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Ileana Parvu (d.

O b j e t s e n P r O c s
Objects In PrOgress
Aprs la dmatrialisation de lart / After the Dematerialisation of Art

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Publi avec l'appui du Fonds national suisse de la recherche scientifique.

table

Introduction
Objets en procs
11
Objects in Progress
Ileana Parvu
21
Dmatrialisations/Dematerialisations
In search of the Insignificant. street Work, borderline Art and
Dematerialisation
Anna Dezeuze
35
Le lieu de mmoire or the (Im)memorability of sculpture
Penelope curtis
65
l'preuve de l'espace/the trial of space
Outside/Inside. Public and Private in the Work of rachel Whiteread
sue Malvern
85
L'espace des chaussettes. Socks (1995) de gabriel Orozco dans le
projet Migrateurs
Ileana Parvu
103

sculpture et performance/sculpture and Performance


subject Formation and spectacle critique in Paul Mccarthy's Work
sebastian egenhofer
125
Test Room (1999) de Mike Kelley. Une chambre d'exprimentation
de la sculpture
sylvie collier
143
Matriaux/Materials
Folio
Zo sheehan saldaa
161
Matire, mmoire et sampling. Questions propos des sculptures
de Dario robleto
Dario gamboni
177
Annexes
contributeurs/contributors
201

rsums/Abstracts
204

crdits
207

35

In search of the Insignificant


street Work, borderline Art and Dematerialisation1
Anna Dezeuze

the minimum requirement of aesthetic identity in a work of art has been legibility as an
object, a degree of compactness (so that the
object is united, composed, stable). In the
1960s, a number of non-compact art forms
(diffuse or nearly imperceptible) have proliferated.
ALLOWAy [1969: 207]
Had you walked on Fourteenth, grand,
broome, spring, or Prince streets a few weeks
ago, you might not have been aware that
Street Works were in progress some seven
hundred of them.
grUen [1969]

though Lawrence Alloway does not mention them in his 1969 article
on the expanding and Disappearing Work of Art, few events seem to
exemplify his concern with non-compact art forms as well as the
series of Street Works initiated in new york that same year. Indeed,
many of the street Works on show in May 1969 were so diffuse and
nearly imperceptible that the seven hundred figure quoted by the
reviewer is impossible to verify. the figure corresponds in fact to the
number of invitations sent out by the organisers of Street Works III
poets john Perreault and Hannah Weiner, and painter Marjorie strider
who would not have been able to confirm themselves how many
artists responded to their announcement, which specified only a
place (the area delimited by grand, Prince, greene and Wooster
streets in new york), date, and time (25 May, 9 pm-12 midnight). In
this kind of event, remarked Perreault, it was difficult to tell what
objects and what activities were or were not street Works [PerreAULt
1969f]. Weaving together a discussion of Alloway's essay and a

Obj ect s In PrO gr e s s

study of the six Street Works events which took place between March
1969 and March 1970 allows us to trace an alternative narrative of
the dematerialisation of the art object, first delineated by Lucy
Lippard and john chandler in 1968. I will also demonstrate how
Alloway's focus on the interface with other things rather than the
movement of reduction or subtraction suggested by Lippard and
chandler's definition of ultra-conceptual art intersects not only
with jack burnham's contemporary definition of a systems aesthetics, but also with the concept of borderline art outlined by Fluxus
artist george brecht in the early 1960s. by bringing together this set
of practices and these theoretical texts, I will map out a genealogy for
borderline practices in conceptual art since the 1960s, and develop
a critical vocabulary to describe this form of non-compact work.
systems, boundaries, borderline Art
All legitimate art deals with limits. Fraudulent art feels it has no
limits. [] [t]he trick is to locate those elusive limits [sMItHsOn
1969: 90]. robert smithson's comment, in a june 1969 interview,
reveals a concern shared by both artists and theorists of conceptual art during this period. As Lippard retrospectively recalled, much of
the discussion at the time had to do with boundaries those
imposed by conventional art definitions and contexts, and those
chosen by the artists to make points about the new, autonomous
lines they were drawing [LIPPArD 1993: XX]. boundaries were certainly crucial to Alloway's definition of interfaces in his 1969 essay on
the expanding and Disappearing Work of Art: the first meaning of
interface according to him was a surface forming a common boundary of two bodies or two spaces in this case, the problematic
boundaries of art's zone and our space [ALLOWAy 1975: 193]. the
second meaning of the term interface chosen by Alloway is the
changeover from one system of communication to another, with reference to the proliferation of different media in the 1960s, whether
performance, Land Art, language, documentation and photography.
the term system had been foregrounded by burnham in his 1968
analysis of similar developments, in which according to him art does
not reside in material entities, but in relations between people and
between people and the components of their environment [bUrnHAM
1968: 31]. As he explains, his proposed system approach [] deals

