Category Archives: Situations

Readings – DeCerteau – Walking in the City

Weird one this, starts off as a nice commentary about viewing New York from the top of the World Trade Centre. DeCerteau contrasts the view from the top “seeing the whole” with the experience of being down below, where you can’t see the totality but can only feel your way through the environment. He talks about how Renaissance painters gave us a view of cities that we weren’t physically able to really experience until much more recently, and talks about how we can now have an “immense texturology” before our eyes.

He then goes on to talk about the utopian notion of the city as a three part operation. The first of these relates to the city’s production of its own space, and how the rational ordering inherent within it suppresses chaotic behaviours. Fair enough, but from this point on I didn’t understand much of what was going on at all. Maybe the point is that the complete confusion and bewilderment I felt having read the text would equate to the experience a person may have when exploring a sprawling urban mass from ground level. That must be it.

There was a good trip to the top of the Elysian tower to discuss the text then. Very interesting, I’d never been there before, there’s a huge sense of isolation and separation from the rest of the town, and a kind of opulence to the fixtures and fittings that nobody’s there to enjoy. Other people had gotten on better with the text than I had, they’d been much more open to just experiencing the language and going on a kind of journey with it. It’s a piece of writing that needs to be read with poetic ears. Must get some.


Readings – Lazaratto – Immaterial Labour

Immaterial Labour – labour that produces the cultural and informational content of the commodity. Not normally thought of as “work”, activities involved in defining and fixing cultural and artistic standards, fashions, tastes and public opinion.

Workers have begun to be expected to use subjectivity to make decisions rather than simply being dictated to. This then involved the management having to learn how to control subjectivity. It seems capitalism now wants to be able to control workers’ actual personality traits in order to get them to produce “value”. This is arguably more totalitarian than the previous division between mental and manual labour. Workers’ subjectivity is only being valued as a consideration by management so it can be brought into line and exploited to achieve the company’s aims and increase their profits.

In advertising, fashion, software production, photography etc. people don’t operate within confined work places but in society at large, or “basin of immaterial labour.” Such people may think they are independent or self-employed but are in fact still being exploited by their employers, work and leisure become the same thing. Immaterial labour has the goal of improving effectiveness of communication, making work and consumption more efficient.

In the post-industrial model, information and its distribution is the key. Market research and advertising sells the product before it even gets made. The goal then becomes about creating a self-perpetuating, ever expanding market for bigger / better and different products, for even more people to want in larger quantities because you’ve already told them that they do. Labour doesn’t just produce commodities, but the desire to expect more of them.


Readings – Work Ethic – Helen Molesworth

Nice reading this, draws parallels between the post-war shift away from manual manufacturing towards services and management, and the way artists’ working methods began to shift as a response.

Rauschenberg’s erased deKooning, Frank Stella and his house paint, and Robert Morris box with the sound of its own making are put forward of artists’ preoccupation with artistic labour. Leo Steinberg “The work strips the adverb from the definition of art. A thing done – period.”

Artists began to be interested in the process of the making of work and focussed on it as an end in itself. Traditional making skills were valued less as time went on. There was a parallel with post-war society; managerial and service labour became more prevalent, and there were anxieties around the shifting terrain and definition of work. An increasingly affluent middle class in the 1950s developed who needed more goods to consume so more people were needed to instruct workers to make these goods.

Duchamp’s urinal had long before questioned the notion of the unique creation of the skilled artisan and the value of aesthetics. Though as artists embraced this and were determined to make works which wouldn’t be seen as mere commodities, the viewing public began to find it all a bit hard to understand. Also, Duchamp and Barthes both emphasised the role of the viewer as the final destination of the artwork, “The birth of the viewer must be at the cost of the death of the author.” Artists like LeWitt, Judd and Yoko Ono began to investigate ways to challenge or subvert their own authorship. LeWitt began to see himself as a sort of clerk.

The art school model also was changing in parallel; it became very important to be able to theorise and articulate your artistic concerns, and traditional, skills-based training waned. Artists began to be aware of portraying themselves publicly as workers of a certain type; Pollock painting  his large canvasses – Barnett Newman in a suit looking like a business executive.

Loft living became a feature of the artists’ lives, where city councils would allow artists to reside in lofts where light industry had taken place, but only on the condition they actually produced work while there. Therefore the notion of what the artist’s role actually was and what he should be physically doing while in the studio was up for examination. Chris Burden – “Honest Labour”, where he dug a ditch over 3 days. The ditch was actually useless, but he had to work physically hard to make it. It therefore had merit as “work” even though there was no functional or commercial value to it.

Others worked the notion of the viewer into their practice, and considered their role and often obligations, challenging the notion of the passive observer. Allen Kaprov – “Fluids”; where participants built a wall of ice only to then watch their labours melt away. He wouldn’t allow the piece to be documented though, arguing that it was experiential only. You had to be there, literally. Also Yoko Ono questioned the viewer’s role as voyeur/spectator by presenting her audience with moral dilemmas regarding her own nudity and physical intimacy.



Readings – Museums on the Move – Daniel Birnbaum, Hans Ulrich Obrist

A look at the history of museums and how there have been different models of presenting work and engaging with the public.

Josef Ortner – organised a new work by a major artist every year since 1998 which was unveiled on the stage of the Vienna State Opera each night before the show would begin. He was apparently an excellent fundraiser and had a very innovative approach to presenting artworks. He founded the Museum in Progress in Vienna, where the interest was in the production rather than the consumption of space. He was heavily influenced by Alexander Dorner, who was a well known museum director and had championed Moholy-Nagy and El Lissitzky. His invitation of Lissitzky to Hanover, Germany, and the subsequent dynamic display he produced had been very important. Ortner quoted him on his website “The museum only makes sense as a pioneer.”

