Beyond the Site: Installation Art at the End of Geography


Session Title:

  • Short Paper Presentations

Presentation Title:

  • Beyond the Site: Installation Art at the End of Geography



  • This paper proposes that as artists build “sites” on the World Wide Web, they are constructing a revolutionary ontology for art – one in which the distinction of “site” and “non-site” will no longer be possible In her seminal essay “Sculpture in the Expanded field” Rosalind Krauss theorised the disappearance of the post renaissance “monument” into the negative ontology of postmodern sculpture, in terms of “a combination of exclusions” – the sum of the “non-landscape” and the “non-architecture”. The artist Robert Smithson offered a simpler theory in his opposition of “site” and “non-site”. Modernist sculpture “occupies” the physically empty, semiotically blank and ideologically neutral “non-site” of the gallery while postmodern work actually “constitutes” its “site”.

    Contemporary installation works extend beyond art’s own objecthood into the space and the context of its presentation, encompassing thematic, architectural, social, political, historical, theoretical, critical and even market system concerns. Indeed, “site” specific installations, have sullied the “white cube” of modern art. Of course, sculpture is not the obligatory point of entry into postmodern installation art. In the curatorial “installation” of colour field and hard edge, the placement of works on the gallery wall was treated as being significant. Further, as Brian O’Doherty has observed, “the colour, field installation “shot” should be recognised as one of the teleological end points of the modern tradition”. In fact, it can be said that, modern art arose from paintings search for a more esoteric role as the optical precision of the camera displaced this art from its function as a medium of record.

    At the end of this trajectory, with the transient and/or inaccessible qualities of contemporary installation art, photo-graphic documentation has become the medium in which the new art is widely experienced. While the “installation shot” confirms the “uniqueness” of the “site”, this documentation leaves its own artifice unindexed and it can be argued that “mass” photographic reproduction has, quite surreptitiously, become the primary medium in which this postmodern art form is experienced. Today the Internet has enabled photographic representation along with sound and text to be “piped” into our homes, as easily as water, electricity or gas. Further, as digital simulacra proliferate, the very distinction of a “real” place, person or thing, from its image or representation-photographic or otherwise, will be dissolved.

    With the instantaneous connectivity of computer mediated communications, geographical distance appears to have been eliminated. “Here” and “there” have been brought together in the palm top “now” of fiber optic connectivity. Indeed, by virtue of Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP) all the representations contained in the multitude of “sites” on the Internet exist in virtual proximity. As bandwidth increases and multimedia technology goes on-line, fluidly articulating the remote experience of image, moving image, text and sound in an interactive “virtual reality”, it will become difficult to differentiate the actual from the oneric.

    Images and texts from varied sources are merged in order to release their latent meanings. “Al Kesah” (1988), for instance, constitutes a playful yet critical response to the penetration of global mass media into the local culture and consciousness. Ismail Zain was also very critical of the heroic status of the artist and in this series of piquant computer prints, he seems to delight in the downward mobility of the artist that results from the computer’s indifference to skills of the hand. Ultimately Ismail Zain must, himself, be “read” a signifier for the transition from formal to contextual concerns and for the critical assimilation of new technology into Malaysian artistic practice.

    The Failure of Marcel Duchamp/ Japanese Fetish Even! is a harsh parody of Marcel Duchamp’s Etant Donnes, is an extension of Niranjan Rajah’s critical installation practice. While interrogating the ontology of the image in Computer Mediated Communication, this work also attempts to mark the problem of cultural constituencies in the Internet. In Wayang “Virtual”16, Khairul Aidil Azlin and his troup combine traditional wayang kulit with digital real time rendering, using IRIS Showcase software. The performance of this work will utilize single channel video back projection to enable a computer generated three dimensional puppet to interact with the traditional wayang kulit puppets. This wayang with two dalangs unites the realm of shadow with that of three dimensional illusion on the same screen.

    The resulting ontological conflict that can be read as a metaphor for the Malaysian psyche in its present state of transition. Humanity is on the threshold of an information era. The rapidly developing countries of Asia are poised to leap-frog from national primary industrial production into the global knowledge economy. Set within a political globalisation of the “new world order” this technological and economic transition will engender a new social and cultural paradigm. In the Malaysian situation, given the priority of economic development, there’s no doubt that industry and commerce lead in the deployment of the new technologies The National Art Gallery’s 1st Electronic Art Show (Nov 1997) charted the Malaysian response to the electronic media of the late 20th century. It was premised by the belief that, in fact the arts should lead. Up till this exhibition references to Malaysian works of electronic art were scattered across a historical narrative which is essentially constructed in terms of the domestication of Modernism.

    The 1st Electronic Art Show attempted to extract and organize the fragments of electronic art presently dissipated in the wider narrative, in order to construct the foundation for a history of electronic media in Malaysian art. Further the show gave an overview of current practice in electronic media, as it presents new works selected from artists proposals. The show was organised in terms of the following categories VIDEO ART, COMPUTER ART and LIGHT ART. Niranjan Rajah and Hasnul Jamal Saidon, the curators of the show, bring a selection of works from the COMPUTER ART category to ISEA98. This includes – Pioneering computer print works by kamarulzaman mat isa, Ismail zain; also, Contemporary computer print work by suhaimi tohid; Computer animation by faizal zulkfili; and Cd_roms by hasnul jamal saidon, niranjan rajah, helena song and … Online works by niranjan rajah, ling siew woei; Smart board/vrml “painting” by ling siew woei; Real time computer animation/performance by khairul and troupe.