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in a revolutionary fashion with the larger problem of boundary concepts [bUrnHAM 1968: 32]. both Alloway and burnham seemed to
agree that contemporary art practices challenged the formalist
model of the self-contained, autonomous artwork. burnham sought
to define this move away from the finite, unique work of high art as
a shift to systems rather than objects, whereas Alloway contrasted
the formalist approach that aims to distil and purify art with one
that studies the expansion and connectivity of art [ALLOWAy 1975b:
193].
Unsurprisingly, both theories mentioned the non-sites of smithson, in
which the artist sought to locate the elusive limits of art, by exhibiting
rock and earth samples in the gallery, alongside a map documenting
their exact geographical origin. In fact, Alloway devotes a whole essay
to the artist's work in his study of art and interface. While burnham
points to the environmental sensibility at the heart of smithson's
move away from the preciousness of the work of art, Alloway praises
his art of expanding thresholds [bUrnHAM 1968: 34; ALLOWAy 1973:
229]. smithson's work and writing perform, according to him, a shift
from an art of autonomous objects to an art penetrating the world and
penetrated by sign systems [ALLOWAy 1973: 229-230].
Perhaps more surprising is the significance of Allan Kaprow's mid- to
late-1960s works and writings for both burnham and Alloway.
Kaprow, traditionally associated with the late-1950s happenings, had
started to develop in the late 1960s more elegant events which he
would come to designate as activities. Alloway mentions, for example, Pose, one of the 1969 Six Ordinary Happenings, which involves:
carrying chairs through the city
sitting down here and there
Photographed
Pix left on spot
going on.2

the authors single out three crucial characteristics of the activities


that Kaprow was developing and theorising at the time. Firstly, as
burnham notes, the new simplified format of Kaprow's recent work
allows for a participatory aesthetic; this is why Alloway speaks of
the mode of intimacy that they require [bUrnHAM 1968: 35; ALLOWAy
1969: 207]. secondly, these participatory activities include experience of duration as part of their format; Alloway quotes Kaprow's
definition of their variable and discontinuous time, and concludes
that they thus demand a new aesthetics of temporal succession

Obj ect s In PrO gr e s s

[ALLOWAy 1975a: 197]. Finally, Kaprow's activities, which take place in


rural as well as urban settings, are characterised by their geographical expansiveness and mobility, according to burnham [1968: 35].
Alloway agrees: unlike the early happenings, Kaprow's mid-1960s
activities display a diffuseness which goes beyond any form of
compactness [ALLOWAy 1975a: 196]. thus, burnham considers the
internal logic of Kaprow's activities and the indivisibility they establish between themselves and everyday affairs as stemming from
the same considerations that have crystallised the systems
approach to environmental situations [bUrnHAM 1968: 35].
If Lippard and chandler refer to smithson's work in their 1968 essay,
no mention is made of Kaprow's practice or writing. One artist they
do mention in passing, however, was closely associated with Kaprow,
in particular in Alloway's account: george brecht, a friend of Kaprow's
who was involved in the loose association of artists known as Fluxus
[LIPPArD and cHAnDLer 1968: 264]. In fact, the first two entries in
Lippard's Six Years compendium refer to brecht's scores and
Kaprow's 1966 book on Assemblage, Environments and Happenings,
thus suggesting their foundational role in the development of dematerialised art practices. the first listed work in the book, dated 1961,
is brecht's score for Three Aqueous Events, which reads:
ice
water
steam

Writing in Assemblage, Environments and Happenings, Kaprow singles


out brecht's scores as containing the most radical potential in all of the
work discussed in this book [KAPrOW 1966: 195]. For Kaprow, this radical potential lies in the fact that they place on the performer the sole
responsibility to make something of the situation or not. It is in this
sense that they relate to Kaprow's activities at the time, whose spread
in terms of structure, duration and area was noted by both burnham
and Alloway. According to the latter, the kind of spread evident in
Kaprows and brecht's work raises undiscussed problems about the
limits of the artwork as a system, and the new modes of recognition
that they invite [ALLOWAy 1975a: 196]. Alloway cites brecht's scores as
demanding the same mode of intimacy as Kaprow's activities. If both
Kaprow's and brecht's works are known only incompletely to those
taking part, however, brecht's scores are even more radical, as they
are, to many, imperceptible [ALLOWAy 1969: 208; ALLOWAy 1975a: 196].

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39

crucially, imperceptibility lay at the heart of brecht's 1961 definition,


at the time of his first event scores, of what he called borderline
art. In a 1961 essay, subsequently published in the first issue of the
Fluxus magazine cc VTRE, brecht defined borderline art as an art at
the point of imperceptibility. sounds barely heard, sights barely distinguished [brecHt 1964: 2]. In brackets, brecht added: It should be
possible to miss it completely. One of the event scores interspersed
in his essay is Three Aqueous Events; another score, for Three Chair
Events, reads:
sitting on a white chair.
Occurrence.
On (or near) a black chair.
Occurrence.
yellow chair.
Occurrence.

