Dissertation – Contemporary Responses to Site

Contemporary Responses to Site
(Jeanne Van Heeswijk, Awst & Walther, Heather and Ivan Morison)
Rita Ann Jones 



B.A. (hons) Fine Art, Coleg Menai.  Module Code: ARF601 – Fine Art in Context 3.



“Let’s talk of a system that transforms all the social organisms into a work of art, in which the entire process of work is included… something in which the principle of production and consumption takes on a form of quality. It’s a Gigantic project. “Joseph Beuys




‘Site’ related art work has been categorised and labelled under different genres since its birth in the 1960’s; site-determined, site oriented, site referenced, site conscious, site responsive, site related. The “Partially Buried Woodshed” (1970) by Robert Smithson being one of the earliest physical ‘site’ art work, conceived, constructed and left at the site, of the Kent State University, Ohio.

At this time, (post-minimalist art) artists were also fighting against capitalism and the institutional setting of their work in galleries and museums, opting instead to take their work into the world.


Partially Buried Woodshed (1970) by Robert Smithson



Robert Barry stated in 1969, that his wire installations were “made to suit the place in which it was installed.  They cannot be moved without being destroyed” (Kwon, 2004).  Richard Serra reiterating Barry’s statement in 1985, and again in 1989 that his Cor-Ten steel structure ‘Tilted Arc’ was “commissioned and designed for one particular site: Federal Plaza.  It is site-specific work and as such not to be relocated.  To remove the work is to destroy the work”. (Kwon, 2004)

The paradigms of site specific art have now changed depending on how an artist approaches the subject of site, not only, with the actual physical space, but also its history, social and culture issues, political controversies, or race and gender plights.  These concerns/themes are covered by producing, land or earth art, installation art, conceptual art, performance or body art, photography or video art, created specifically by the artist or as a public group amalgamation.  The various media methods of producing the work have blurred the lines of defining the finished product as art or non-art, by ever pushing the boundaries of fine art. The ‘sites’ have engulfed every aspect of social/public domain, such as, hotels, hospitals, prisons, schools, and reaching a much wider audience through the media and internet.




Examples of artists using new media, as a tool are The Guerrilla Girls, who use advertising billboards, leaflets and posters, which were not recognised as art objects; that are placed, for example, next to a Museum advertisement, and as such gets their feminist message across to the public.


Another example is:

(n.d.) Veg Vetch

‘Veg Vetch’ project by Welsh artist, Owen Griffiths, and the residents of Sandfields, the artist was used as facilitator to the needs of a community, and beneficial use of space (ex-football field).

This form of social-practice is considered a medium for making art, and came about in response to increasing pressure within art education to work collaboratively through social and ‘hands-on’ format.  It is a term for artwork that uses social engagement as a primary medium.  Most members of the public would not otherwise have realised that there was an artist involved in this project, but Griffiths was commissioned to bring the community together, and take an active role in the way their surroundings was utilised by the commissioners (local council/arts council of Wales).

This dissertation aims to analyse how artists respond to site.  It will question whether it is important for the artist to have a personal connection with the site.  Is it important for the artist to actually visit the site, make independent research, or even question the local audience/neighbour of the ‘site’?

This study will research the work of the artists and examine case studies of projects they have been involved in. It will look at the way they respond to the site whether historically, culturally, gender specific, political, social/public requirement or expectations, and whether these issues influence the mediums they use.

It will also be important also to consider the various influences that can alter the outcome of the finished work, such as, working independently, or collaboratively with other agencies such as other artists, art councils, sponsors curators and commissioners, as well as the resounding public.



  1. 2 Up 2 Down, Anfield, Liverpool – Artist Jeanne Van Heeswijk (Social Practice Art)
  2. Manon Awst and Benjamin Walther – Barclodiad y Gawres, Anglesey (Locational/Cultural Art)
  3. Heather and Ivan Morison– And so It Goes/Fel ‘na Mae at the 52nd Venice Biennale




Jeanne Van Heeswijk – 2 Up 2 Down, Anfield, Liverpool


As part of the Liverpool Biennial, the Dutch artist Jeanne Van Heeswijk was approached in 2010 by Paul Kelly, a biennial organizer, who is also involved in the ongoing regeneration process in Liverpool, to take part in the 2012 Biennial by producing an artwork in the form of an installation in the Anfield area.  Heeswijk, who has a strong background in social practice art, has a long relationship with the Liverpool Biennial, and immediately realised that this community required something more than an ephemeral installation.

