted in beauty, a beauty which was non-sentimental. Later I would say that its value consisted in "the invention of new mental abilities." Popularity had nothing to do with whether this avenue was worth taking.

With that background, it was easy for people to object that concept art had nothing to do with art. At the end of the original concept art essay, I offered that thought myself. My observation was quoted by the reviewer of An Anthology in the Times Literary Supplement of August 6, 1964.[1] Admittedly, concept art does not belong to a traditional artistic branch or medium (e.g. painting), and it is not pictorially sentimental. On the other hand, there is a very strong tradition in mathematics which claims artistic value for mathematics (in effect). What is more, there was a period in which "serious music" became intellectually pretentious and nonsentimental--and the serious music establishment backed this development.

Even if the objection that concept art is not art has a grain of legitimacy, it really is a dismissal by those who never saw what motivated concept art in the first place. We hear this objection because of the way publics for culture have been assembled: a camp of science, and a camp of unreason, which pride themselves on their ignorance of each other.

The juncture called concept art cannot be classified, nor can its future role be assigned, until it has been seen for what it was in the first place. Mere incomprehension is not a verdict on concept art. Thus, I find myself repeatedly explaining concept art's moment of origin.

Again, the juncture which elicited concept art had two tributaries. One was so-called new music and the avant-garde, especially in New York around 1960. The other was mathematics as interpreted by the twentieth-century discipline called metamathematics. I framed concept art by way of reacting to, and cross-relating, these precedents. My iconoclastic philosophy, again, was crucial; without it one would never see the cross-connection I did, much less turn the connection against mathematics and new music. Additionally, explaining myself to an art audience, I have to motivate concept art by building a bridge to it from the "new music" of the Fifties. Then I have to argue that it is permitted for a "visual" form to have musical structure as a source.

Two observations about the art world in 1960 as I knew it in New York.

- In the so-called new music, a computational, nonsentimental cleverness had been accepted as art.

- By the time we arrive at La Monte Young, Robert Morris, etc., the boundaries between the mediums become unimportant. There was a milieu which may have consisted only of Young, Morris, myself, and one or two others, and which was never chronicled in art history.[2] This milieu regarded the mystique of the separate arts--painting, sculpture, music, poetry, drama, ballet, opera--as "uptown," as corny. Methods (e.g. minimalism) were freely transferred from one medium to another.

(An example of how invested the art public in general was in the boundaries between media was Motherwell's decision to title his Dada anthology The Dada Painters and Poets. No matter how "transgressive" Dada was, painters were supposed to keep painting, and poets were supposed to keep poetizing.)

With Cage's "chance" or "indeterminacy," what I might call metasyntactical dissociations begin to enter the picture. This aspect becomes more pronounced with Brecht's "Time-Table Music," Young's word pieces, my "participation" in the March 31, 1961 Harvard concert, etc. (All explicit citations are in the Appendix.)

Young's word pieces are notable. (His 1960 compositions were published in An Anthology.) One of their aspects is pure cleverness in manipulating the conventions which frame a genre. Dialectical ingenuity, one might say; absurd logic. These pieces were classified as music; but most of them do not mandate sound or are not confined to sound. (Some of them are "music" only because they use a piano as a prop.)

Also Young had started a battle to be the "newest" with Lecture 1960. That battle came to a head, among other places, in the concert which I organized at Harvard, March 31, 1961.

Also notable are John Cage's word pieces, which were not written until after Cage had seen many word pieces by his juniors. 0' 00" and Variations III. (In July 1962, Cage had seen my 4-page "Anthology of Non-Philosophical Cultural Works."[3])

What is equally germane (I may have known of it but did not explicitly list it as a precedent) is Tristan Tzara's recipe for composing a dadaist poem, written before 1920.

To make a dadaist poem
Take a newspaper.
Take a pair of scissors.
Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.
Shake it gently.
Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.
Copy conscientiously.[4]
Other notable junctures:
Robert Morris, "Make a box" (1960)
"Project for Sculpture" (1961)
certain of my short pieces in early 1961
(Again, all explicit citations are in the Appendix.)
Richard Maxfield told me at his studio after my loft concerts of February 1961 that his tape compositions were (in effect) derivational process art. He said that it did not even matter to him whether the resulting tape was played. He did not become notorious for this position, probably, because he was only posturing. But this precedent influenced some of my early concept art pieces--the ones which began as "Colored Sheet Music."

Comparing the Eighties, and after, with 1960, I sense that there has been an aesthetic counter-revolution, or a retreat from the aesthetic frontier (if that matters). The boundaries of the mediums have been reaffirmed.[5] This accompanies the reaffirmation of success (fortune) as the goal of art. The option of an unsentimental art has been forgotten. The "art world" has either forgotten the episodes I have just reviewed; or else has co-opted the canonized pieces to literary postures. To my chagrin, I find myself having to teach the chapters in art history which preceded concept art--because they are unknown to the art public.