In its slightly different final version, the score for Three Chair Events
was in fact realised at the exhibition Environments, Situations,
Spaces (Six Artists) at the Martha jackson gallery in March-june
1961. For his contribution to this group show, brecht placed three
(white, black and yellow) chairs in different locations in the exhibition; the white chair, for example, stood next to the gallery entrance.
though the score was handed out to visitors, many of them failed to
notice the chairs and casually sat on them. For brecht, noticing the
chairs constituted occurrences that were in themselves performances of the Three Chair Events.
though brecht's assembled notes on the event would not have been
as widely read as Kaprow's publications (or those by Alloway,
burnham, or Lippard), I would like to argue that they offer a crucial
framework to understand one specific type of non-compact artwork
in the 1960s: a borderline art that balances on the precarious line
between art and everyday life. this line also lay at the heart of
Kaprow's practice, whose move from happenings to activities in the
mid-1960s could be read as a shift towards the kind of event score
that brecht had been developing since the beginning of the decade.
When Kaprow spoke (in a 1967 essay mentioned by Alloway) of the
paradoxical position of being art-life or life-art occupied by his activities, he seemed to be toeing the very borderline described by
brecht [KAPrOW 1967: 87]. this is why activities according to Kaprow
are risky: this paradoxical position is precarious because the handshake between participants and their environment can easily be
lost [KAPrOW 1967: 88].

Obj ect s In PrO gr e s s

this handshake is precisely what turns Kaprow's activities into a kind


of system in the sense outlined by burnham. brecht seems to have
been aware of systems theories as early as 1959, and his notes suggest that he was interested, like burnham, in cybernetic models.3
brecht was apparently preoccupied with the points at which randomness intersects order, knowledge, control, open systems, and believed
that these five reference-frames could be imposed or arranged on
everyday reality [brecHt 1960: 157]. the event score may have
emerged as the point in which all five reference frames intersect with
each other, and with reality, but brecht abandoned this cybernetic
vocabulary in his final formulation of borderline art. brecht's interest in
reference frames seems to have shifted fairly quickly towards a more
general consideration of different modes of apprehension of reality (be
they myth, religion, art or science), and the point where there is no
grasping of life, since everyday life exists without form, beyond dimensions.4 this is why borderline art an art which problematises our
very mode of apprehension of, or reference frames imposed on, reality is an art verging on the non-existent; dissolving into other
dimensions, or becoming dimensionless, having no form [brecHt 1961:
74b-c]. events are extensible to the limits of form because they
include a temporal as well as spatial dimension, which makes them
less localisable, less distinct than objects. In addition, they refuse to
be separated from everyday experiences as something special.5
brecht's crucial input in the discussion of dematerialised practices in
the 1960s was partly shaped by his interest in Zen. His belief in the
everyday as nothing special, in contrast with special events such
as art, dance, theatre or music, was no doubt derived from Zen philosophy, with which brecht was familiar thanks to popularisers such
as D.t. suzuki and Allan Watts (whose books and lectures were
highly influential for brecht), as well as cultural references as varied
as the chinese Book of Changes (the I Ching famously used by john
cage to compose his scores) and japanese haiku poetry.6 For example, brecht cites the I Ching to highlight the fact that nature creates
all beings without erring []. therefore it attains what is right for all,
without artifice or special intentions [brecHt 1961: 9]. If nature offers
us things exactly themselves [brecHt 1960: 133], then the haiku
which, according to Watts, sees things in their suchness, without
comments, appeared as an ideal model for the event score [WAtts
1957: 185].7 While the haiku is an image of a moment in life, however, the event score is, according to brecht, a signal preparing one for

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the moment itself it exists in the present and the future, as well as
the past [brecHt 1961: 74-75A].8
brecht's perspective on borderline art establishes a clear relation
between the artwork's precarious existence at the point of imperceptibility and everyday reality itself: it is because life itself has no form that
a nothing-special artwork that seeks to grasp it will inevitably teeter on
the point of becoming dimensionless, having no form. this unique
insight sheds new light on Alloway's theory of art and interface by shifting the focus away from the boundaries imposed by definitions of art, to
interrogating the reasons why these boundaries of art shifted, and
addressing the precise nature of their relation to the everyday.
significantly, Lippardherself became aware of such substantial distinctions, as she declared in a 1969 interview that certain conceptual
artists remained very much concerned with Art, with retaining a consistency, or coherency, whereas others chose in contrast to include
far more than they exclude, thereby adopting an acceptive instead of
a rejective approach[LIPPArD 1973: 7]. even when an artist choosing the
latter approach decides to use non-art, immaterial situations, he or she
imposes a closed instead of an open system that will work to assert a
formal or structural point of view. In this way, Lippard succeeded in
extending Alloway's opposition between the solid, united, composed,
stable object on the one hand, and diffuse or expanded art forms on
the other, beyond a polarity between conventional, autonomous artwork and dematerialised practices. even non-compact forms, she
argued, can carry over certain artistic concerns with compact, coherent and consistent structures. though Lippard's inventory in Six Years,
like Alloway's list of non-compactforms, makes no distinction between
these different approaches, I would like to argue that it is central for our
understanding of dematerialisation at this time.
If Lippard briefly drew attention to the degree of acceptance involved
in dematerialised conceptual practices, and Alloway spoke of the
degree of compactness that constitutes a minimum requirement of
aesthetic identity, brecht's borderline art exists precisely at the
interface between these two variable systems. the more it accepts
non-art reality, the less compact and thus less legible an art form
becomes, leading us to wonder, with brecht:
If art were not in form, it could be (life) instead of art.
or: can art not be in form and still be art?
brecHt [1961: 74-75A]