Heeswijk, a visual artist and curator, often focuses on social art practice, or the relationship between space, geography and urban renewal.  She is guided by an overwhelming optimism about the relationship between art and society.  Influenced greatly by the artist Rick Lowe who received the Macarthur ‘genius’ fellowship, for his part in the “Project Row Houses” in 1993 in Houston, U.S.A.;  along with 21 other artists’, he arranged for the purchase and restoration of a block of houses, some derelict, in the African American area of the city.

Heeswijk considers herself to be the instrument that makes it possible to collectively re-imagine our daily environment.  Her process aims to radicalize local productions, empowering the community to take matters into their own hands, by creating a sustainable design, and by tapping into young talent. In 2002, Heeswijk developed a project ‘Face Your World’ in the inner city area of Columbus, Ohio, as part of the Children of the Future program ran by the Greater Columbus Arts Council. Heeswijk comments “I offered children a collective learning environment, in which they could learn how to investigate, as well as adapt their living environment.  It allowed the children to ‘engineer’ their surroundings, combining and re-using existing elements in order to devise new and innovative visions for their city”.  It involved converting a city bus into a fully equipped digital lab with computers and digital cameras, and a 3D multi-user computer program which allowed the children to interact with all aspects of their environment using images and materials. The project has since been developed in her home town of Rotterdam and Amsterdam and is due to be located at two more locations abroad. (http://www.jeanneworks.net/projects/face_your_world_stedelijklab_slotervaart/#/projects/face_your_world/)

Anfield has the second highest tourist destination in Liverpool, because of the football stadium, home of Liverpool Football Club, and stands amongst these terraced houses.  It is a city centre suburb, and has a declining population of 430,000 compared the 870,000 in 1946.  This significant impact was caused by the Compulsory Purchase Orders implemented on the residents of Anfield.  Street upon streets of the 2 Up 2 Down, terraced houses became empty and boarded up.  The council gave the residents no option, but to sell cheap to them.  The council then borrowed the house owners £30,000 to re-house themselves, which they expect to be re-paid upon the house owners’ death.  What was not foreseen was the economic downturn, which, like many other areas in the UK, left Anfield with some areas which were already demolished or boarded up, and which has remained as such for a period of ten years.  The site could be compared to the aftermath of World War II. In contrast, this is a very proud community, with a history of media description as being deprived and austere, which in itself, has had an adverse effect on most of the residents, but also, many who want to prove otherwise.

Heeswijk knew that by re-engaging people with the area where they live or work and if they would become owners of their own environment once again, the community would grow, because they would all feel that they belong to that place.

The ‘site’ became the old Mitchells Bakery and two adjoining properties which were to become a shop/bakery and kitchen, and a community meeting space, downstairs, with three separate living spaces upstairs.  The bakery which provided baked goods for 85 years, also just a stone’s throw from the hive of this area, Anfield Football Stadium, would be paramount in connecting the project with the residents and visitors alike.

Mitchells Bakery – ‘Homebaked’Project



Heeswijk has stated that on researching the area, what became a prominent feature, and what was said to her on numerous occasions was that the people of Anfield had become ‘sick’ of waiting for something to be done in the area, ‘sick’ of what had happened, and ‘sick’ of what the area had become to stand for.  Therefore, she decided, that her part in the project was to be the person who brought an antidote to the site.

When asked if collaborative work gets easier or is it always challenging?  Heeswijk replied “It is always very challenging.  I work with people who I call ‘experts on location’, who are knowledgeable about the area – that can be somebody who lives there or someone who can help to consider the ‘problematics’. All these people become part of the process learning and sharing knowledge.  Through this process we will collectively become more in charge of our situation – to be able to grasp it and change it.  And these processes can be long and painful – gaining knowledge sounds very easy but you also have to be able to let go of your own prior opinions and beliefs.” (http://www.2up2down.org.uk, 15.11.14)

As well as funding from the Biennial, the Government approved £100,000 for the project to acquire the disused bakery, refurbish it and bring it into community ownership.  There was also a ‘Kickstart Campaign’ which was to raise enough funds to provide the ‘site’ with baking ovens and equipment etc., to ensure its longevity.