I worked out the original concept art rationale c. June 1961. The first public presentation of a concept-art piece was my exposition of "Innperseqs" at the A/G Gallery in July 1961. The first circulation of concept art pieces in multiple was the aforementioned "Anthology of Non-Philosophical Cultural Works."

Most of the early concept art compositions involved visual displays in one way or another (even though the actual phenomenon was not an inscribed image). Either that, or they were text pieces. Thus, to the extent that I was reacting to "new music," I transferred methods from sound (if the "music" even involved sound) to a visual medium. But, as I have intimated, not to painting or sculpture; instead, to images which are personal mirages, or to process objects.

Over the thirty-five years that I have been in the cultural arena, I have taken positions opposite to the positions a person would take who wanted to be successful or who wanted to be considered au courant. In what follows, we might as well acknowledge this and not try to downplay it. I announce that I am against art. I announce that I show mathematics to be "false."

It may be asked why I did not publicize concept art aggressively in the period from 1962 to 1967. The answer is that I made a critique of art and became an anti-art campaigner. That threw the intellectual lessons of concept art in limbo. At the end, I will return to these changes of direction in the mid-Sixties.

In college in the late Fifties, I studied mathematics, and expected to become a professional mathematician. That goal or aspiration had changed beyond recognition by the time I formulated concept art in 1961.

By 1961, I was convinced that I had destroyed all knowledge, all truth-claims. The early statement is "Philosophy Proper," published in Blueprint for a Higher Civilization. To expound my orientation here--and to deal with the issue of formulating "cognitive nihilism" in a way which is not self-defeating--would be too much of a digression, hopelessly beyond the scope of this sketch. What is germane here is that it followed that I had destroyed the knowledge-claims of mathematics.

Not only that. New music, computational as it was, claimed to be an intellectual achievement by virtue of its objective structure. The listener's appreciation of the music involved cognition of its structure. A paragraph from Jackson Mac Low's KOH (1962, unpublished) is characteristic.[6]

Works of art present, point out, cause us to perceive the various elements and relations contained in them. One comes to "know" the art objects or processes themselves. Every work of Serious Culture has the "cognitive value" of provoking in part of its audience the activity of perceiving its elements, apprehending the relations between them, and thus coming to know the object or process as a whole.
I was convinced that I had shown this phase of appreciation, strictly, to be delusive.

That recognition of structure in music can be delusive was illustrated by Stockhausen's analysis of a cantata by Nono, and the excuse he subsequently had to make for it.

Soon after the publication of [my] interpretation, Nono informed me that it was incorrect and misleading, and that he had neither a phonetic treatment of the text nor more or less differentiated degrees of comprehensibility of the words in mind when setting the text -- not even with respect to a possible representation of the sense of these farewell letters, and if I could interpret a quasi-serial vocal structure into II, it was a mere coincidence. The reader must therefore not take my reflections and analyses as being demonstrations of Nono's composition, but rather of my own -- demonstrated in the work of another composer.[7]
Again, I cannot here launch into advocacy of my philosophic orientation. Such advocacy forms the balance of my work of the last thirty-five years. But the curious onlooker has to accept that "outrageous" premises underlie the direction I take. Otherwise my rationale, in applying "new music" to metamathematics, will be incomprehensible.

It is necessary to say something about how mathematics came to be conceived in the twentieth century--by the discipline called metamathematics. Mathematics had long been conceived as the intuitive study of a realm of ideal entities, a Heaven of mathematical objects.[8] At the same time, there is a long tradition among mathematicians of considering pure mathematics to be the most perfect kind of mathematics, and of conceiving the value of pure mathematics to be aesthetic. I have been told that the lay public is entirely unaware of the image mathematicians have of themselves as artists. In any case, there is a passage from Lorenzen in the Appendix which gives the flavor of the quarrel over aesthetic claims among mathematicians. Another characteristic statement was made by the Dutch mathematician L.E.J. Brouwer in "Consciousness, Philosophy, and Mathematics":

... the fullest constructional beauty is the introspective beauty of mathematics, where instead of elements of playful causal acting, the basic intuition of mathematics is left to free unfolding, This unfolding is not bound to the exterior world, and thereby to finiteness and responsibility; consequently its introspective harmonies can attain any degree of richness and clearness.
By the twentieth century, Platonism in mathematics had come under attack as hopelessly theological. An attempt was made to conceive mathematics as a game with tokens which did not have to possess a meaning. Some sort of analogy was made between mathematics and games such as chess. (David Hilbert, stroke numerals.) The tree-structure of proofs, or what was called syntax, came to be the part of mathematics which "mathematicians of all philosophical denominations" agreed on. A characteristic statement is the one by Paul Lorenzen in "Constructive Mathematics as a Philosophical Problem":

There is one thing in common to mathematicians of all philosophical denominations: assertions of the type that a certain formula X is derivable ([turnstile sub F]X) according to the rules of a formal system F. There is no difficulty in interpreting "[turnstile]" as "derivable," because in spite of the modal flavour of the word the assertion [turnstile] X may be understood in the following sense: if you assert [turnstile]X I may ask you to write down a derivation of X. Only after this has been done -- and this is a finite affair -- I have to agree to your assertion.
This is the simple basis which in spite of all philosophical controversies still unites the mathematicians all over the world into a family-like group which enjoys a perfect mutual understanding.