Obj ect s In PrO gr e s s

Street Works
It was both the setting and the looseness of the format that allowed
the 1969-1970 Street Works events to venture into the ambiguous
territory of borderline art. According to john Perreault, the poet and
critic who was the main spokesman for the events, a street Work
could be anything that takes place in the street or is placed in the
street, calls attention to the street, is temporary, and is designated or
created by an artist as a street Work [PerreAULt 1969-70]. the definition of the work was entirely contingent on the specific time and
place designated by Perreault and his co-organisers. Apart from the
announcement (fig. 1), there was no systematic visual documentation of the events; most of our knowledge derives from a supplement
to issue six of the magazine 0-9 edited by Vito Acconci and
bernadette Mayer, who both participated in the first Street Works, as
well as Perreault's fragmentary reviews in the Village Voice, along
with the odd proposal, photograph, or press release.9 the format
varied from one Street Work to another variables included the
number of invitations, as well as the designated area and time period.
Street Works IV stands out as being the most carefully planned and
advertised because it was sponsored by the Architectural League in
new york; the street works that the limited number of artists created
for the opening at the Architectural League, and for subsequent
weeks, were all announced in advance. the last Street Works, which
was named World Works, differed from all past events in that it
involved artists around the world performing street Works at the
same time and subsequently sending their reports to the organisers.
the organisers were the only ones to participate in all six Street
Works; some artists contributed repeatedly, others only once. some
works are attributed to different artists by different sources, while
others have remained anonymous. Few artists have kept records of
their participation, and some fail entirely to mention their participation in Street Works in their list of exhibitions or reviews.
However marginal, the Street Works did not occur in a void. they were
above all a collaboration of artists and poets who were exploring different formats for the presentation of their work. Perreault, Weiner
and eduardo costa (who would participate in Street Works I-IV) had
organised in january 1969 the widely publicised Fashion Event
Poetry Show, for example, which had invited both visual artists and
poets to create innovative costumes to be modelled by their friends.

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43

Other poetry performances took place during this period in artist's


lofts, clubs and bars, as well as galleries and museums. Meanwhile,
Acconci and Mayer created 0-9 as a magazine that would bring
together poets and conceptual artists. Writing about the relations
between poets and conceptual artists in 0-9, Lytle shaw has traced
a parallel between the dematerialisation of the artwork pursued by
the visual artists and a materialisation of language among the
poets [sHAW 2006: 156-157]. As shaw explains, the desire to materialise language was directed against an easy consumption of
poems as unmediated tokens of interiority, in much the same way
as the artists sought to resist the consumption of artworks as commodities. taking poetry off the page was one of the strategies
pursued by Acconci, Weiner, Mayer, and many of the other poets participating in Street Works.
A dialogue between poets and artists had occurred earlier with
Fluxus, whose precedent is not acknowledged in Perreault's writings
at the time, although several Fluxus artists, including benjamin
Patterson, bici and geoff Hendricks, did in fact participate in some of
the Street Works. Indeed, Fluxus had staged some events in the same
neighbourhood as Street Works as early as 1964, and Mieko shiomi's
Spatial Poems, started in 1965, are clear precursors of the 1970
World Works. (In the Spatial Poems, shiomi sent a score to different
friends and acquaintances across the world and collected their
responses, either by printing them together on the pages of a book,
or by inscribing them on a map of the world, using tiny flags. the
organisers of World Works may also have wished to compile a publication of the performance records that they received, but without a
single instruction or score like the one shiomi sent around, the
overview would no doubt have lacked focus.)
If Perreault failed to refer to Fluxus, he did point to contemporary
manifestations of art in the street, orchestrated by artists such as
james Lee byars and yayoi Kusama. byars contributed to both Street
Works I and II, along with other artists such Acconci or Adrian Piper,
who would also start using the street as a location for their practice
around that time, though for solo, sometimes invisible, performances different from the more spectacular street events set up by
byars. Other artists such as Marjorie strider or rosemarie castoro
created for Street Works specific pieces that largely remain unlike
anything else they had done before and have done since. castoro
cycled along the streets with a leaking tin of enamel paint at the back