There are a great deal of barriers in a project such as this not only with the council and planners, but with the local people themselves, especially the older generation who think that it’s ‘just another art project’.   The artist takes on the role of a facilitator in these situation, realising that ‘community work’ is more than just people gathered around talking calmly together, but something much more complex, often the process is about confronting each other and dealing with different viewpoints, and then realising, when the time is right, to step away from the project and let others take over.

Heeswijk had started the ball rolling with discussions and meetings, and states that it took over a year to get people to turn up and get involved in the meetings.  As part of the Biennial programme visitors were picked up at the city centre and taken around the streets of Anfield, as well as meeting some of the remaining residents in their homes who told their ‘story’; and through the Biennial people became advocates.

There were curators, producers, and developers involved.  It was hosted by Claire Doherty, the Director of ‘Situations’, who commission and produce temporary and long-term public artworks, as well as acting as a connector to bring people and partners together through collective programmes.   A group of people became the co-operative and called themselves ‘Homebaked’, it became the community led bakery, grown from the ground up by the artist, with Jessica Doyle, a co-founder, and a resident of the area.

Heeswijk states that what interests her in the coming together of society, social spaces and art, is that “I’ve always found art important especially in these times when our societies are getting more and more complex and people feel left out……… I think to be able to relate and engage with your everyday environment, you have to be able to get a grip on your surroundings and be able to create an image of that environment, so that you are able to act out in that environment. I think art is a very powerful tool to help people to re-image and re-imagine their relationship with their environment and allow them to become actors in the sense of being able to act out, act up and become active citizens.  So in this very complex time, art can help people better understand where they are and become more engaged.”

There is also an element of risk in this type of artwork, as explained by Mary Jane Jacobs, the American curator of site specific artwork, who gave an opening talk at the 2014 Folkestone Triennial, “It’s all a risk and better not to think about it (or otherwise you won’t do it),”  and “Just start, see where it goes”.  She was referring to a project in Charleston USA she was curating, not only grappling with the city authorities on issues that mattered to her (as well as the community); but as a white person from an entirely different part of the country in a city with an enormous black heritage, commissioning work about Charleston’s past.  (www.publicartnow.com/2014/11/7public-art-now-bloggers-report-adamj-b-walker/)


The initiating artist Jeanne Van Heeswijk has now taken a step back, as part of handing over the empowerment to the Homebaked group.  American artist Amy Franceschini of Futurefarmers, who instigated FlatbreadSociety in Oslo in 2007 (part of ‘Slow Space Bjorvika’ a permanent site dedicated to creating a public space in the City, alongside more organic site development); joined ‘Homebaked’ Group at one of their workshops in the bakery.  As part of the day, the workshop gave 30 delegates the opportunity to get under the skin of the two art projects (Oslo and Anfield), which have used bread-making, community baking and food production as an alternative approach to urban redevelopment. The below ‘Recipe for Success’ was something that came out of that workshop:-

Understanding of place
Historical / Political / Economic Context

(Re)building it with communities
Between artist & producer / commissioners

Use of defining language such as “the artist”, “the audience” and “the client” can create barriers

Be bold
Just do it. Change will have taken place even if you have to stop.

Engage people
Where do the people go? How do they use their space?

Art is not linear. It engages people and acts as a catalyst that results in outcomes that might not be anticipated.

Economic sustainability
Will it last? Is it meant to? Can some of the public art money be diverted to maintenance?

Give permission
Step away from the project and let others take over. Have interim contracts that protect but allow freedom

Strategise. Honesty on all sides. Why is the art being commissioned? What is the expectation? Professional approach. This is where the producer can act as a “translator”.

This project is a good example of socially engaged practice, which is still ongoing to this day, and revisited regularly.  It is possible to buy a loaf from the bakery, but the building site itself is not out of the woods. The clearance order has not yet been lifted.  Whatever the future might hold for 197 Oakfield Road, Anfield, the context of this artwork has affected many, perceptually and conceptually.

