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The nature of temporary site specific art

I make artwork which is connected to place. According to the Tate the term ‘site-specific’ refers to a work of art designed specifically for a particular location and that has an interrelationship with the location. I agree but would add that the work is about interrelationships with people first and foremost and that the art does not necessarily exist in physical form even if it is a sculptural intervention. I speak from personal experience and these are my views which I put forward for discussion.
I recently commissioned eleven minutes of footage to expand on my approach to site specific work which can be viewed here

The short film is an overview of a commission for which the history of a location is balanced with its current owners and present day use to inspire a creative response. An artist can put existing work into a place or they can allow the place to lead them to new ideas and ways of making. Site specific art should challenge an artist to re-evaluate their modes of making in the same way that collaborating with another person would do.
There are usually other people who will use or see the place where the art exists and they often have an established relationship with that place; The work of the artist is therefore asking those people to question the way in which they experience that space. I have created a series of remote mountain top neon artworks and imagined people trekking to those sites and have also worked in town centres where hundreds of people encounter the work in passing. Even if nobody sees the work in its location, common artistic practice is to photograph and publish the work in some form. Site specific art can serve to rebrand place.

In every event it is the relationship that the artist builds with the viewer that is paramount and, while the relationship to location gives weight to context, the emotional response of the audience is what really matters to me. This is where site specific art is so exciting because that audience is not bound by the confines of a gallery (those confines usually being preconceptions about what will be seen and the language with which it should be discussed) and encounters art as part of every day life. It may not be read as art and one could argue that it is more powerful because of that.
So where does the art actually exist? Perhaps the true artwork is the memory of the event or experience that becomes something personal to everyone who has seen the work…. Almost that the art is an ongoing and ever changing subconscious performance piece.
I like the idea that a temporary work is no more temporary than the Mona Lisa. Leonardo lovingly carried this painting around with him and since his death in 1519 it has been seen by so many people that it is officially the worlds most famous painting. It is as far from ‘temporary’ as can be imagined, however, I have only seen it twice. I have also seen many temporary works which connect me to a landscape or a place and have a deep imprint on my mind. So as a viewer the time spent with something temporary and something very permanent are equivalent. The art exists in my memory and the emotional responses that are conjured by that memory.

Is the art the physical substance encountered or is it my personal response which redefines the work in the context of my experience and world views? It is an exciting notion that no artist truly knows what he or she has created if the final outcome is spread and reinvented through countless people and cultures with diversity of meaning and over uncharted periods of time. Perhaps the mind is the ultimate site specific location.
The projects which demonstrate my ongoing exploration into this topic can be seen here: mussonretallick.com

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Posted by author: Neil Musson
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3 thoughts on “The nature of temporary site specific art

    • Glad that you enjoyed it Becka, this really only scratches the surface of the debate around site specific work and there is much more to explore concerning ownership and the relationship between people and place. A group of Syrian refugees were brought to see this work and they wrote to us afterwards to say how much it had impacted them and related it to their own experience of being displaced. Their letter was very moving and just one example of the power of art to communicate across cultural and language barriers. I could write another blog just on the diversity of interpretations!

  • What an amazing installation – I particularly liked ‘migration’ over the water. It’s obvious just how passionate the both of you are about your work and I love the fact that you want visitors to be immersed and iterative with it. Very much looking forward to seeing you on the second day of the South West Group’s Textiles Weekend – it’s always an informative, thought-provoking and fun day.

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