Obj ect s In PrO gr e s s

of her bicycle for Street Works I (fig. 2) and unrolled a thick aluminium
scroll along the streets (for Street Works III). (For Street Works II, she
laid out a line of aluminium tape to create an atoll out of Manhattan
(fig. 3), a device she would subsequently use indoors.) In Six Years,
Lippard who had participated in Street Works I herself reproduced
a summary of strider's contributions to five of the artist's six Street
Works (fig. 4). Overall, strider's approach as a painter she was
already known as a Pop artist by then involved the simple use of
painting frames: she hung them around the street (where many were
stolen by passers-by) in Street Works I and II, inscribed the words
PIctUre FrAMe on a banner in Street Works III, and built a fifteenfoot frame that visitors walked through on their way into the
Architectural League for the opening of Street Works IV. For Street
Works V, she taped picture frames on the sidewalk for people to walk
into, and for Street Works VI or World Works, she asked passers-by to
hold up a frame as she snapped their portraits with her camera.10
Other participating artists in Street Works, such as Athena tacha or
scott burton, would go on to develop public art projects in cities
across the United states, thus pursuing their desire to take art to the
street, but in permanent rather than temporary forms. though
Perreault mentions urban art in one of his Street Works reports, it
appears that Land Art also known as earth Works would have
been the most obvious point of comparison at the time. As he
explained, some artists making street Works wish to call attention
to the city environment in much the same way as earth Art brings the
natural environment to our attention [PerreAULt 1969-1970].
retrospectively, he has mused that many street Works artists
agreed with him that earth Art was elitist to the extent that it still
does take a considerable amount of cash to visit robert smithson's
Spiral Jetty [PerreAULt 2008].
though some art world friends and acquaintances did come to hunt
down the works, in particular at the official opening of Street Works IV
at the Architectural League, the main audience for the Street Works
consisted largely of other participating artists and random passersby. statements from the organisers stressed their desire to reach an
audience broader than the usual constituency of visitors to art
events and galleries. the new context, they claimed, gave greater
freedom to the artists, while allowing them to witness their audience's reactions immediately. Moreover, according to the Street
Works organisers, the appearance of works at unexpected times

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45

and unexpected places would inevitably lend the works a quality of


surprise which would bring the street environment into greater consciousness.11 While Perreault's above-cited definition of a street
Work depended on the figure of the artist, he nevertheless expressed
the paradoxical belief that as soon as the man on the street is able to
identify a street Work as a work of art, the street Work ceases to exist
as a work of art [PerreAULt 1969e: 16].
rather than giving an exhaustive account of each Street Works in
order to bring these little-known events out of obscurity, I would like
to outline here a typology of forms and characteristics which will
shed light on their place in the discourses of dematerialised, expanded and borderline art that I have mapped out. A first type of street
Work involved the simple of act of naming, framing or labelling everyday objects and places in the street. At Street Works I, in addition to
strider's painterly frames, Lippard circled in chalk any poet she met,
and labels were affixed by both Weiner and Acconci Weiner's labels
were blank, whereas Acconci pasted on buses signs that bore the
time when the labels had been attached, and the location of the bus
at that moment. this naming and labelling strategy intersects with
another, essential formal structure of many street Works: their inherently non-compact sprawl in space, whether through signs affixed
on surrounding objects, or the numerous leaflets, poems, tissues,
money, cards and maps randomly distributed to passers-by. If banners and sandwich boards were used by poets and artists to create
mobile works, Perreault's T-Shirt Alphabet allowed him to use this
mobility to disperse his poetry even further: for the opening of Street
Works IV, Perreault and twenty-five other participants each wore a tshirt with a single letter from the alphabet. As Perreault announced,
Any words that are spelled out at the opening, and on the participants' journey to and from the event will be accidental.12
throughout the Street Works, there emerges more particularly an
attempt to disperse forms on the ground, as if to focus attention on
pedestrian movements and trajectories. thus, poems, messages and
drawings were scrawled and stencilled on pavements, and materials
were scattered on asphalt surfaces in a Hansel and gretel trail in
the case of castoro's dripping paint (fig. 2) or tacha's trickle of salt
as she went around cleveland, Ohio (for World Works), or in changing
heaps of powder (at Street Works IV Mayer poured blue washing
powder, which turned to suds in the rain; cristos gianakos dumped
white flour on the road at Street Works III (fig. 5), creating a beautiful