Another notable expression of the syntactical focus of metamathematics is Joseph Schoenfield's textbook, Mathematical Logic.

I saw an analogy between the syntax which metamathematics arrived at, and the computational character, or derivational process character, of much new music. It was also evident that Young's word pieces concerned the metasyntax of music. [Not using the rules that define music, but twisting the rules.]

The original concept art was a genre which used visual displays or process objects or text. It was a genre of syntax, or of derivational process. The notion that the sort of structure which subtended mathematics could have aesthetic value was already established from ancient times for mathematics; and it had been proclaimed for new music.

The crucial step can be explained only with all of the above background. I had repudiated knowledge-claims, in particular the knowledge-claims associated with mathematics and with structure in art. Only in that context could I proceed to invoke the projection of mathematics to its logical tree-structure, and apply the dialectical ingenuity found in new music to that flattened activity. Rather than upholding mathematics or the objectivity of structure, concept art had the goal of breaking the framework of objectification. By lifting structure off from "music" and from mathematics, and pursuing avenues which break the framework of objectification, one accedes to uncanny structures. I originally considered their value to be aesthetic.

Referring back to new music, the claim of that body of work to be "music" was far more objectionable than the claim of concept art to be art. Music was traditionally sentimental, to say the least. The public presentation of what amounted to diagrams or derivations via the pomp of a symphony concert was absurd. As for the word pieces, it was only a convention to call them music. (In some cases, they were called music solely because they used a piano as a prop. Unavoidably, the public interpreted these pieces as mockery.) And because the structural exploration had to comply with the tradition of arithmetic form in music, and with concert protocol, it could never become independently uncanny.

It is well worth mentioning that I formulated concept art about a year before I made my critique of art. Originally, I had no reservations about committing to art.

Concept art was meant to exhibit syntactical structures which broke the framework of objectification. We find that for the first time ever, I used a perceptual illusion as a logical notation. I relativized the existence of a derivation to the perceptual agility of the "knowing subject" or "viewer." "Work Such That No One Knows What's Going On" augured that metasyntactical dissociations could be cumulated to the point of saturation.

So far, public discussion has not taken the first step in acknowledging the intent of concept art.[9] Actually, even though a few key philosophical texts of mine have been published, my philosophical orientation has not become a topic of comment; it has not been publicly pigeon-holed. The circumstance that I say that logic and mathematics are "false" has proved to be an impassable barrier; my stance in this regard has not been discussed or pigeon-holed.[10]

As far as I am concerned, the public today knows nothing about the much-trumpeted "new music" of the Fifties--and knows little about Tzara. If the public did understand the history, they would not be so baffled by an art-form which is not sentimental, which is about metasyntactical dissociation, dialectical ingenuity, derivational process.

Coming back to the mathematical community, I have often had occasion to note that everybody who is intelligent enough to learn some mathematics becomes an ardent partisan of mathematics. When a mathematician finds out that you do not venerate mathematics, he becomes your enemy for life. Aside from the question of sheer partisanship, a mathematician could say that what I was doing in the Sixties was a degenerate or illicit case; and this would be reinforced by the fact that even though mathematical philosophy had supposedly moved from Platonism to syntax, mathematicians remained utter Platonists. The point, though, is that these complaints would not arise if there were a context for what I was doing--if notions of mine such as "logic of contradictions" and "a priori neurocybernetics" already had public standing.

Probably the only two people who ever understood my project of cross-connecting avant-garde music with proof theory were Tony Conrad and Christer Hennix.

To me, the first concept art pieces, for what they prefigured or heralded, are still turning-points. Let me horrify the mathematicians even more, if that is possible. Translating into the received jargon, these pieces were meant to show the inconsistency--or nullity--of all finite formal theories: the finite systems whose consistency is claimed to be ascertainable by inspection.

On the other hand, the first pieces did not realize the intentions accompanying them in a decisive way. "Transformations" could be said to be merely a degenerate case in syntax. The fact that "Illusions" mixes perceptual considerations in syntax could be said to be illicit. To put it in the simplest terms, the first pieces are bluffs which do not intellectually oblige the mathematician or logician to live in my world. The obdurate mathematician could say that my cases were unnecessary and irrelevant.

