Transitory Sites: Crossing Boundaries in v1b3’s Scan2Go


Meredith Hoy
University of Massachusetts, Boston


Imagine yourself with an exhibition catalog in your hand, an object constructed of paper and ink and glue, like any other book. But as you turn the pages, instead of finding a series of photographs documenting artworks that have been shown at another place in another time, you find that what you are seeing is the exhibition itself, or perhaps an entrance to an exhibition that is distributed across a network of webpages. Instead of photographs you see pages of checkerboard boxes known as QR codes, which, read by your mobile device, transport you to a website, the location of the artwork in question. You find as you navigate this catalog not only that you are transitioning constantly between places, real and virtual, but that you are engaging an array of artworks that address the notion of transition, of shifting between place, time, media, and various experiential modalities.

A collaboration between the College Art Association and the curatorial collective v1b3, Scan2Go is a catalog project that gathers work from 27 artists, each of whom is assigned a QR code that links to a particular artwork online. Every four months over the course of one year, the artwork linked by the code will change, providing for an ongoing, dynamic reengineering of the typical experience of an exhibition catalog.

The pieces in this catalog treat the built, natural and social environment in terms of their operations as transitional zones. The boundaries between nature and city, between the situated present and the displacements of dreams, between the here and elsewhere, are explored and disrupted. The QR code provides a gateway or portal, facilitating border crossings. When the threshold of the viewer’s presence in time and space is crossed, via the QR bridge, a variety of encounters reveal themselves, each taking a particular approach to the notions of site and transitions between sites. Location, in these pieces, becomes unstable, subject to flux or sudden shifts between spaces. In some cases, viewers of these pieces find themselves occupying multiple places simultaneously, or find themselves absent from documented events.

Transitions between sites and transitions between states become governing principles of these works, pathways into this collection of otherwise disparate objects, events, and processes. Movement through and between places becomes a recurring theme as one navigates the collection, mobile device in hand. The curatorial strategy for this dynamic, nomadic exhibition facilitates the experience of serial transitioning, both within and between works, between media, between the physical object of the catalog and the networked vistas to which its QR codes link us. This exhibition also works to create a notion of social sitedness through its inauguration of a “virtual residency” within a private Facebook group. As the artists work on the project over the course of a year, this residency will foster a sense of community, a site of provocation and interaction, though its participants are scattered across various physical locations.

As each artist will link three separate projects successively to the QR code during the year, the project itself provokes revisitation, lingering, an experience of a project that is not only organized serially but also in its variegated contents and contexts insists on shift, flux, and change. The project is nomadic, portable, just as the devices used to transport the viewer from catalog to artwork are also mobile. Instead of site-specificity, in which an artwork is built with attention to the particular features of its location, these works become fundamentally itinerant; the site or sites in which this collection is experienced by the user will inform and be informed by its sudden transformation into a space of exhibition, a location for the display of artworks, which are themselves attendant to the phenomenon of transformation.

While the preponderance of projects in this collection deal with issues of transition and boundary crossings, the issue of site itself is configured across several rubrics. As Miwon Kwon has argued in One Place After Another, site itself is not a self-evident or historically stable category. Following James Meyer’s discursive, process-based reorientation of sitedness from physical to “functional” site, Kwon defines the structure of site “(inter)textually rather than spatially.”[1] For both Meyer and Kwon, contemporary art practice since 1970 has increasingly shifted away from the notion of site as a physical location; the boundaries of site are now discursively constructed, such that site exists as a concatenation of informational sources, from text to installation to photographic documentation to video, all of which combine to create an ideational territory, a zone of exploration, experimentation, and focused inquiry. A site may be a physical space, but it may also be organized temporally or even according to concordances in informational patterns. There has occurred in contemporary art a transition away from physicality into a conceptually grounded notion of site and location, such that the work no longer inheres in a particular spatial configuration but rather in a constellation of ideas. The projects in Scan2Go engage in a highly discursive and variable conception of site and sitedness. Their deep investment in transition and translation prevents any given site from settling into stasis, from becoming fully present to itself, from becoming too clearly demarcated. Articulating site in terms of zones of experimentation allows this collection of works to maintain a radical openness.