Obj ect s In PrO gr e s s

nighttime piece, Perreault noted, as cars passed by [and] gentle


clouds of white rose up [PerreAULt 1969c: 17].) silver stars were
sprinkled on the pavement by Weiner at Street Works V, while john
giorno was suspected to have strewn nails on the road at Street
Works III.
the nails on the street were a good pretext for the police to put an
end to Street Works III an hour and a half before it was supposed to
finish. Other police interventions during Street Works drew their own
boundaries between private and public space, and between harmless artistic gesture and the subversion of the public order (or threat
to private property). For example, the police forbade poet Luis Wells
from surrounding an area with a dotted line in Street Works II, while
they ripped down a tape, bearing one of Weiner's poems written in
International code of signals, that the artist had used to try and tie
up a city block during Street Works III. surprisingly, they did not stop
giorno and his friends from distributing his sexually explicit Kama
Sutra Poem at Street Works II, although they had questioned the
artist thomas Lanigan-schmidt when he was handing out Miss
Madison Avenue teenage Queen of Arts contest questionnaires at
Street Works I.
Other artists included in Street Works sought to disorient viewers by
effecting a number of dislocations or dtournements. In Street Works
II, rosemary Mayer (bernadette's sister) used labels to change all
the numbers of the buildings in one of the streets, while steven
Kaltenbach went to great lengths to transplant the litter out of his
neighbourhood of residence, by taking Polaroid photographs of the
litter in its original location before placing it in paper bags and carrying it to the location designated for Street Works I. two poets
conducted a tour one of them using a guide to London during
Street Works III; Abraham Lubelski invited viewers at the same event
to visit the royal Waste removal corporation, where Perreault
admired piles of beautiful, anti-formal, condensed mess [PerreAULt
1969c: 17]. (In the earlier Street Works I, Lubelski had added a strip
of lawn on the sidewalk in front of a bank (fig. 3).) Puns appealed to
poets as a simple tool to introduce randomness in the framework of
the street. While charles Haseloff felt compelled to sweep broome
street for Street Works III, Hannah Weiner organised a meeting with
the other Hannah Weiner she had found in the new york phonebook,
and set up, under the title Weiner's Wieners, a cart giving away hotdogs at the opening of Street Works IV.

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47

All such formal devices certainly succeeded in defining street Works


as non-compact works, comparable, for example, to the permissive
configurations that Alloway perceived in robert Morris's soft sculptures and barry Le Va's scattered distributions, or bringing to mind
smithson's interest in the overlap of systems as he re-titled sites of
an abandoned industrial landscape in jersey for his grand tour of the
Monuments of Passaic [ALLOWAy 1969: 208; ALLOWAy 1973: 230]. As
much as the non-compact forms of the street Works, however, it was
their content or subject-matter that aligned them with a borderline art
hovering at the point of imperceptibility. For the organisers, street
Works were aimed at the man in the street Street Works I was
intended for those who were in the area, shopping, strolling, and
doing various saturday midtown things during the natural course of
their lives; at the location of Street Works V, [t]here were bums slugging down cheap wine, ladies lugging christmas trees, and other
ladies leaning in doorways [PerreAULt 1969a: 17]. so when scott
burton's contribution to Street Works II involved him walking around
in drag pretending to be a lady running her saturday afternoon
errands, or when Weiner leaned in a doorway herself during Street
Works V, they were literally mimicking the activities of the men and
women in the street to whom the street Works were addressed. While
Weiner concluded that pretending to be a prostitute was not a nice
feeling at all, many marvelled at burton's disguise his was the
most invisible and most sensational work at Street Works II,
remarked Perreault [WeIner 2007: 25; PerreAULt 1969b: 14]. At Street
Works II, thomas Lanigan-schmidt and his assistant panhandled the
designated area and earned $6.33, whereas eduardo costa preferred
to undertake useful work instead of loafing around, by replacing
missing signs and trying to repaint a subway station (for Street Works
I), or translating spanish signs in english and vice-versa (for Street
Works II). Meanwhile, Perreault's Street Music, performed at Street
Works I and II (fig. 1), merged with the ambient noises of the street as
he went about calling one phone booth from another and letting the
phones ring three time before hanging up (for Street Music III, the
dialling phones were left off the hook so that the ringing would be continuous). the work was invisible and for the most part inaudible,
Perreault observed about Street Music I and II [PerreAULt 1969d].
Hardly anyone noticed Street Music III either [PerreAULt 1969b: 14].
If some of the street Works involved some social gatherings
whether it was Lil Picard inviting participants for a beer at Street