Anna Clawson and Nicole Ward, who are collaborative artists at Spike Island, Bristol, said, “Artists who enter deprived areas like Anfield and introduce different ways of tackling situations of hardship, need to ensure they listen to the community. Homebaked is an open club, understanding the location and residents involved and because of this it prospers from a high level of trust. It is easy to talk about failure, but it is crucial that misguided judgements are recognised.”

In response to the same project Rowan Moore writes, “It is a strange situation. On one hand there are the vast budgets wielded by national and local governments, deployed under the heading of “regeneration”, whose effect is to crush the city. On the other hand there are the artists, often from other countries, with comparatively tiny cultural budgets at their disposal. And there is Save, (Save British Heritage) which has bought houses in threatened terraces to obstruct future destruction”. (Rowan Moore, The Observer, Sunday 23/9/2012)

Jeanne Van Heeswijk, when asked why sustainability is important to her, replied, “I see sustainability not only in an environmental sense but also socially. In this time and day, if you are thinking about living conditions you have to look at sustainability and make sure homes are energy and eco-friendly. I think we should also create blocks of houses that contain some social sustainability in terms of common facilities which could be anything from a day-care centre, a playground to a community bakery or a growing field. That way, communities become more socially sustainable over time –it’s crazy that there are streets after streets without amenities or social or shared facilities.”

When asked, what does it mean to live well, Heeswijk replied, “To me it means that you have a sense of belonging to a place and that you can make it your home.  And to make it your home you have to relate to your place and to others in that surroundings. Forming relationships are important for living well as is a decent standard of living, a physically and an emotionally healthy environment.”

At Anfield these statements have been met and fulfilled.


Manon Awst and Benjamin Walther – ‘Far and Wide’ at Barclodiad y Gawres, Anglesey

This was a specially commissioned artwork, which consisted of a series of performances, with talks alongside an invited group of philosophers, scientists, archaeologists, dancers and musicians.

The artists are a collaborative husband and wife team.  Awst has grown up in this area and Walther was born in East Berlin, which might explain more about their concepts.

The site of this project is a Neolithic burial chamber, dated roughly 2300 – 2400 BC, and located on Anglesey; which is steeped in history, culture and folk stories.  Its name, ‘Barclodiad y Gawres’ (translated into English as Giantess Apronfull) came from such legends.  It is a typical example of a ‘cruciform passage grave’, which has been rebuilt in concrete, and covered in turf after most of its original stones were used for construction purposes in the 18th century.  The main features’ of this type of grave is the presence of six decorated stones, as well as the remains of two male cremated bodies, which were recovered during an excavation in the 1950’s.
Far and Wide” (2014), installation view, photo courtesy of the artists


Site responsive art is when an artist visits a specific site and responds according to the site’s context and their medium/genre. Some artists will research its history and memory.  Bill Fontana portrayed historical research with music and sound in his work “Distant Trains” (1984), an installation where he played the sound of trains in the empty space of a demolished railway station which was sited near the Berlin Wall.

The historical elements will usually be the artist’s starting point and with the knowledge and understanding of the historical events will produce work reflective of that context.  Factors such as the artist’s preferred medium, concepts and ideology come into play, as well as the audience.  This type of “one day sculpture” or performance is produced for its audience on that day.  There may be video recordings, photographs or other evidential documentation of the ephemeral work, but once it has been displayed or performed that is it – to re-enact or re-locate, would not be the same work.

[In 2006, while at the Litmus International Curatorial Fellowship at Massey University, New Zealand, Claire Doherty of ‘Situations’ Bristol, proposed an opportunity to engage with newly commission work for a single day only, one after the other, as a cumulative series across the country.  Galvanised by the commitment and support of 12 arts organisations across five regions, 17 curators and the imagination and enthusiasm of 26 international artists the series was realised.  “One Day Sculpture” was an international symposium of art, place and time developed in conjunction with Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa took place in March 2009. (Gough, 2009)]

Far and Wide was experienced from noon until sun set on summer Solstice, 2014, and it consisted of a specially commissioned steel stage, which held a tall, open end, cone shape, clear glass structure.  During the day a dancer performed inside and around the glass structure, bringing a sense of ritual; that might have been performed at this site thousands of years ago, into the 21st century.  The artists also adapted a performance of writing text onto the glass panels.  Text is used by the artists as a source of inspiration as well as part of the work, in order to engage with the audience and encourage dialogue.