Meyer’s estimation of the contemporary site-specific work as a “movement; a chain of meanings” and Kwon’s characterization of them as “ungrounded, fluid, virtual” corresponds neatly to the initial appearance of a disparate array of artworks in Scan2Go.[2] Their virtuality is guaranteed by their status as online projects, but most if not all contain several portals or notional points of transition through which virtual constructions document both discursive and physical spaces. The virtual pathway from the QR code to the online work provides further intersections with social and political situations, environmental conditions, and other phenomena that define patterns of thinking, seeing, and behaving in the spaces of the everyday life-world. The segments of projects displayed on the QR-linked websites often lead outside of themselves, to ongoing processes and series. This facet of these works—their open-endedess—is amplified by their organization under the rubric of a dynamic exhibition that will change over the course of a year, providing new mental and physical maps of the connections between and beyond the projects. The metonymic chain of association and meanings is realized both in discrete works, in their concern with transitions between various types of places and spaces, and is set up in the intersections between them.

The works in this catalog can be grouped loosely into categories; while all of them engage in various types of transition, translation, and boundary crossing, several distinct organizing principles become visible when examining the project as a whole. These groupings each provide a different lens with which to interrogate the discursively constructed site, thus functioning to expand the field within which the idea of location can circulate as a productive trope. The activation and retooling of the concept of site occurs through meditations on time and history, place and its converse—no-place, nature and ecology, and information. Other categories, such as narrative and architecture and the built environment, apply as well, and some projects encompass more than one of these categories, but I have suggested a few of these groupings to show one possible path of interpretation, or model for reading, a complex set of artistic interventions.

Site often speaks to the notion of place and to the idea of emplacement. Distinct from the notion of space, place is that which personalizes space. Whereas space can be described mathematically or abstractly and is thus a quantitative category, place is assessed qualitatively. Space is the expanse in which humans, as undeniably spatial beings, think, act, and feel. But space becomes place when it begins to be endowed with particular qualities, when spaces are differentiated from one another based not on abstract or arbitrary principles of division, but on stories, memories, or emotions. Place connotes familiarity, a sense of felt recognition of a bounded area. It might suggest a feeling of home (the heimlich), just as a terrifying or uncanny place can bring up feelings of fear, uncertainty, or disorientation.[3] In short, a place is a space that has a boundary, which is sensed or known subjectively. As such, a place can be established either individually or collectively. When places are delimited by a group of subjects, the collective, they both afford the possibility of shared experience and are in turn defined by that shared experience. Places can be named and precisely bounded, or they can be experienced more indefinitely, as discursive or physical regions having permeable or malleable borders. The area contained in a place is known intimately and intuitively, through an act of recognition rather than one of abstract cognition.

In Jessica Irish’s Moving, viewers confront a vertiginous anyplace as pedestrians on moving walkways are shown on a horizontally split screen. The mall, imagined in terms of utopia, becomes a featureless landscape whose blank physiognomy is transportable to any geographic location. In overtaking the particularities of place, the no-place of the mall drains experience of the placemaking details that differentiate one territory from another. The “site,” here, becomes a universal signifier; the viewer is able to import him or herself into a kind of aimless movement through the space of capital, a space that dissimulates neutrality, a spectacular sameness that ensures a soporific sense of security across borders[4]. The mall is both locatable and parseable and strangely independent of its particular location. Location is arbitrary; place dissolves into the emptiness of anywhere. This is a project that challenges the specificity of site, pointing to an instance where the mall becomes a recognizable category precisely in its non-sitedness, in its capacity to exist anywhere at any time[5].

The sense of removal from space and time, the creation of the generic and repeatable non-place, is echoed in Hassan Elahi’s Meridian. The airport is a conduit, a means of transport from one place to another, and as such is itself devoid of characteristics of place. It is, like the mall, a no-place, but more than the mall, an in-between space, a space of disorientation, of temporal shift, of dislocatedness. People move through the airport with their belongings in tow; they arrive and depart, constantly in flux. Geographical location becomes nearly irrelevant in airports; to have passed through a city via an airport is not to have become familiar with that place, but merely to have touched down in a streamlined environment whose qualities reinforce the sense of being anyplace. The sense of serial repetition in airports, of having traveled miles only to arrive in another long hallway, defies the experience of movement and change. The space of airports is continuous, as if comprised of a single architectural configuration. It is heterotopic, removed from everyday life and everyday activity[6]. The traveler in airports is always outside of time and space, waiting to be reintegrated into the life-world. Elahi’s project engages with non-specificity and flux, unfolding as a gridded tapestry of views of airports that moves lugubriously, creating shifting patterns but refusing legibility. One place is not distinguishable from another; individual nodes become insignificant but in their contribution to the texture of the whole. Site, here, emerges in the network of nodes, in sameness and the continuousness, where transition is both guaranteed and strangely foreclosed.

