This essay proposes a revision of the dominant critical vocabulary for site-based practices in contemporary art and poetry through a critical engagement with the work of art historian Miwon Kwon. Focusing on recent art and poetry that sites itself not in relation to physical places but instead in relation to “discourses” (like anthropology or archaeology), the essay contests Kwon's arguments that artists like Mark Dion and Renée Green relativize artistic practice in relation to other disciplines and that their work breaks with the concerns of art history. Demonstrating instead how they recode disciplinary boundaries and modes of authority, I show how such new and expanded models of contextualization became central to the history of site-specific art since the 1960s, once the concept of site began to organize not only literal sculptural objects but the notion of an artistic context (both synchronic and diachronic) more generally. Without acknowledging the contingency inescapable in such modes of contextualization, art historians have presented the discursive site as a stable and authoritative frame. To address this problem, the essay then turns to a range of site-based contemporary poetries (Flarf, Rob Fitterman, Lisa Robertson) in which “discourses” (of Web commerce, nationalism, and urbanism, among others) function similarly as sites. But rather than merely assert such sites as stable frames of reference, contemporary poetry tends, often perversely and playfully, to anatomize the legibility of these very frames. They thus call our attention to what might count as the raw materials, scales, and intertextual logic or coherence of a discursive site.
Lytle Shaw; Docents of Discourse: The Logic of Dispersed Sites. boundary 2 1 August 2009; 36 (3): 25–47. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-2009-018
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