Museums had traditionally tended to “individualise” the viewer, where the intention was to create a sort of private, meditative space where the viewer could engage with the works on display, which was the traditional model in Europe. In the U.S. as typified by the 1938 Bauhaus show in MOMA, there was more emphasis on the viewer as consumer of the artworks- “intersubjective viewing gave way to a fashionable consumerist stance.” A culture was developing where seeing the work was less important than being seen to see it. Or something.

Other types of experiences are talked about, with much more audience involvement, and the idea of the “elastic museum” put forward. This is the idea of having flexible displays within an adaptable building. The museum also became a bridge between art and various scientific disciplines.


Readings – Michael Foucalt, Discipline & Punish – Panopticism

Foucalt begins by outlining the conditions of the plague in the 17th century and how the authorities were organised to deal with it. There was a very strict hierarchical system that filtered from the top down (“capillary functioning of power”) and restored order to the population, the plague itself being the disorder. He also references lepers, who were banished into exile and excluded from society altogether, there being no point in attempting to segment or differentiate their numbers as with the plague. Nice.

He goes on to make the point that these conditions of surveillance and observation were in fact the political utopia of a perfectly governed city. In the absence of any better excuse to wield absolute power over a society, a horribly deadly and contagious disease would do just fine.

Now he comes to the concept of panopticism itself, and describes a situation where there is a central observation point, and cells arranged in a circle around it. Inmates (though it works just fine for workers, patients, schoolchildren etc. too) can’t see or talk to each other. They can never know if they are being watched at any moment, but they are aware that they may be being observed at any time. This also has the advantage that the observer in the middle doesn’t even necessarily need to be there all the time, since he can’t be seen by the inmates. This has the powerful effect of disindividualising those being watched. When this kind of system is at work, we are no longer dealing with a life or death situation, but embedding into people that feeling that they are being watched can increase production, develop economies, spread education and so on.

This form of discipline can spread outside of the original institutions where it started, and permeate into society as a whole. Networks of surveillance are established to supervise the public at large – “faceless gaze that transformed the whole social body into a field of perception.” This can be used to monitor organisations and prevent revolts and oppositional movements.

This marked a shift from the ostentatious singular figure of authority, eg. the monarch, to a subtler, though arguably more effective, and definitely cheaper to run, system where the notion of being observed exists in the very heart of the person themselves. Ultimately, it’s argued, this leads to greater production of knowledge in schools, greater production of health in hospitals, and greater production of wealth in society. This happens continually in a self-perpetuating way, but will also lead to inequalities in the judicial system for example, where the perception of fairness gets undermined by inequalities and hierarchies that develop into an uneven balance of power.

City Gaol

We did the reading in the historic women’s gaol, and were given a tour of a section of it first. I found it a kind of an odd experience, struggling to get some sense of the original conditions through the lens of the heritage centre potted history and wax dummies. Was struck by the punishments they would give out, being forced to break up big stones for no reason at all for example. The discussion afterwards was interesting and broad-ranging though. A lot of discussion around how the systems of panopticism still exist today more than ever in different forms, and also how it relates to institutions that deal with the housing of art.

Google Sketchup models

A few images from my work on the program Google Sketchup, used to generate the models for the Situations presentation. It’s normally used by people uploading buildings for Google Earth, but is also now very popular with architecture students and anyone who doesn’t want to spend a fortune on commercial 3d software as it’s free. I found it reasonably intuitive to learn and there are great video tutorials for it online.

Situations Presentation

Situations Presentation – Dominic Fee


My situations proposal is to locate my art in the computer application Google Earth.

Google Earth is a very common program that everybody with a computer has access to and many people are already familiar with. It already features powerful tools that allow users to generate and upload their own content. For example, people can already model public buildings and monuments, and post information on it about their businesses etc. So why not use it as a forum for art?

The building where our studios are exists in 3d in Google Earth, somebody has gone to the trouble of modelling it in a program called Google Sketchup, and uploaded it. It was then approved by Google and they have now added it to the 3d buildings view of Google Earth, where it can be seen by anybody. Since this same software can be used to make any kind of 3d form, as well as upload 2d imagery, I decided to use it to model some artworks of my own, and locate them in the virtual world of Google Earth. Since the Fas building is a less than stunning work of architecture, and since I get to go anywhere on the planet, I decided to work on the grounds of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The architecture and public works in this region are heavily influenced by traditional Arabic geometry, which has also influenced the design of my own work in the past, so it would make for a good context.

I commissioned myself to design a large monumental work to be positioned in the water at the front of the building, and would be installed in front of the huge fountains which are located there. I also added some other works closer to the Burj, and a small pavilion for wall-mounted work.

As well as being a useful way to model proposed or existing artworks, I see this as potentially being a valid medium in its own right. Art, in one sense, is simply information which can exist and be propogated in many forms. Google Earth could provide an excellent location for this to happen.

It is exciting that a software-rendered artwork, which may or may not represent something which exists physically, could be located in a computer program which is itself a virtual map of our physical planet, and it can be located in a geographical context of relevance to the work.

The footage I showed can only be viewed as a preview on my own computer, and can’t be actually uploaded to Google Earth for others to view. There is a policy of only allowing users to upload content which physically exists in the world (e.g. Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North.) In order for this to be able to happen I suggest a plugin that could be installed in the program which when enabled would allow users to select icons appearing in the map where artists have placed works. When the user selects the artist’s icon the artwork would then appear in the program, and the viewer could explore the content.