The notion of “home,” the quality of place invoked by the idea of being at home, in a home, would seem to exist as the theoretical converse to the sprawling no-place of the mall and the interstitial between-places of the airport. Winds of Change, a video project by Drew Browning and Annette Barbier, introduces viewers to the systematic dismantling of the security of the notion of “home” taking place with the rampant rate of foreclosure and home abandonment in the U.S. The opening sequence of the video displays a graph of home foreclosure rates from 1980 to 2010. Gradually, the graph metamorphoses into a pair of curtains onto which is projected footage of homes in the process of being razed. This video adapts the themes taken up by Gordon Matta-Clark’s Splitting project of 1974[7]. The violation of the sacredness of domestic space is amplified here, however. This time, instead of observing a painstaking process of creating a narrow split in the frame of a house, which permits a delicate spear of light to pierce the interior of the home, spectators watch as architectural integrity is violated wholesale. Any suggestion of the impermeability of private space is dramatically undercut as bulldozers push through and rip down walls, now seemingly paper-thin, as vulnerable as a house of cards. The American Dream is dependent on the sacredness and inviolability of home; place is most profoundly recognized in the feeling of coming home, of recognizing what is most familiar and most personal. What is documented here is the transformation of home into raw material, the metamorphosis of place into a disaggregated pile of rubble.

Channel 2, a collaboration between Jessica Westbrook, Adam Trowbridge and Oskar Westbridge, invokes a new kind of site: the space of dreams. New Fall Lineup, the first iteration in a four part series, sets in motion a slow-motion collision between the open road and the surreal metamorphosis of time and space that occurs in dreamstates. If the American dream of enclosed domesticity is violated in Winds of Change, this video presents the open road as another aspect of that fantasy. America is a nation of road trips and roadside attractions, home to the image of a perfect nuclear family out for a ride in their station wagon or SUV, bags and boxes and camping gear packed to overflowing in the trunk. The open road is a space of desire: for conquest, for freedom, for unfamiliarity and novelty. The broad vistas of the North American landscape, the yearning for frontier spaces, have played central roles in developing a particularly American mythology. Jackson Pollock, with his enormous, mural-like canvases, was touted as an artist whose work possesses a sense of endlessness imported from the vast expanses of sky and rolling hills in the American West. In New Fall Lineup, however, Channel 2 deprives the viewer of such visual extravagances, narrowing the field of view to a shallow, rapidly advancing foreground bathed by headlights. It is a familiar view, the road in darkness seen from the vantage point of the occupant of a car. This view evokes, perhaps simultaneously, the urge for a return to the known or a surging forth into the infinite. As the headlights push forward, the stability of this reality begins to dissolve when the road begins to morph into a foaming seashore. What was before a territorial exploration shifts now into movement through a dreamscape, into a domain of free association, metaphors of the unknown proliferating and crowding each other, jostling for realization. Places collapse into one another, but all gather around the central idea, the site, of the frontier, the edge at which the space of the here and now becomes the space of possibility, of the unthought and unimagined.


Site becomes a discursive category when it is disaggregated from the material specificities of a particular place. When site is no longer defined by the dimensions outlined by four walls and a roof or a perimeter boundary, instead coalescing around a broad constellation of ideas, associations, and connections, it moves into the realm of discursivity. Colloquially, sites are known as physically demarcated zones, but they can extend along the temporal axis as well, engaging with history and narrative. Site becomes an historical category when a focused investigation begins to interrogate the longevity and metamorphoses of an idea, shifts in resonances and meanings attached to a place, changes in the shape of meaning itself over time. A narrative can be a site: specifically, a site of inquiry and ideational navigation. The notion of history itself becomes a site when it is placed under scrutiny, examined for contingencies, for patterns of repetition and deviation. History becomes a nexus of informational entities that can be considered in relation to one another.