It is of consequence that the only potential audience for this project would be the participants and supportive agencies, invited guests and any ‘chance’ passer-by on the day in question.

The context of this piece dealt with the de-industrialisation of the landscape and how the land in this area has been transformed into an asset for the tourism and leisure industries branded just like any other product on the market.  No longer suitable for growing crops, rearing animals or extracting materials, they draw their concepts from Karl Marx’s idea of the instrumental landscapes, where man-made instruments of labour become naturalised and fade into the background of daily ‘scenic’ life; and when they break or become dysfunctional; only then are their social and historical context recognised by disturbing the systematic flow of their purpose. They recognise his concepts in contemporary environments, and accept that their artistic production is to instigate the ‘fixing’ of the landscape and open up the spaces for the necessary social assemblages.

In their essay to ADDO, the artists refer to Williams and Srnicek’s Accelerationist Manifesto:  “Accelerationists want to unleash latent productive forces.  In this project, the material platform of neoliberalism does not need to be destroyed.  It needs to be repurposed towards common ends.  The existing infrastructure is not a capitalist stage to be smashed but a springboard to launch towards post-capitalism”.  (Awst & Walther 2014)

What had interested the artists at the burial chamber was the way that its roof had been rebuilt after its excavation in the 1950’s with common industrial concrete blocks which contrast severely with the Neolithic stones.  The domed 20th century concrete roof resembled the original in form, creating a historically aware engagement with the past, a practice that Walter Benjamin would approve of.

Both artists have stated that they have enjoyed the collaboration with the other involved professionals, and hope to engage in this type of project in the future. (http://www.berlinartlink.com/2014/09/15/awst-walther/)



Heather and Ivan Morison – “And So It Goes/Fel ‘na Mae” , 52nd Venice Biennale, 2007


As part of the Venice Biennale in 2007, the Morison’s along with Richard Deacon and Merlin James represented Wales at the ‘Capannone 1’, a former brewery (Ex-Birreria).  While Deacon responded to what he actually saw at the site – mainly a vast amount of nails that uniformly studded the walls of the space.  He produced a body of work in ceramic, wood and steel, which he hung in the gallery from bronze nails.  The nail is obviously loaded with symbolism in the history of art, and acts in this context as a way of pegging meaning to an object.

The Morison’s work consisted of a slide animation and sound installation ‘Dark Star’, and ‘Pleasure Island’ a timber structure, which engaged and responded to its surroundings.

Dark Star ( http://www.morison.info/)



Pleasure Island



In responding to the site, the couple decided to go in search of New Age American Travellers in the Arizona dessert.

Travel has been a performative element in the couples’ artistic career.  In 2002 they received funding by Birmingham City Council and a £6,000 lottery backing to travel to Russia, China, Australasia, and America which caused some controversy in the West Midlands.  (Stote, 2002)

‘Vivid’ a media art organisation supported the extravagant ‘Global Survey’ (2003) exploration.  There was no organised itinerary that the artists would follow, but more of a chance recommendation by the people they met along the way, such as, “Have you seen the Siberian larches”.  The artists would then visit the Siberian larches only to find out that they had all been chopped down.  They would document the whole experience by sending a postcard or e-mail to the gallery, and wrote “Mr. & Mrs. Morison do not understand it.  Why are they cutting down all the Siberian larches? Archangelesk, Russia.” (Falconer, 2004)

The postcard and text medium started in 2001 when the pair acquired an allotment in Birmingham.  The couple tended to the piece of abandoned land which had become overgrown.  During that time they documented the transformation in an art form on postcards which they then mailed to selected art galleries, or organisations, a practice which is ongoing to this day:

“Ivan Morison is concerned by a powdery mildew that has appeared on his Green Bush marrows” http://www.morison.info/printedcardsfrom.html


Ivan Morison stated that the “Money we get is irrelevant.  We see what we are doing as good for the city.  We are ambassadors.  Perhaps we have a naïve view that an artist might have something worthwhile to contribute.  We have a heartfelt desire to engage with people.  It’s that desire that makes us want to go and explore and meet people, and that fuels the expedition.” (Stote, 2002)

Vivid’s director stated “The project is not about money, it’s about education and development.  Art has moved on from the traditional vision of picking up a paint brush, just as technology is moving on.” (Stote, 2002)