Obj ect s In PrO gr e s s

Works V or Les Levine celebrating his birthday at the opening of


Street Works IV the prototypical man in the street is a lonely figure,
of which the flneur is the best-known, modern trope. the most
famous work performed in the Street Works series is probably
Acconci's Following Piece, which has been discussed in relation to
the baudelairien and surrealist flneurs.13 Following Piece, which
involved the artist choosing a person randomly every day, for a
month, and following him until he enters a private place, was performed during Street Works IV, after Acconci had already contributed
eight street Works at Street Works I, II, III, and at the opening of
Street Works IV [AccOncI 1969]. the situations using streets that
Acconci set up during Street Works I involved, in addition to pasting
labels on buses (which I mentioned earlier), the artist walking continuously along the sides of a single sidewalk for three hours, during
which someone would perhaps wonder whether or not he had
already seen him (fig. 6). For Street Works II, he stood on a corner,
singled out a passer-by, and ran to the other corner to get there
before that person arrived at that point; he would then note the time
of his arrival. these two works resonate with the Fluxus artist
Patterson's contribution to Street Works I, which involved him crossing the street at an intersection back and forth in each direction for
fifteen minutes each way a performance, in fact, of his 1962 score
Traffic Lights: A Very Lawful Dance which, as Dick Higgins had previously noted, highlighted the non-memorable, disappearing aspect of
his work [HIggIns 1964:59]. Acconci's participation in the opening of
Street Works IV was more static, as he stood watching the traffic
nearby for two hours, thinking, among other things, of someone else
standing in similar position elsewhere. Acconci had further probed
the dynamics of his Street Works contributions by exploring two situations during August 1969: in both he picked out (mentally) a
passer-by in the street, but in one of the situations he followed them
and then slowed down, while in the other he stood still at one corner
and watched them turn the other corner. In both cases the work continues until the person chosen is out of view.14
If Patterson, like many Fluxus artists, came from a musical background (he was a professional double-bass player), Acconci's
situations created during and around the time of the Street Works
were still closely related to his poetry, as his records for the works
testify. For each work, Acconci lists, defines and riffs on a number of
related words and expressions like point or information in Street

DeMAterIALIsAtIOns

49

Works I (fig. 6), corner, on the street, drift, or going the distance
(for his Situation Using Streets, Walking, Running in Street Works II),
or to stand one's ground and right up your street (for each of his
two contributions to Street Work IV). the diaries that he kept of the
Following Piece, and the pages from this diary that he subsequently
sent out to various friends and art world professionals, certainly
highlighted the narrative drive at the heart of the work. What
Acconci's Street Works demonstrate above all, however, is a shift
from literature to a preoccupation with sight and action, as glancing
in the first work turns to watching and following in the later ones.
Moreover, many of his Street Works focus on his invisible interactions with passers-by, with whom he identifies yet simultaneously
tries to compete, thus objectifying them in what tom McDonough
has described as a libidinal tangle in which pursuer and pursued
[have] lost their clear polarities [McDOnOUgH 2002: 107]. In this way,
Acconci's Following Piece revealed the central dynamic between
public and private that lies at the heart of the street environment,
which shaped and was shaped by Street Works. by putting out their
work in the public arena of the street, the artists involved in Street
Works seemed to have given up all claims to private intention.15 yet,
at the same time, many street Works were so private that in many
cases they remained a secret that could only be perceived after the
fact, through documentation. (Kaltenbach went so far as to contribute an undisclosed secret piece to Street Works IV.) this polarity,
I would argue, is inherent to the very nature of the everyday itself,
which is everywhere to be seen, yet remains illegible.
An Everyday Vocabulary
Maurice blanchot's essay on the everyday, La parole quotidienne,
was initially published in 1962 under the title L'homme de la rue
the man in the street. For blanchot, the everyday is imperceptible or
unseen (inaperu) because it is always there and can never be
enclosed in a panoramic vision [bLAncHOt 1962/1969: 357-358].16
similarly, the man in the street has always seen everything, but is a
witness of nothing not out of cowardice, but rather out of lightness, because he is never really there [bLAncHOt 1962/1969:
362-363]. so when a street Work resists being identified as art, and
thereby neatly filed way, as Perreault wished, and the artist thus

Obj ect s In PrO gr e s s

remains an anonymous man on the street, they come closer to


being as imperceptible as the everyday [PerreAULt 1969e: 16]. this
is where the power of dissolution of the everyday lies: its corrosive
powers, as blanchot called them, erode the very notion of the subject, and by extension, it will dissolve the fixed contours of art
[bLAncHOt 1962/69: 365].
some of the characteristics of borderline art according to brecht are
its gentleness, frugality, reticence [brecHt 1961: 74b-c]. All the
works in Street Works I, explained Perreault, were similarly soft,
gentle, and practically invisible. nothing was damaged [PerreAULt
1969a: 17]. Indeed, Perreault was careful to note that the nails
strewn on the road in Street Works III were untypical of the manifestation as a whole, and the poster-instructions for World Works
explicitly specified that a street work does not harm any person or
thing. I believe that this gentleness intersects with one of the key
features that burnham singled out in Kaprow's mid-1960s happenings or activities: their reversibility. As burnham noted, Alterations in
the environment may be erased after the Happening, or as a part of
the Happenings conclusion [bUrnHAM 1968: 35]. similarly, street
Works left few material traces behind, beyond lines of paint or chalk
that would eventually fade and disappear.
the frugality of the street Works like that of brecht's scores as well
as Kaprow's contemporary scripts lie in their economy: most could
be summarised in a few words. As to their reticence also noted by
Alloway apropos brecht's events they offer an alternative to the
aloofness discussed by Lippard and chandler [ALLOWAy 1975a: 196;
LIPPArD and cHAnDLer 1968: 257 and 271]. While reserve is a synonym for both terms, aloofness suggests a superiority and coldness
that are foreign to reticence, which is more closely related to shyness and discretion. For Lippard and chandler, the aloofness of
dematerialised works is related to their self-containment and their
hermeticism, manifested as enclosure or monotonality and near
invisibility, as an incommunicative blank faade or as an excessive
duration. In contrast, the near invisibility of the street Works and
borderline art in general does not derive from their self-containment
gentle and frugal, they seek to open up and blend in with their surroundings, offering transparent windows onto the world (like
strider's frames), rather than incommunicative blank faades.
For john gruen, the Street Works could be related to the current phenomenon of anti-illusionistic art that wishes to convey a sense of the