Scan2Go interrogates the notion of site by foregrounding the moments and movements between sites, orienting the production of meaning towards the theory of montage, in which the flash of understanding emerges in the juxtaposition of two images[8]. Here, juxtapositions occur not in the realm of the image, but in the dichotomies and overlappings between places, places that are required to be read in terms of one another. Paul Amitai’s In Between States explores two sites, adjacent to one another: a post-World War II camp in Zeilsheim, Germany that the U.S. Army adapted to house displaced persons in former forced-laborers barracks, and a corporate industry park. Site, here, is defined both in terms of specific location and, like Jessica Irish’s malls, operates as another instance of a cultural signifier that invokes a cultural memory of the past, on the one hand, and concretizes the spectre of the corporate organization of the present-day life-world, on the other. Amitai deploys the historicity of place to reveal the resonances of places that seep beyond their physical walls. In one instance, he experiments with burning a present day photograph of a row of houses, once barracks, into an image of the same barracks taken between 1945 and 1948 by his grandfather, the camp photographer. This process provides a visual index of a cross-generational memory. The sight of the grandson is burned into that of his predecessor, the present day photograph suggesting the suppression of history through the fading of memory, a willful or inevitable act of forgetting.

Nearby, the former headquarters of Nazi collaborators has become a new kind of bunker: a corporate industrial park. Highly securitized, the site can be accessed most easily by virtual means, via satellite imagery and websites, or from a distance, by means of photographs. The physical site becomes a discursive territory, one that relies on various means of information exchange—signs, aerial views, virtual logins—to determine its limits. The park itself becomes part of a network of power relations; access is dependent on one’s position in a hierarchy, knowledge of the company’s operations is obscured. The placement of the park on the grounds of the former headquarters of Nazi collaborators is suppressed entirely.

Site, in this project, is defined not only geographically but temporally, by the longue durée and by memory, preserved photographically. Site is determined not by an obdurate sense of presence, but rather by absence. In her genealogy of site specificity, Kwon points out that “site specific art initially took the site as an actual location, a tangible reality, its identity composed of a unique combination of physical elements: length, depth, height, texture, and shape of walls and rooms”[9]. Here, site becomes place through the action of intangible resonances with the past. Site is registered in the shifts between now and then, between acknowledgement of the past and its disappearance, in the ghosts of history that reside in the still-standing walls of the laborers barracks. Above all, site is realized in the flickering transition between present and past, in the afterimage of the past that constitutes the present.

Mary Agnes Krell’s The Neptune Project, a second work invoking time and history, deploys photography of another architectural structure whose decaying facades reveal it as a place shot through with historicity, with not only the physical effects of the passage of time but also the transformation of the landscape that occurs as a result of cultural change. Krell’s photographs of the closed Neptune Sardine Factory are a record of obsolescence and abandonment. Unlike Amitai’s photographs of the repurposed barracks, this structure has not been invited to alter its conditions of use. It has merely been left, piles of sardine tins—detritus indicating its former function—scattered about the grounds.

Marc Tasman calls up a very different notion of a site of historical processes with a series of self-portraits, taken every day on a Polaroid camera between July 24,1999 and July 24, 2009. The project catalogs a personal history, charting the passage of time with a daily practice that registers patterns and differences, shifts in mood, hairstyle, light, as well as repetitions. By digitizing the collection of photographs and inscribing metadata within the digital archive, Tasman ensures that this piece also participates in the translation of site into an informatic territory.


One of the simplest means of differentiating sites from one another is to mark them as urban or rural. While urban space involves the incorporation of the subject into specific behavioral and corporeal patterns, wherein the comportment of the subject is in some way determined by the social and physical architecture of the city, rural spaces, or more precisely, the space of nature, is often regarded as a liberatory zone, freed from the constraints imposed by the systems of power that conduct the rhythms of the city[10]. The very idea of “nature” is a construct, signifying an untamed wildness that functions in direct contradistinction to the ordering mechanisms at work in urban areas[11]. Nature is the unacculturated cousin of civilized society. Pure wilderness is resistant to the taming effects of emplacement; when it is transformed into site, nature becomes bounded and defined. From the vast expanse of uncharted openness a section is apportioned, set aside as the channel for various routes of investigation. Nature, a space previously of the unknown, becomes an object or a specimen, and as such becomes functional and discursive, acquiring the characteristics of site. Ecology, as the study of the relationships between living systems, treats nature not as an object but as a dynamic operational enchainment. The forces in biological systems and natural phenomena differentiate themselves into ecological zones or territories, such that an ecological “place” will be defined not in purely experiential terms but in terms of the interrelation and interdependence of living entities within it. As in the case of other discursive sites, ecological sites are systems whose boundaries are delimited by information exchange; an entity belongs within an ecological site if it is functionally dependent on other entities within the system.  Nature transforms into site when it is turned into a landscape, when it is imbued with associations that separate it from undifferentiated wilderness. Sites develop in ecological terms when experimentation assays the limits of biological interdependence in a given system.  In Scan2Go, several projects engage the process by which nature becomes a site as a result of human activity within it.

