Site Situation Spectator: Curatorial Notes
Curatorial essay in Site Situation Spectator 2008 exhibition catalogue (Singapore: NUS Museum, 2008), unpaginated.
This exhibition sees the forging of a relationship between architecture and art in works by students of NUS's Department of Architecture who are also participants of the University Scholars Programme. Four projects have been developed in response to sites both on- and off-campus(NUS Museum, NUS' Faculty of Art s and Social Sciences Canteen, and Jalan Kubor}. The projects demonstrate the complexities of merging creativity within space through in-depth research.
...this site is not a precondition. Rather it is generated by the work... and then verified by its convergence with an existing discursive formation.1
Buildings are usually constructed to be seen frontally, but sites are more elusive. Few present themselves head-on. Around the corner, in the distance, even out of sight, they conspire illusion. The viewer's mobility is inevitable, the viewer's experience of place is inarguable, but the site is not static either. Expectations of a site can affect what happens there. So seeing through a site is a necessity. 2
The question of 'site' needs interpretation. Site-specific work should be able to generate new identities, as much as they surface and sustain existing relations, histories and practices. Following such ruminations, the Advanced Module for Architecture in 2007-2008 is developed as an independent visual and textual research project culminating in a site-specific exhibit exploring the theme of 'Site, Situation and Spectator'.
Four architectural students re-examine their relationship with site. With insights into the processes of exhibiting, curating and conceptualising a site-specific exhibition gained through a series of curatorial workshops and artist-based programmes, they set out to learn how site might be reciprocally handled in contemporary art and architecture practices. This interdisciplinary exchange reinvigorates an in-depth understanding of site. It inspires new methods of mapping and expands artistic spatial perspectives within the architectural discipline. Thus, the exhibits emerge from a critical engagement with site-bound spatial practices, and their attendant socio historical-political contexts.
Pedagogically, this programme emphasises constructive critique and collaborative partnerships. Thinking through the visual artefact is key. Students were required to read, research and analyse beyond the scope of their architectural curriculum. Conceptualising, and then, making the artifact, was crucial to this intellectual process. The exhibits were developed from a non-linear trajectory of tactile experimentation, and relied on collaborative relationships with curators, craftsmen, filmmakers,academics and policy administrators. Thinking was validated by making, and vice versa.
Ultimately, one also had to deal with the responsibilities of catering to an unseen but omnipresent public. Here, the question of authorship versus the issue of readability became central.
Invariably, some of the projects will inevitably be more persuasive than others. Nevertheless,the pragmatism of staging a site-specific exhibit made manifest once-abstract notions of place, the architectonic creation of conditions for experiencing the work, and mobilising this work to 'speak' to a projected audience.
The four projects attempt, if modestly, to delve into several complex themes, which intrigue and trouble architectural production. On a more specific level, these exhibits are variously iterations of loss, myth, mortality and private reverie. Using different media, various scales and operating across different sensorial and psychical registers, they comment on memory, consumerism, beauty and the imagination. Site, Situation and Spectator is strategically positioned at the crossing between art and architecture. In making a space where context, authorship and audience are understood and experienced as ultimately inseparable, it recapitulates these intractable conditions as creative and critical points in architectural production.
1. Miwon Kwon. One Place After Another: Site-specific Art and Locational Identity (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. 2004), p.26.
2 Lucy R. Lippard, 'Around the Corner: A Photo Essay', in Carol J. Burns and Andrea Kal1n (eds.), Site Matters: Design Concepts, Histories, and Strategies (New York: Routledge, 2005), p.1.