Again, such objections would not arise if the supporting developments were well-known.

However, I myself am not satisfied by the early pieces. It was not until many years later that I knew enough to contrive concept-art pieces which arguably break the framework of objectification. In 1987, I resumed being a concept artist; the works from that time on realize the original intentions far better than the first pieces did.

The syntactical conception of mathematics evolved by twentieth-century metamathematics is not necessarily a good analysis of the mathematical process in an "anthropological" sense. However, that is not really an objection to concept art. Concept art had to be an extrapolation of the syntactical conception, for two reasons:

- It was the twentieth-century's attempt to demystify mathematical knowledge.
- Dialectical ingenuity, metasyntactical dissociation, were appropriately transferred to syntax, not to "semantics."
As for the latter, mathematics had to have been projected onto its logical tree-structure so that this tree-structure could then be manipulated in a blind and cruel way--a la Tzara and Cage. I have cited Tzara's recipe for making a Dadaist poem. One may pass directly from that to my exposition of "Haphazard System" in Blueprint for a Higher Civilization, pp. 97-99.

If one demands that a syntax has to be accompanied by a semantics or model (because that is the litany in mathematical logic), then the way "models" entered my early work was in "Representation of the Memory of an Energy Cube Organism." (My original label for this avenue was "strange culture description."[11]) The relevant features were, briefly, the inconsistent time-determinations; the history which is changed by the order in which its symbolization is remembered; etc. I asked that an overtly inconsistent "theory" be given a realization. Visionary as this was, like concept art, it was only a bluff. When you pursue these notions with the intent that they should affect "reality," you get critiques of the logic and epistemology of science, etc.

In the early Sixties, I did not dwell on the separate avenues, concept art and strange culture description, long enough to tie them together. That came with "1966 Mathematical Studies."

My positioning of the concept-art venture in the Sixties took some peculiar turns. As I said, as of 1961, I had no hesitation about committing to art. Mathematical cognition had been replaced by the search for uncanny structure, for ideas such that the possibility of thinking them at all was amazing. The defensible value of the enterprise, I thought, was aesthetic. Thus it was that all of mathematics and all of art (mainly music) which had syntactical pretensions were to be collapsed to a new genre of art. It was right to call it art, not "science." Even so, at the end of the concept art essay, I noted that concept art was entirely unsentimental, and I forthrightly acknowledged that that cast doubt on the appropriateness of classifying it as art.

Once I launched the panoramic critique of culture called From Culture to Veramusement/Brend, I shifted the emphasis from the pursuit of concept art to the reinforcement of my critique of the two sources of concept art, pure mathematics and "structure art." Objective aesthetic value could no longer justify an activity for me; and I discontinued concept art. Then, around 1966, there began a long period in which I revisited concept art; and reworked it discursively. (As investigations in formal language and in models of inconsistent theories--to put it in the jargon which my work seeks to supplant.)

1page 688
2The essay-memoirs I have published or will publish begin to chronicle it.

3first circulated in September 1961

4in The Dada Painters and Poets, ed. Robert Motherwell. This scheme had been announced rudimentarily by the English author Lewis Carroll and by Duchamp.

5The one permanent novelty is that separate painting and sculpture have been commingled as gallery ware.

6I have given a close paraphrase for smoothness, rather than trying to recast the original into a consise statement by ellipsis. The original is in Jackson Mac Low's personal archive.

7Karlheinz Stockhausen, "Music and Speech," in Speech and Music [die Reihe No. 6] (1964), page 49, footnote.

8It was said explicitly in Plato.

9Aside from brief acknowledgements by friendly critics such as Germano Celant ("The Book as Artwork").

10Except inasmuch as the interview in Io #41 could be considered to do this.

11Cf. "Anthology of Non-Philosophical Cultural Works."

Abbreviated References

"Concept Art," An Anthology, ed. La Monte Young (1st edition, New York, 1963)

"Concept Art" (revised), An Anthology, ed. La Monte Young (2nd edition, New York, 1970)

Blueprint for a Higher Civilization (Milan, 1975)

Henry Flynt: Fragments and Reconstructions from a Destroyed Oeuvre, 1959-1963, catalogue (New York, Backworks, 1982)

"The Apprehension of Plurality: An instruction manual for 1987 concept art," Io #41: Being = Space X Action (Berkeley, North Atlantic Books, 1989)

"Concept Art" (1970 version) reproduced in Christian Schlatter, Conceptual Art Conceptual Forms (Paris, 1990)

"Mutations of the Vanguard," Ubi Fluxus, catalogue (Mazzotta, Milan, 1990)

"Challenge to Conceptual Artists: Early Returns," in Lightworks magazine, No. 20/21 (Detroit, 1990), pp. 11-14

Tim Guest and Germano Celant, Books by Artists (Toronto, Art Metropole, 1981), p. 90

"Henry Flynt," review in Artforum, Summer 1989, pp. 139-40.