Where is the presence of nature in the concrete jungle of the city? Uncontainable nature rises through the cracks of sidewalks and fissures in the walls of buildings. It grows not in the neatly controlled greenery of city parks, but in the interstices of the built environment. Lynn Cazabon’s Uncultivated challenges the notion of “wilderness” as a space of otherness and separation from the architectural maze of urban dwelling. Irrepressible nature bursts into life in the form of weeds in the forgotten or untended spaces of the city, while carefully cultivated plant life is coaxed and fertilized into being in sanctioned zones. Weeds are the sign of the uncultivated; they rise up where humans have lost or relinquished control of their environment. The presence of weeds indicates that the wildness of nature cannot be eliminated, that nature infiltrates the space of the urban centers and thus cannot be located in a pristine elsewhere. In Uncultivated, there is no need to trace the transition between the space of nature and the urban landscape; they are shown to be copresent with one another, in an intimate proximity that confounds categorical distinction.

Cazabon’s classificatory system engages the relationship between abstract, cartographically charted space and the specificity of place. The user is introduced to the familiar interface of Google maps, with various locations tagged in green. When a tag is selected, a photograph of an interstitial space of nature appears on the screen, which itself leads to a database of information about the plant life contained in the photograph. In this way, Cazabon explores various layers of informational content, providing a panoply of experiential registers ranging from photographic views of tangles of organic matter, to tropes of scientific knowledge in the form of tables and charts, to the hovering, distanced perspective of the map.  In this project, navigation entails shifts between types of knowledge, from the photographic record to the cartographic plan. But what is foregrounded most strongly, here, is the bringing into visibility of forgotten crannies of the city, of places that have retreated into wildness, quietly challenging the inorganic angles and planes of the surrounding city.

Chris Kallmeyer’s [Ferment]cheese, which documents the trajectory of a product from milk to cheese, engages with the notion of process itself, ultimately uncovering the centrifugal forces at work in a process-oriented artwork, the fact that the work inheres in a distributed network of places, events, media. In Ferment, the video documentation of a performance at the Berkeley Art Museum in California traces the contours of a multi-media, relational performance in which participants come together to learn about the transformation of milk to cheese as they listen to a sound installation and watch footage of the elsewhere in which the cheese they are eating was made. In this piece, site is scattered over many physical places. Meaning emerges in their overlappings and juxtapositions. The sense of the community of participants in the piece is expanded beyond the museum performance as those present at the museum are enfolded into the extended process of cheesemaking. Cheese, the focal center of the piece, becomes simultaneously the object and the site of the piece as it moves from one place to another. The physical places in which it undergoes its process of transformation are of course sites in themselves, but the product becomes an agent which binds these sites together, and as such it operates as the functional site or center of the work.

Nature, once-removed, presents itself in David Burns’ excerpt from his video Landmark. A long take from a fixed camera position of a specially constructed photo-op on the edge of the Grand Canyon records visitors climbing repeatedly onto the taller of two broad, flat rocks to have their photograph taken before this marvel of the natural world. Very little of the canyon itself can be seen from the vantage point of the camera; instead, a network of concrete paths and railings occupies the foreground. Nature is overtaken by human construction. The vista point is arranged through this construction, human behavior before it directed through a series of movements that culminates in a brief climb and the capture of a photographic record. Arms outstretched, raised in a gesture of triumph, or flashing a quick “thumbs up”, the visitors mark their conquest of the vast expanse of the canyon. What is immediately noticeable is the repetitiveness of the actions, and the fact that, at least within the boundaries of this narrow frame, none of the explorers approach the railing to take in the view of the canyon itself. Accompanying the longer video are brief expository passages on the theory of place taken from Freud, Heidegger and Habermas. In the excerpt, a reading from Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams underscores the awkwardness inhering in the act of being seen by the camera, the stiffness that occurs in the event of being photographed, and the self-absorption that overtakes the desire to see beyond oneself, into the far reaches of this natural wonder.[12] Nature itself is sidelined as the primary site of this project; instead, it is the constructedness of the viewpoint and human behavior before and within it, which take pride of place. Site becomes discursive, and the limits of place are proposed not by the physical terrain of the canyon, but by a behavioral nexus determined by photographic technology.