The trip did develop into numerous other projects by the artists in various mediums, such as video, photography, performance, sculpture and public art projects.  An example is their ‘Siberian taiga planting scheme for Sheffield’, (2005) (Proposal letter by the Morison’s to Sheffield City Council Appendix A) (morison@globalsurvey.org, 2005)

Similarly, prior to the Venice Biennale, they visited California in search of the nomadic group of New Age travellers, who had converted old trucks into mobile homes, known as ‘house trucks’, which they had come across in Lloyd Khan’s book “Home Work”, published in 2004, which featured the life of Ned and Rose Huff, a couple who owned such a ‘house-truck’,  who explain how in the 1970’s they travelled the US, living in their converted truck, and selling home-made lemonade to support themselves.  The Morison’s admit that it was this process of self-sustainability that interested them.  They wanted to use their own felled wood from their arboretum in North Wales, and build a structure that possibly moved, from which they could sell something, that interested them.

The travellers would winter at ‘Quartzsite’ in the Arizona dessert, and hold markets to sell crystals and stones that they had found in the dessert.  The Morison’s wanted to find a crystal upon which to base their sculpture; a practice reminiscent of Robert Smithson who with his wife Nancy Holt, Donald Judd and his wife Julie, collected crystals for inspiration, from Upper Montclair quarry, East US.  (Smithson, 1996)

In their practice they examine the extraordinary beauty and detail of the natural world, but also acknowledge the constant presence of threat and often these two worlds come together to create a sense of disorientation.  The crystalline forms became the animated meteorites on the slide film ’Dark Star’ that hover above the dessert skyline, casting a dark shadow above the seemingly abandoned house-trucks.

A piece of Pyrite became the inspiration for ‘Pleasure Island’, a canker like growth that has spread under and out of the canopy of the site.  It was actually, a direct copy of ‘Fantasy Island’ which is based in Wales, and built out of wood sourced from their land.  It can, be interpreted as an alien life form or spore that has been transferred or carried by the artists to Italy.  By using coloured glass sections in the Buckminster Fuller geodesic style structure, kaleidoscopic daylight filled the interior space, which again had the contradictory element; the warm colours made it feel safe, but on the other hand could it be light beams from an alien spaceship.

“The piece has a complicated relationship with the viewer in its refusal to be pinned down; ugly yet beautiful, organic yet man-made; utopian yet dystopian; dangerous yet a potential place of safety”. (Firth, 2007)

“Mr & Mrs Ivan Morison think they have found a meteorite.  Holding it tight in their hands they can feel it pulsing. Quartzsite, Arizona”.  One of the 200 printed and mailed postcard sent back to Wales from Italy by the artists.



The research has looked at three case studies, of varying genres, for site responsive art, by five contemporary artists.

Heeswijk and the ‘Homebaked’ initiative is a prime example of an amalgamation between artist and community; working together to improve the lifestyle of that community; not on a temporary basis, but as an on-going legacy.

An activity which could be equated to the art activists, such as Jeremy Deller, who said  I went from being an artist who makes things, to being an artist who makes things happen”. (Thompson, 2012)


This ‘need’ by artists to make a difference, socially and politically is a growing trend.  During times of austerity, an experience which has affected people worldwide since early 2000’s; it has seen artists and public art organisations develop across the globe.  Artists and curators come together to form groups, such as Addo in Wales, Artangel in London, Situations in Bristol, Grizedale Arts in the Lake District and Creative Time in the USA, to create work and projects out in the public realm;  organising events such as biennials and triennials or site specific residencies, community activities, or one day sculpture/performance.  Support is given by the government and councils, such as The Arts Council of Wales and Welsh Assembly Government, as well as funding from galleries and foundations.