Robert C. Morgan, "Concept, Idea, System," Arts Magazine, September 1989, pp. 61-65

Richard Kostelanetz, Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes (1993), p. 45

Robert C. Morgan, Conceptual Art (1994), p. 13-14, 118-121

above copied from:

Risky Approximations Between Site-Specific and Locative Arts, Lucas Bambozzi

I’d like to address the term ‘site’ as a field of semantic migrations, as migrations that occur due to cultural dislocations, linguistic operations, technological influences, poetic licenses or theoretical digressions.

We usually share definitions that could be applied to a number of artistic works that are established in dialogue with their surroundings: as in site-related, context-specific, context-related… site-oriented… . These are the ‘places’ of the word, in its range, differences and associated connotations that both imprison and cause reverberations at the same time.

These denominations, beyond mere word choice, that define the qualities of the ‘site’ are complicated by debates seeking confluences and frictions between art and communication.

For those that do not have English as their native language, such a complication – the semantic exceptions of ‘site’ and its related dis-locations – originates with the use of the term ‘site-specific’. When translated literally to Portuguese, it accumulates even more linguistic risk. In the text-project “site-specific and (un)translatability”, artists Jorge Mena Barreto and Raquel Garbelotti (2008) suggest that the use of the term in the Brazilian context “should experience further elaboration, translation or cannibalization in order to avoid depleting the term’s critical and reflexive content”. In fact, a literal translation like ‘lugar específico’ (something like ‘specific site’) is inaccurate and wrong, because it shifts the placement of the term ‘specific’ – from relating to a quality of the work onto meaning a state of the physical place instead.1

The appropriation of this thought is due to a common desire to pull the term ‘site-specific’ apart, expanding it further through the relationship between the work and its political, economic and social context. This involves extending it beyond the internal relationships that, in the more conventional fine arts realm, would be attributed to formal elements related to color, texture, composition – or yet depth of field, editing, narrative, rhythm or construal of the diegetic space, in an audiovisual medium.

What matters here is not ‘re-searching’ another discussion on ‘site-specific’, but emphasizing aspects concerning the exteriority of the work of art, in surroundings that include the publicness of shared outside spaces. As Barreto and Garbelotti suggest, “it is through its relation to context that the work starts to build its meaning and its complexity. It’s by dealing with its surroundings that the object or artistic installation reaches its potential.”

Fulcrum (1987) ‘site specific’ sculpture by Richard Serra, commissioned for one of Liverpool Street Station’s entrances in London.

Revisiting artists like Richard Serra, or Robert Smithson, we face the same huge physicality to which their works relate and present themselves. We understand that in these works, such magnitude has a reason, especially when they relate to exterior elements of large scale. Since the 70s, artists like Hans Haacke have explored through their work a similar and yet distinct aspect: the way public space is transformed through the influence of mass communication media and private commercial interests.

Hans Haacke, News, 1969: dealing simultaneously with physical and informational spaces

I’m referring to a supposed movement of de-materialization of the notion of ‘site’ that, from the 70s on, begin to include works in which “sociological mapping is explicit” (Foster, 1996). In this context, site is no longer strictly physical, rather, it is impregnated with meaning that is both social and discursive.

As Miwon Kwon reveals in “One Place After Another: Notes on Site Specificity,” the term ‘site’ is not defined as a pre-condition but “discursively determined” (2000).2 Quoting James Meyer, Kwon discusses location in its functional aspect (‘functional site’) as a process, as an operation that happens between sites, defining location as a place that also overlays information.

For these authors, location becomes functional when it gets defined as a field of knowledge, intellectual exchange or cultural debate (including the eventual confrontation of the subject/artist in space, immersed in information such as text, photos, videos, data, physical elements and objects). This is the theoretical space that allows us to review location in the current mobility climate, under the influence of global positioning and geo-localization technologies.

Informational environment and the ‘communicatory’ location

Making use of 90s media aesthetics, and drowning public space with a mix of architecture and communication, the work of Barbara Kruger and more so that of Jenny Holzer demonstrates a presumed dis-location and de-materialization of the site in light of information and visual communication.

Krzystof Wodiczko’s large-scale projections also point to how immaterial information can structure urban public space as much as physical, built architecture – particularly with regard to a common space construal.

The political aspect of these works occupies a hybrid position, traced to the power generated by the meeting of their immaterial presence with the physicality of circulation spaces. Dan Grahan’s architecture-related video projects (designed for social interaction in public spaces) are landmarks given the manner in which social and architectural space, along with immaterial imagery, fuse together.