Many of these projects are tests, experiments, the visual documentation provided through the QR code leading to further vistas and avenues of inquiry. The link for Ferment provides documentation of an event, one that required multiple events and processes for a performance to come to fruition. Amitai’s video presents “tests” and “samples” of his research on the Zeilsheim displaced person’s camp and the Sanofi-Aventis corporate park. Likewise, Paul Catanese presents a series of field tests from his Visible from Space project. These experimental works highlight the contingency of site, the fact that the boundaries of a given site are porous and highly dependent on the type and range of assays conducted upon them. Catanese’s research project explores the possibilities of creating drawings so large they would be visible from space. By replacing the scalar relationships that commonly exist within the parameters of human vision with drawing on a celestial scale, Catanese defines site in terms of cosmological relationships. Catanese conceives this project in terms of a thought experiment, decentering the work, refusing an orientation towards a single object but rather subjecting it to centripetal forces of experimentation across multiple media, including video, artist’s books, found objects, interviews, and events. In this case, site becomes a nexus of exploratory activity pertaining to the ideas about the relationship between earth and sky, to dreams about space, to fantasies about the great unknown. In one field test, a rocket is shot into an expanse of blue sky. The rocket disappears, and the camera holds its gaze on the heavens, seeming to track the movements of the clouds. The sky is a non-site, a canvas of sheer possibility, of familiarity and yet unknowability. The project shows space to be a site of imaginative contemplation, known through science fiction stories, photographs, and news reports. It can never be captured or bounded, but rather assessed through fragmentary, necessarily partial documentation. As the rocket crosses the boundary from visibility to invisibility, the infinite extension of the sky itself becomes the object of the viewer’s imaginative activity. The possibility of orientation based on earthly landmarks is removed, and we are thrust into a dizzying relationship with the ether.



Defining site discursively is to define it in terms of patterns of information. Site is less about a physical location than the information that can be collected from or appended to it. Site is outlined by the information that is used to define that location, whether it is a conceptual construction or a physical space. Information, as one variety of site found amongst the projects in Scan2Go, is by nature non-physical, though it can have profound physical effects. Information is comprised of raw data patterned into organized, meaning-laden streams that can be calculated, computed, or channeled through other information-processing systems, including the human sensorium. A node of information becomes a site insofar as it engages specifically with a certain construct or idea—it becomes a locus of investigation, of activity, and of meaning.

Scan2Go includes several projects that provide encounters with information-processing, and particularly with the translation of one type of information into another. These become instances of border or boundary-crossing not in a physical sense, but in a notional one. Crossing the boundary between nation-states, as Christian Philipp Müller did in his 1993 Illegal Border Crossing Between Austria and Czechoslovakia, requires a physical act of movement, but the border that is being transgressed is an idea, a political construct. The delimitation of these boundaries is arbitrary, dependent on political consensus and the enforcement of cartographic lines of demarcation. An abstract idea thus influences physical comportment and social behavior, revealing the deeply material effects of non-physical information patterns and, by extension, the process by which information becomes a site of human activity.

The projects dealing with information in Scan2Go likewise investigate the processes of transferring material configurations into information, and then back into new material arrangements. In short, they perform translations from one medium to another, demonstrating not only the capacity for information to take on distinct guises while retaining the same underlying organization of data, but also the instability of information, the fact that the epiphenomenon of its material presence can drastically change the way information is processed. The genotype may remain the same, but the phenotype varies, producing variation in our relationship to it.

Both Tom Blum and A. Bill Miller perform translations of artistic concepts from one medium to another. In his Variation on a Theme by Vasarely, Blum begins with a work by Victor Vasarely. Vasarely, working before the advent of computers, envisioned a universal, hypothetically computable, visual language based on basic plastic units. As such, Vasarely’s art becomes something more than a series of optical tricks, instead providing an instance of an artistic coding practice. Blum literalizes Vasarely’s metaphorical gestures towards coding, translating his works into a series of visual code poems, each of which begins with a static work by Vasarely that is then is transformed into a moving digital iteration using the programming language Processing.

