Staging the Land: Site-Specific Creation and the Issue of Perception

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University of Avignon, Provence, France
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University of Avignon, Provence, France
June 13-15, 2012

Conference website:

Host lab: Cultural Identity, Texts and Theatricality

In partnership with:

Musée Gassendi, Digne-les-Bains (Provence, France)
Ecole Supérieure d'Art d'Avignon (Provence, France)
Haunch of Venison Gallery (London, UK)
Observatoire du Land Art (Paris, France)

This conference will explore contemporary site-specific creation, including Land Art, environmental art, public art, and performance, focusing on the analysis of the sensory, intellectual, and aesthetic perception of the work outside of the museum walls, and the study of contextualized / conceptualized forms and their modes of representation. Avignon Locators, a site-specific work by American land artist Nancy Holt, will be dedicated during the event. Commissioned by the University of Avignon, the sculpture reactivates Missoula Ranch Locators – Vision Encompassed, one of the artist's major works built in Montana in 1972 and dismantled 30 years later. The creation of the work in the campus garden, within the city walls, will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the original creation.

In 1967, the art critic Michael Fried started a debate when he decried what he viewed as a drift toward the theatricalization of the object-viewer relationship in plastic arts. Influenced by Merleau-Ponty, artists – especially minimalists – had been highlighting the part played by the audience in characterizing the work of art, thus challenging the modernist frontal and cerebral approach by introducing more participatory and sensual modes of perception. According to Fried, artists such as Robert Morris and Donald Judd questioned the integrity of the artwork by turning the viewer/eye to an actor/body.

Fried was primarily troubled by the difficulty to categorize such creations. Still cautiously called postmodern, these artists addressed precisely the issue of categorization. Judd claimed the hybrid status of his "specific objects" which, he said, were neither paintings nor sculptures. Between non-painting and non-sculpture, Fried positioned what he called "objecthood," provocatively stating that "the espousal of literalists Objecthood amounts to nothing other than a plea for a new kind of theater, and theater is now the negation of art" ("Art and Objecthood," Artforum, June 1967). He also considered the introduction of time in the aesthetic experience as a problem: "literalist sensibility is theatrical because, to begin with, it is concerned with the actual circumstances in which the beholder encounters literalists work." While modernists defended the idea that any form of aesthetic experience should be instantaneous, the artist, performer, and critic Robert Morris argued that "only one aspect of the work is immediate: the apprehension of the gestalt. The experience of the work necessarily exists in time." ("Notes on Sculpture, Part 2," Artforum, Oct. 1966).

In response to Michael Fried's statement, Robert Smithson encouraged his fellow-artists to turn away from the modernist approach ("Letter to the Editor," Artforum, Oct. 1967). From then on, the young avant-garde, led by earth and site-specific artists, began to leave the studios and explore the trails of hyper-contextualization, fully assuming theatricality in their approach to art. They broke down barriers between disciplines – sculpture, architecture, film, photography – and pushed the boundaries of aesthetic experience. Owing both to performance and earthmoving, their sculptural actions question the viewer's status and involvement in their work. By documenting their own creations, they stage the creative process to the point of turning it into a new aesthetic object. Finally, by developing artworks that require the participation of the actor-spectator – like Nancy Holt's Locators, emblematic of this approach – these artists encourage the viewer to reconsider his perception of the physical environment, as well as his own inner space.

This conference will focus on visual arts and performance, without geographical limitations. Topics include, but are not limited to:

• artists' strategies to take over the viewer's sensory field,

• the perception of time and space in aesthetic experience,

• the legacy of aesthetic theories (picturesque, sublime...) in contemporary site-specific creation,

• tensions between mediation / absence of mediation, site / non-site…,

• the reactivation of site-specific works,

• interactions between work / context / concept,

• the documentation, representation, transmission of site-specific production,

• local / global dialogue,

• land use, and the environmental, political and economic weight of site-specific works,

• reclamation art,

• new technologies (site-specific soundscapes, virtual/enhanced reality, etc.),

• performing practices in site-specific creation,

• etc.

Papers will be delivered in English or French.

Please send an abstract of no more than 250 words for 25-minute papers, along with a short résumé (80-100 words), to Laurence Belingard (laurence.belingard [at] and Emilie Corvisy (corviem [at] by March 1, 2012.

Papers selected by the scientific committee will be published.