Nevertheless, every time we think about physical space, we tend to fall upon nostalgic notions of place. As we walk in the streets, gardens, parks or come closer to sculptural or architectural constructions located in public spaces, we would say, ‘nothing compares to the physicality of the space’, when observing or feeling the ambience produced by such constructions … These are nostalgic means for the reading of space, of location, of intimacy – a sense of physicality that nowadays gets mixed with the stimuli we receive from information connected to these places. It’s no longer simple to differentiate architectonic formations from the semiotic idealization of a space, a place or the city itself.

These would be the efficiencies of the so-called corporative ‘semiotic’ capitalism, as described by Maurizio Lazzarato, in which cognitive worlds are “constructed through a statement arrangement, through a sign regime” (2003), within spaces marked by global capitalism. It’s left for us, users or artists, to understand how these relations come about – something that advertisers also do, most of the time under better conditions. Strategies of representation play an important role in defining what could be a new form of alienation in contemporary society, as a result of the semiotic force of a capitalism deeply nested within communication networks.

Amidst this illusionary settlement, it is worth understanding how physical places and spaces complement the feeling of emptiness that certain technologies may cause. As an example, one could understand that the euphoria around virtualities at the turn of the century just kept us tied to computer screens and exclusively technologic networks. While being aware of certain dystopias that sometimes evolve when technologies define patterns of relationships, what is at stake here is to foresee how new wireless networks can allow processes of sharing and exchange, leading to interesting social unfoldings.

During 2004 Sonarsound, a branch of Barcelona’s Sónar in São Paulo, I had the opportunity of curating a show that allowed for the creation of an emblematic work concerning the occupation of voids, and connecting distinct and contrasting spaces.

The project Infinite Column II – Opposites, by Daniel Lima: connecting São Paulo’s west and south zones

The work “Infinite Column II – Opposites” by Daniel Lima consisted of two laser beams projected from two distinct places in São Paulo. One of the beams was placed at the top of the Tomie Ohtake Institute, wherein the multimedia exhibition housed the project, and pointed to São Paulo’s south zone. From its ‘target place’, a public school in the neighborhood of Paraisópolis, another laser beam was sent back to the Tomie Ohtake Institute. Between both points there are more than four miles of non-contiguous spaces, of urban areas that are connected by streets and lanes and yet share few common aspects – in other words, there is a huge social gap between the two neighborhoods. For three days, this horizontal light axis ‘physically’ connected both spaces (taking into account that light is also matter). Although the work took place primarily outside the exhibition space, audiences both within the exhibition and at the public school had access to live video transmissions of the immediate context of their surroundings. During the three nights of the event, the light beam oscillated between the concrete and the ‘immaterial’, projecting itself as a reaction to the social isolation inflicted by the metropolis (a sort of making the invisible visible), and acting like a possible confraternization, a temporary symbolic bridge bringing together isolations and exclusions imposed by the city. Art curator and critic Daniela Labra describes the work as follows:

There’s nothing new, but the children living in Paraisópolis who went all the way up to the top of the building and witnessed how the light was reaching their neighborhood, found out that São Paulo is really huge and has infinite lights that had never illuminated their surroundings. For people who saw the community from the top of such a distant building, the destination point of that light beam was like an explosion, a huge point giving back all the energy of that intense beam, coming from the sky with great violence.

A question is posed here: what is specific about this work? Surely neither the laser beam, nor the technology used and its particular qualities. Which space is it relating to? What is the work’s place? Certainly not the Tomie Ohtake Institute building or the public school in Paraisópolis, but maybe that void in-between and what remains connectable between them.

Different reactions: from the top of Tomie Ohtake Institute exhibition, visitors could observe the laser beam pointed towards remote neighbors of the vast city; in Paraísopolis kids were willing to reach the laser beam with broomsticks.

If technologies, taking into account their mobility and ubiquity, are now getting back to outside physical space, then one should seek out new ways to relate with space and its publicness, including experiences that can take advantage of such mediation possibilities.

locative media

The term ‘locative media’ is new, strange (unfamiliar?) and often strongly contested in ways that are not always constructive. Perhaps “It is a concept that can be misleading or, at least, imprecise” (Bastos & Griffis, 2007).

In technical terms, locative can mean locatable, traceable, tending to be intrusive, and/or serving surveillance purposes, with disciplinary vocation. But deviations are possible, and it is interesting to understand the technological deviations/approximations in the urban space. The so-called locative arts (as defined by Drew Hemment) “are simultaneously opening new paths to worldly dissemination and mapping its own domains and geopolitics”.3 Hemment proposes understanding the term in an inclusive manner, instead of an exclusive one. This can sometimes imply the risk of non-differentiation between locative media and other forms of space-mediated involvement. But it also lead us to face the context, instead of prematurely putting the field in a drawer.