Professor Paul Haywood summarises the role of art and other creative tactics of cultural participation in supporting, sustaining or enhancing communities, in his essay ‘Social Processes, Creative Engagements, and notions of Participation and Community’. He states “My view, from personal creative behaviours have an essential and dynamic function in supporting self-determination with self-defining communities……As such , the professional artist, in this context, represents the rights of all others, promotes access to expression and incites democracy for little purpose other than basic civil responsibility.” (Haywood, 2014)



“What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is related only to the objects and not to individuals, or to life.  That art is something which is specialized or which is done by experts who are artists. But couldn’t everyone’s life become a work of art?  Why should the lamp or house be an object, but not our life? – Michael Foucault

The work of Awst and Walther, addresses the issue of the environment in the face of climate change, ecological imbalances and connected socio political crises when they respond to site.  They theory behind the work is the re-conceptualization of landscape and environment, taking inspiration from the theories of the German philosopher and cultural critic, Walter Benjamin; and the transformation of landscape through industrialisation and dereliction by Karl  Marx.  They take guidance from the ‘Accelerationists Manifesto’ and ‘Urbanomic’, publishers and art organisation.  They used this knowledge and applied it to a rural landscape, thus questioning the role of the community both locally and globally, in cultural traditions and practice. Re-enforcing their theories at the PSM gallery, Berlin, “Ground to Sky” 2014 the artists used an uprooted hedge, which in contemporary society, the garden hedge could be associated with bourgeois statements and represent borders and demarcation of territory – a social tool that has been cultivated and shaped by mankind over centuries.  They question the foundations of society, demanding a revised interpretation of our relationship with the world surrounding us, and our understanding of self and other.

Ground to Sky, 2014(n.d.)

“Accelerationism pushes towards a future that is more modern, an alternative modernity that neoliberalism is inherently unable to generate.” (Srnicek, 2013)

“Urbanomic’s aims are to promote research activities that address crucial issues in contemporary philosophy and science and their relation to contemporary art practice; to present to the public the results of that research, and an insight into the research process itself; and to engender interdisciplinary thinking and production. (Urbanomic, n.d.)
Heather and Ivan Morison’s sample case study was their joint exhibition at the Venice Biennale 2007; an art exhibition which engages with the whole city as well as global interpolation.  The context of their work at the biennale came from surveying, recording and collecting to rebuild and represent the often familiar, investing their observations and discoveries with vigorous fascination. Natures’ beauty juxtaposed with the threat of demise.

The Director of Creative Development at Public Art Wales, Stephen West, described their work as “connecting with other people, non-artists, experts in their own fields, means that the Morison’s work is done ‘live’ welcoming the intervention of the public.” (West, n.d.)

The Morison’s have created a series of works delineated as escape vehicles, essentially buildings, vehicles and structures which explore the desire to escape the restrictions and dissatisfactions of the modern world. They utilise their art to instigate a shift in thinking, playing with the audiences’ subconscious, to recognise how in the back of our minds we need to prepare and survive disasters in popular culture.  ‘Fantasy Island’ set in a wood in North Wales and its hybrid ‘Pleasure Island’ at Venice work at both sites, and audience, giving them a sense of recluse, and self-satisfaction, to survive in a hand-built, organic structure; but with the inclusion of the coloured triangular glass panels questions what is going on outside of that space.  Works that have followed, such as “I lost her near Fantasy Island.  Life has not been the same”, which was a jack-knifed articulated lorry in the centre of Bristol, shedding a load of 25,000 flowers across the central promenade.  Or the even darker work of ‘Journee des Barricades’ as part of the ‘One Day Sculpture’ project in New Zealand, where, for 24 hours, the artists used the detritus remains of a disaster to barricade a whole street in the country’s capital; we get to see the artists vision of what is going on outside of that space.  “Confronting the public with an image that suggests some sort of epic failure (social, political or ecological) recalls Walter Benjamin’s conflation of the ‘moment of enchantment’ with the ‘figure of shock’.” (Hannah, 2009)

“Every performance enacts a theory, and every theory performs in the public square – Diana Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire” (Hannah, 2009)







Bibliography and References

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[Online], Available: http://www.2up2down.org.uk/

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White cube

On weathering

Uncommon ground

Joseph beuys

Appendix A – Interview with Manon Awst























Appendix B – E-mail by Heather and Ivan Morison

To: <phil.abbott@sheffield.gov.uk>

Subject: Siberian taiga planting scheme for Sheffield

Dear Phil Abbott, Team Manager, Forward and Area Planning, Sheffield City Council,

We would like propose the planting of Siberian taiga on the area of waste ground that exists on the south-west corner of the intersection of Manor Oaks Place and Manor Oaks Road in the Wybourn area of Sheffield.