Likewise, A. Bill Miller performs a translation of one artist’s language into a new visual landscape. In this case, the translation is literal; Miller generates an abstract “font” from the wall drawings of Sol LeWitt and presents LeWitt’s text “Sentences on Conceptual Art” in this font. The result is an illegible expanse of squares comprised of hatched lines, which collide and intersect with one another at different angles. The text becomes illegible, but takes on the morphological stamp of LeWitt’s own drawings, the look of his obsessive permutations of basic forms such as the square and the cube.  This piece is an exercise in the permutation not only of shapes, but also of information; it reveals the means by which an informational foundation can yield multiple types of structures, each of which must be read through different sensory or conceptual modalities. What can be observed in this cross-hatched tapestry is a demonstration of the ideas presented within the original text, a performative enactment of the notion that the idea is the machine that makes the art.

Instead of deploying electronic, computational technology to a translation between media, Meg Mitchell creates a physical environment, literally weaving the text of Umberto Eco’s “Signs and the Role of the Reader” into a landscape of netted fabric. Taking up Eco’s central idea that the role of the reader is to provide a shape and a structure for a given textual source, Mitchell constructs a malleable, transformable object in space that can be pulled from its resting state into alternate shapes by a participating subject. As various weighted strings are pulled by the viewer, the draped, woven fabric, attached to several levering devices, transforms. As in the example of a text, parameters for this transformation—the extent to which it can be pushed and pulled into various shapes—is given by its basic shape and the limits of the material. But instead of presenting the viewer with an inert object, Mitchell encourages a partnership with the structure, a dynamic feedback loop between object and a reading, interpreting, and acting participant.

Brian Evans conceives of his abstract computational landscapes, in which sound and image are both derived from the same digital substrate, as maps. Like computers, maps are information processing systems; they organize data into a legible format, creating a field of information that describes a territory in terms of the selected data, whether it pertains to topographical features, national borders, ecological zones, or any other input that is subject to cartographic description. Evans’ maps reveal the contours of a synaesthetic landscape, in which sound takes on form and form emits sound, both lugubriously morphing, twisting, and looping around one another to create distorted and compelling patterns. This piece explores the various ways in which information can be processed and rendered sensorially apprehensible, both graphically and aurally. The basic numeric source becomes subject to a series of translations, exposing a range of possibilities for information to be experienced phenomenologically. Conceptualizing this piece through the metaphor of the map stretches the limits of cartography itself; here, what is being charted is not a physical territory, but rather information. What becomes visible is, in fact, the very shape and sound of information itself.


The groups I have outlined above do not contain every work in this dynamic online exhibition. I have provided these readings, instead, as a key, one that provides a direction for parsing trends within the exhibition as a whole. Other categories avail themselves; Lane Hall and Lisa Moline’s Street Action, Ivan Martinez’s Trust Me, There’s Something to See Here, and Carl Rosas’ Metamorphosis: Flipping the Grid provoke meditations on the sociology of and social practice within urban space. Hall and Moline’s Street Action takes up the space of the city of Milwaukee not simply as an architectural construction, but as a space of action and activism. A series of videos documenting political interventions countering right wing extremism redefines the city, in this instance, as a zone of practice instead of a neutral spatial container. Martinez’s Trust Me follows a protagonist whose first person experience of moving between three cities—Chicago, St. Louis, and Miami—is captured using an iPhone: the ultimate personal device for managing one’s subjectivity and subjective experience. In this project, the boundaries of the city are established experientially rather than cartographically. There exists no bird’s eye view to promise mastery over the space, but only a vertiginously rotating series of brief glimpses of urban spaces with no key provided about their significance or narrative content. The city, or cities, become a quilt of movements and glances, of momentarily captured vistas of everyday spaces. Rosas’ Metamorphosis intersects with the idea of place and non-place, foregrounding architectures of transmission, such as antennae, towers, and the electronic grid, to emphasize the human position as one node of information transfer within hertzian space, wherein humans and electronic machines exhibit an inextricable interdependence, and the human condition is defined by electronically mediated experience.