Lately the only options available for people worried about some of the implications brought by new networking technologies is to either turn them off, or never start making use of them to begin with. New mobility politics will arise somewhere between turning it on and turning it off. (Drew Hemment, 2006 lecture at symposium)

The construction of a reconfigured idea of ‘site-specific’ in the terms presented until now configures ‘site’ as a space of non-material possibilities, while pointing to actual spaces.

When curating and designing the exhibition “Dislocations: detours of technology in public space” ( 2007), it was possible to think about a group of projects pertaining to the ‘locative’ approach that presented, as a common element, an inversion of the military procedure of localization, exploring the possibilities that arise in the space between mobile networks and urban space. The projects took into consideration the specific characteristics of the city of Belo Horizonte, and its Municipal Park (which served as a kind of laboratory for the locative installations). Thus, works originally created in other contexts, like “Tactical sound Garden” by Mark Shepard, “Air” by Preemptive Media, or “Motoboys” by Antoni Abad, had some components carefully adapted for the new situation.

“Invisibles” by Bruno Vianna was developed with a commission that resulted in a very specific work, related to specific spots at the Municipal Park, involving its stories, visitors and the environment. The project integrated concepts of mobility, portability and augmented reality via an exploratory stroll in the park, which involved an expedition in search of characters intrinsically related to that space. Users or participants received cell phones that were pre-loaded with a specific application that filtered live feeds from the camera using masks and overlays. It would superimpose previously taken pictures of park visitors onto to the real-time images seen on the cell phone screen. An image recognition algorithm allowed those images to ‘float’ in fixed locations, offering the feeling of a virtual presence in that place.

Visitors were encouraged to explore unknown paths in the park, which is not a typical occurrence, since the park is normally used as a throughway between two major avenues as opposed to a leisure space. Once cued into this exploratory mode, the visitor was to look for ‘active’ places, as recognized by the software application (network-based and GPS hotspots in further versions). This software was designed to identify visitors’ positions and insert different anonymous characters on the screen (from the internal image database), that appear sitting on benches, lying on the grass or near easily-recognizable reference points. Participants who own a Symbian S60 cell phone – such as Nokia’s NSeries – could install the software on their personal cell phones and explore the park independently. As part of the Festival, the project was linked to an exhibition space in a gallery, where the viewers could obtain not only the mobile phones and the software, but also the instructions to explore the work in the park outside.

A recurring concern in similar projects, both curatorial and artistic, has been to emphasize the possibilities of re-orienting individuals within the shareable urban space, often through the ludic dimension of the events created. As in a game, people participating in these projects tend to relate to each other in a less defensive fashion. Also, the fact that these projects are very often organized for collective experience suggests the communal potential of wireless technology usage. Spontaneous communal action is growing less frequent, however, due to the need for mediation in big cities such as São Paulo or Belo Horizonte – where these projects have been performed.

Artists working with communication media often use these technologies as a way of making aesthetic, social or political conditions explicit. They attempt to bring to the surface capabilities embedded in existing systems as another relevant strategy (as in a kind of ready-made), which sometimes also reflects conflicting conditions. Curator Steve Dietz comments on this process, and echoes a key question about the pertinence of networked art, when he assumes that “the Internet is more interesting than most net-art works” (2001).

Degree Confluence Project web site: the goal of the project is to visit each of the latitude and longitude integer degree intersections in the world, and to take pictures at each location. The pictures, and stories about the visits, will then be posted here.

The project “Discontinuous Landscape” by Fernando Velázquez is a contribution that points to this kind of thought, while simultaneously deconstructing the Cartesian or didactic perspective that begins to get associated with certain mobile technology projects.

In the project, participants choose the locations they want to visualize from a coordinates menu by sending an SMS to a server. The available locations are mapped using the Degree Confluence Project’s web site. This site has received a lot of attention, and users who own a GPS device are invited to visit confluence integer points across the globe and take point-of-view photographs. Degree Confluence aims to offer “a geographically mapped sample of the Earth,” mathematically organized in a supposedly precise way. Like other collectively constructed projects (like Google, YouTube, Dailymotion, 12 seconds), it provides an opportunity for users to act as contributors to the project, by posting their testimonies (texts and images) of how they arrived at the specified points and how they registered them.

Discontinuous Landscape is an interactive installation that uses the database and SMSs to make collective landscapes. The picture shows the installation in the Festival – nov.2008, in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Velázquez’s project interacts with this device, searching for images of existing points at Degree Confluence and bringing them to the exhibition context. There is local interaction at the exhibition space and its surroundings, but the project is in fact remotely located (at Degree’s server) and refers to even more remote points. The visitors can also search by themselves for a coordinate confluence in the setting where the work takes place, in order to introduce a more local or directly contextual landscape to the work. One way or another, the project approaches the question of location by denying its math, by taking over someone else’s view, by ‘smuggling’ coordinates from one space to another, by introducing subjective elements and by scrambling the specific.