In order to explain this proposal we must go back two years to when we were studying at Novosibirsk University in Siberia, Russia. One afternoon, on a visit to the Central Siberian Botanical Gardens and Botanical Institute, we met Professor Nicolai Lashchinsky. The Professor is a member of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science, and that afternoon he spoke passionately to us about the Russian taiga, his area of scientific expertise. To explain taiga it is easiest to quote the Professor from that afternoon.

‘The most part of Siberian forest is well known as taiga. Taiga is a synonym of boreal forest. What are the main features of boreal forest? Thick moss layer and some lichens. The main dominant trees are Siberian spruce, Siberian fir and the legendary Siberian cedar, or in a strict sense Siberian pine. Living in the taiga is cold and lonely. Coldness and food shortages make things very difficult.’

We were intrigued and set about organising an expedition to these mysterious forests. Not many weeks later we were experiencing taiga first hand in the Kuznetsky Alatau Zapovednik, located along the eastern border of the Kemerovo Oblast in Western Siberia. In general we only every read science fiction but on this particular trip we happened to be reading a 1970 Penguin edition of George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier. It is two thirds of the way down page 95 of this particular edition that taiga and Sheffield first collided in our minds. The best way to explain would be to quote the passage that struck us. Orwell, for the previous half page has been talking about Sheffield, detailing why he found it particularly disagreeable.

‘One scene especially lingers in my mind. A frightful patch of waste ground (somehow, up there, a patch of waste ground attains a squalor that would be impossible even in London) trampled bare of grass and littered with newspapers and old saucepans.’

There couldn’t have been a greater contrast between the grim desolate industrial scene that Orwell was describing than with the rich natural ecosystem of the ancient forests that we were in. Yet, at the same time, these two distant environments shared a certain inhospitable harshness. The two places for us seemed to have some kind of kinship. At that point, deep in the primeval forest, we decided that we must carefully survey an area of taiga and draw up a plan of it, which in the future could be used as a planting scheme to plant Siberian taiga on an area of waste ground in Sheffield that matched up to Orwell’s own ‘frightful patch of waste ground.’ It has taken us some time locate the correct site, but we have now found it and are contacting you for Sheffield City Council’s approval to move ahead with our endeavour.

Kuznetsky Alatau taiga forest is dominated by Siberian fir but in the area we surveyed were also Siberian pine, Siberian stone pine, Siberian spruce, Siberian larch and Dahurian larch; all of these are to be planted on the selected area of waste ground in Sheffield. The under story of the forest is made up of Dwarf birch, juniper, bilberry, honeysuckle, horse hair, Spleenwort ferns, mosses and lichens growing between large boulders. Small insects such as the Siberian moth, Black-veined White butterfly, Larch Bud midge and Black Fir Sawyer beetle will feed on the trees, and these will provide food for birds such as the Three-toed woodpecker and the Black woodpecker. The yellowhammer, Red crossbill, Scarlet rosefinch, Spotted nutcracker and Siberian rubythroat will make the taiga their home, whilst migrating birds such as the Black stork, Berwick’s swan and Hooded crane will rest here each year. Golden eagle, osprey and peregrine falcon will be attracted by the Siberian chipmunks, Long-tailed Ground squirrels and numerous species of voles, shrews and other small rodents that will provide a food base for them. This diversity of rodents and small birds will also provide for the sable, ermine and wolverine that are all present in the taiga. Musk deer will prefer lichens and other vegetation near the ground, while moose will browse higher up on young twigs in the forest. Lynx will chase brown hares, wolves will hunt for Siberian roe deer, and Brown bears will find refuge here feeding on game and bilberries. It will take many years for this proposed patch of taiga in Sheffield to reach maturity and the above mentioned level of diversity, but given time it will provide a resource for the local community and a source of contemplation and wonder for many thousands of years to come.

We have prepared an audio visual presentation consisting of slides of the selected site combined with field sound recordings made at the survey area in Kuznetsky Alatau Zapovednik in Western Siberia. The sounds are really very evocative of the ancient boreal forest, and help one to imagine an area of taiga replacing the waste ground in the slides. We would be delighted to present these to you and your team at any future forward planning meetings, along with a diagram of our planting scheme.

Yours sincerely,

Heather & Ivan Morison

One thought on “Dissertation – Contemporary Responses to Site

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