Sculpture and Production

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In 1979, Rosalind Krauss wrote the essay “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” that defined sculpture in terms of a structural diagram of differing fields. Outside of the dualities between landscape and architecture, not-landscape and not-architecture, and the differing combinations of these quadrants, there were zones of creation that defined what it was that human beings did when they went out across the earth to intentionally build a construction. In her essay, Krauss said that this structural definition was necessary to understand not the historical meaning of sculpture, but the current definition for that place and time. In an era when artists like Nancy Holt, Sol LeWitt, Michael Heizer, Mary Miss, and many others were exploring the boundaries and overlaps between architecture, landscapes, sites, and sculpture, it was not so much material definition that was necessary, but a field in which artists could experiment.

But Krauss also concluded her essay with a question outside of this structure:

But clearly, since this is a matter of history, it is also important to explore a deeper set of questions which pertain to something more than mapping and involve instead the problem of explanation. These address the root cause-the conditions of possibility-that brought about the shift into postmodernism, as they also address the cultural determinants of the opposition through which a given field is structured.

Nearly 35 years later in 2013, SculptureCenter produced a small publication called Where is Production? Inquiries into Contemporary Sculpture. Stemming from a series of conversations about contemporary sculpture held at the Center, the text features essays from a number of artists and curators. In this first paragraph of the introduction, Krauss’ essay is mentioned, as a common shared reference for many in the conversations, despite the fact that the field seems to have expanded even more since 1979, into time-based works, video, and other areas that might be grouped under the name “performance”. The introduction then draws attention to the title of the book, in claiming to look away from the question of definition with its subject. This slim volume is “less to do with ‘what’,” the introduction claims, than ‘how’: concerning “infrastructure, dissemination, and the specificities of art as experienced by a network of stakeholders.”

And indeed, this is the subject of most of the essays in the publication. The word “production” is used more often than “sculpture.” Production is a loaded concept, with echoes of Marxist and materialist theory. But a conceptual “seizing” of production by the artistic process is exactly what is on the minds of contemporary artists. Who is making the art, how, and where? The materials, the process, the networks of distribution, and the labor involved are all new fields that are being drawn into the current sculptural diagram. Production defines an action, rather than the object being made. It is a function involving multiple equations, leading to a cascading chain of actions that often crosses larger borders than those of the gallery. If in 1979, the history leading up to the current structure was Krauss’ question, today artists are preoccupied by how the current structures of artistic production will lead into the future. Where is Production? asks not just about the substance of current sculpture, but about its status. In a time of networks, to produce sculpture becomes a algorithmic, contingent activity. From these essays, one can see that today’s artists are not shying away from the question or simply posing it, but trying to answer it for themselves in as many ways as possible.

By Adam Rothstein

2 responses

  1. This book grew out of of a closed discussion hosted at Sculpture Center in 2013. Artists, curators, historians and others were convened for four hours to identify a central question to ask about sculpture today, with the understanding that the question would then become the basis of a book. Very little of that actual private conversation is reported in the book but almost half of the participants contribute texts or images that elaborate on the topic “Where is production?”.

    The book is slim, handsomely produced and varies in the rigor which with that topic is both addressed and adhered to. Three texts in the book stood out in my reading of it. Curator Ruba Katrib’s essay “Location, location, location” is centrally positioned (literally) in the book and offers a robustly argued perspective as she advances her case for “Where?” as a geopolitical and cultural question. Michell Kuo surveys the space of fabrication to ask if “Where?” is ultimately useful or relevant to the reception of work and Clair Staebler makes a brief but intriguing case for the production of sculpture as a form of territorialism (possibly endorsing a kind of productive colonial art?).

    Where is Production? is described as being the first in a 3-part series called “Inquiries into Contemporary Sculpture”. Thinking about the overall goals of an initiative like this it seems like there there is an as-yet unrealized opportunity to expand the conversation and audience. Rather than limiting dialogue to an initial closed door meeting and a specialized publication it would be interesting to see Sculpture Center open these conversations to the public, if not as actual live-audience scenarios at least as a series incorporated into their online presence. SC already hosts a couple of online series that excel at exposing new work and artist’s insights (Sculpture Notebook, Framing Sculpture) perhaps a similar approach could be applied to their new project of interrogating sculpture.

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