The idea of place is ever-present in the process, even literally. But what specific ‘site’ does such a work relate to? Certainly not that of the coordinates. What context does the work dialogue with? Presumably with the web context, the yearning to progressively map the planet and, not any less interestingly, it relates to the disposition and mobility of the many individuals that remotely collaborate with the project.

The results are visualized in a group of four projections that form an imaginary landscape; it is discontinuous, but capable of expanding the notions of place and space as fixed territories, destitute of subjectivity.

Another project that inserts the city in the exploration ethic, bringing together physical and informational elements, is “Hiper GPS”. Created by Cicero Inácio Silva and Brett Stalbaum, it applies a hypertext context to the city structure. Walking along the city streets, participants can access, with the aid of GPS-enabled cell phones, a mix of texts, images and pre-recorded sounds in the system. Although not yet implemented and still a work-in-progress, the project moves toward thinking the city not as mesh of geographic coordinates and numbers (latitude and longitude spare data do not mean much to most people), but as sensitive points and regions that can lead people to share stories and eventually discover things in common.

The accessibility and the adoption of the commons (commons as delimited by private interests) are vital elements in the tenuous practices related to mobile technology. By these means, the mobile device has the potential to become less of a new mediation gadget and more a tool of approximation to social reality.

As such, we see an evident yet tentative proliferation of works that deal with great scale and magnitude (i.e. parks, cities), which simultaneously present themselves as almost invisible interventions in physical space. Their configurations affiliate such works with unstable and uncertain categories, just like the concepts related to locative media, but they suggest a possible appropriation of ’site-related’ or ‘context-specific’ ideas – devoid of physicality, and because of that, so reliant upon it.

Premonitions do not matter that much, but it is worth saying that this is a technology that gains support and legitimizes itself through the popularization of its usage and application. No other technology has spread so rapidly as mobiles have been, managing to root themselves in the most popular layers of society.

So, the place of ‘locative’ that really matters to us is not a slogan pushing platitudes like anytime, anywhere, everywhere. Rather, this place begets ideas around the approximation of very powerful practices in the art field, and debates that involve physical spaces and their particularities, tensions and conflicts. It might be a risky approximation to equate works so thoroughly discussed in the art field with others that are not yet really considered as art by the main art circuits. Only time will allow us to discover how to juxtapose, in the same field, the physicality of some with the total immateriality of others. Thus, ‘locative’ is a concept with only tentative and risky affiliations with some of the most relevant work that has been produced under the concept of ‘site-specific’, those of functional sites. For us, it remains to wonder what kind of works will yet appear in this new and muddy ‘site’ that is taking shape in the world.


1. Adopting the simplicity of Barreto and Garbelotti’s explanation: “in English, the expression site specific is used as an adjective to define the specificity of the work of art. An expression such as “sítio específico” in Portuguese qualifies the physical place as being specific and not the work. It functions as a substantive”, not really suggesting the work as specific to the qualities of the place.

2. Kwon’s texts on site-specificity have been very referred to recently by artists and researchers, that reveals a presumed revival of the study of the place of location in art.



Arns, I. (2000). Social Technologies: Deconstruction, subversion and the utopia of democratic communication. In D. Daniels & R. Frieling (Eds.), Media Art Net.

Bastos, M., & Griffis, R. (2007). Beyond “recombinant/emergent” and “perfomative/locative”. Leonardo Electronic Almanac.

Barreto, J. M., & Garbelotti, R. (2008). especificidade e (in)traduzibilidade, base text for debate and workshop: Contemporary Artistic Practices in moving systems or site-specific today, with Jorge Menna Barreto and Raquel Garbelotti, art and Public Scope, Centro Cultural São Paulo and Fórum Permanente.

Dietz, S. (2001). Porque Não Tem Havido Grandes Net-artistas? in Leão, Lucia (ed.) (2004) Derivas: Cartografias do Ciberespaço. São Paulo: Anablume/Senac pp. 137-147

Foster, H. (1996). The return of the real: the avant-garde at the end of the century. London: The MIT Press.

Kwon, M. (2000). One Place After Another: Notes on Site Specificity. In E. Suderburg (Ed.), Space, Site, Intervention: situating installation art. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Lazzarato, M. (2003). Struggle, Event, Media.

Meyer, J. (2000). The Functional Site; or, The Transformation of Site- Specificity. In E. Suderburg (Ed.), Space, Site, Intervention: situating installation art. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


Lucas Bambozzi is multimedia artist and researcher based in São Paulo, Brazil. His works have been shown in solo and collective exhibitions in more than 40 countries. He directs the Mobile Media Art
International Festival.

Above copied from:

Please visit original site for essay with images as referred to in this text.