Elizabeth Demaray’s TellMeTV and the Town Crier and Tasman’s series of self-portraits, among other projects, including also Martinez’s Trust Me, could be placed in a category dealing generally with the issue of narrative. These projects explore methods of destabilizing narrative, calling into question narrative conventions and the seamless progression of a storyline from exposition to denouement. TellMeTV, consisting of a series of videos of individuals retelling the plot of any television program, reintroduces first person storytelling and oral history into a remediated world in which information transfer is filtered through electronic sources[13]. Tasman’s 3,654 self-portraits, digitized and archived, are displayed first in a chronological succession, relaying a visual narrative of a decade of the artist’s life. But chronology is not Tasman’s only parameter for presenting his archive; instead, the digitization of the photographs into a data-minable information bank allows Tasman to pursue other narrative threads embedded within it. Narrative begins to take on a different structure, one governed by keyword tags rather than a causal chain of events. The idea of narrative is thus informed by the forms and permutations made possible by and within the datascape of electronic media.

Another category might be proposed for Garth Paine’s Ant Walk and David Jude Green and DJ Green’s The Index Finger, both of which signify and evoke ambulatory experience through the mechanism of sound. Ant Walk mimics the frenzied but ordered activity of an ant colony in the form of a musical composition, while The Index Finger deploys sound to orient the listener towards a particular direction and to afford a sense of sonic touch. Sound offers a new dimension of understanding of space and place, one that taps into the physiological and kinetic experience of the body and its movements. This is a different kind of boundary crossing than others in this collection of works; a qualitative mapping of the features of individual places is performed aurally, so that the body is made familiar with the physical parameters of place through the action of sound rather than vision. The crossing occurs in the mixing of senses; whereas the physicality of place is usually established through sight, these pieces assess the capacity of the body to orient itself through the kinesthetics of sound.

What I have offered here is an interpretive matrix that can, itself, metamorphose and intersect in a variety of ways. In its own structural flexibility, this matrix takes into account that these pieces are, collectively, “about” the fact of transition, transmutation, and boundary crossing. It is in the fact of shifting between physical and discursive spaces that these projects cast light upon the contours of site and sitedness, both of which reveal themselves in these works through oscillatory movements between place and non-place, between historical locations, between nature and urban space, and between media, or modes of information transmission. Place becomes distributed, history becomes historicity and visibility becomes informationality. These pieces call into question the stability of the categories into which they fall, and the catalog as a whole invites viewers to construct their own account of how the works within it disrupt standard categories of place and site.

[1] Kwon, Miwon. One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity. Cambridge; MIT Press, 2002, 29. Meyer, James. “The Functional Site, or, the Transformation of Site Specificity.” Erika Suderburg, ed. Space, Site, Intervention: Situating Installation Art. Minneapolis; University of Minnesota Press, 2000, 24-5.

[2] Kwon 29

[3] For Heidegger’s conception of homelessness, see, for example: Heidegger, Martin. “Building, Dwelling, Thinking.” David Farrell Krell, ed. Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings. San Francisco; Harper Collins, 1993, 363. See also Freud, Sigmund. The Uncanny. David McClintock, trans. New York; Penguin, 2003.

[4] Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Donald Nicholson-Smith, trans. New York; Zone Books, 1994.

[5] For more on postmodern spaces like the mall, see Jameson, Frederic. The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.

[6] Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces.” Nicholas Mirzoeff, ed. The Visual Culture Reader. New York; Routledge, 1998, 229-236.

[7] Lee, Pamela M. Object to be Destroyed: The Work of Gordon Matta-Clark. Cambridge; MIT Press, 2000.

[8] Eisenstein, Sergei. Film Form. Jay Leyda, trans. New York; Harcourt Brace, 1949.

[9] Kwon 11.

[10] For more on practices subverting the behavioral organization imposed by urban planning, see the work of the Situationists. In particular, see Sadler, Simon. The Situationist City. Cambridge; MIT Press, 1998.

[11] For more on the construction of the notion of wilderness, see Cronon, William. “The Trouble With Wilderness.” William Cronon, ed. Uncommon Ground: rethinking the Human Place in Nature. New York; W.W. Norton & Co., 1995, 69-90.

[12] Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. James Strachey, trans. London; Lowe and Brydone Ltd, 1971, 243.

[13] Bolter, Jay David and Grusin, Richard. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge; MIT Press, 1999.