DeMAterIALIsAtIOns

51

fragmentary, the tentative, the insubstantial [grUen 1969]. the timidity of the tentative certainly relates to the shyness of the reticent,
but it is with the insubstantial that I would like to conclude. For the
insubstantial, firstly, could well provide another, more useful term
than the immaterial or the dematerialisation at stake in this essay.
secondly, the insubstantial brings to mind the insignifiant (insignificant) that characterises the everyday according to blanchot. the
insignificant, for blanchot, is without truth, without reality, without
secret, but it is perhaps also the place where all signification is possible [bLAncHOt 1962/69: 357]. this parallel between insignificant
practices and the everyday insignifiant can help us to address, in
conclusion, the politics of the borderline brand of conceptual art
embodied in brecht's scores, Kaprow's activities, street Works, and
other acceptive forms of conceptual art.
In the same way that Lippard and chandler insisted that dematerialised practices could not be bought and sold, Perreault acknowledged
that a political dimension could be read in the simple fact that the
street Work exists outside the gallery-museum economic structure
[PerreAULt 1969-1970]. yet, as Lippard had already realised by the
time Six Years was published, this political project was quickly proved
unsuccessful, because such projects did end up being bought and
sold [LIPPArD 1973: 263-264]. Indeed, as thierry Davila demonstrates
in his brief but masterly history of imperceptibility from Marcel
Duchamp to today, 1969 can be called the year of invisibility in the
United states precisely because it was a particularly rich moment for
public manifestations of an invisible art through clearly identifiable
exhibition strategies that simultaneously relied on and subverted the
commodification of artworks as well as the very mechanisms of the
art world [DAVILA 2010: 147].17
According to Alistair rider, the exhibition curated by Lippard at the
Paula cooper gallery in May and june of 1969 constitutes a clear
example of the failure of dematerialised art to escape from the commercial art world. Lippard's exhibition included, in fact, the same kind
of aluminium tape that castoro had unrolled to create an atoll out of
Manhattan a month earlier in Street Works II: this time, it threatened
to visually crack open the space of the gallery along the floor and the
walls. transposed from the street to the gallery, castoro's Cracking
can be read by rider as epitomising the unfulfilled anti-establishment longings of the moment [rIDer 2008: 149]. According to rider,
an artist such as smithson refused to give in to such evident forms of

Obj ect s In PrO gr e s s

wish fulfilment by acknowledging the existence of boundaries


such as the gallery walls and working with them.
the differences between castoro's Cracking and her attempt to
make an atoll out of Manhattan at Street Works II clearly highlight
the importance of location for borderline works. rather than condemning them for their escapism or naivety, however, I would argue
that borderline practices such as those of brecht and Kaprow, or
acceptive conceptual practices like the street Works, did not seek to
overcome the boundaries between art and non-art by working outside the gallery, but rather probed these boundaries in search of
social energies not yet recognised as art, as Lippard put it in a retrospective account [LIPPArD 1993: XXII]. While the idea of limits
central to smithson's thinking is contained in the very definition of
borderline art, it is the energy that can be sparked by the friction
occurring at this boundary that is central to the practices that I have
discussed. Indeed, the idea of energy is implied in burnham's reading of dematerialised practices as systems, and Alloway's interest in
the interfaces of a dynamic, expanding work of art. crucially, as
Lippard suggested:
the process of discovering the boundaries didn't stop with conceptual art: these energies are still out there, waiting for artists to plug into them, potential fuel for the
expansion of what art can mean.
LIPPArD [1993: XXII]

such a promise, I believe, can certainly be retrieved in the spirit of


Street Works, and in the general insignificance of borderline art as
the place where all signification is possible.
1

research for this essay was made possible by a terra Foundation for American Art
Postdoctoral Fellowship at the smithsonian American Art Museum. I would also like
to thank the artists and poets who kindly responded to my queries and requests
for images: Vito Acconci, rosemarie castoro, cristos gianakos, Abraham Lubelski,
john Perreault, Marjorie strider and Athena tacha.
2
Alloway reviewed both Kaprow's 1966 Assemblage, Environments and
Happenings and his 1969 Days Off, A Calendar of Happenings, which documented
a number of happenings performed in 1969. the two reviews originally published
in Arts Magazine XLI/3 (December 1966-january 1967) and The Nation (20
October 1969) are both included in Allan Kaprow: two Views, in ALLOWAy [1975a].
burnham refers to Allan Kaprow's the Happenings Are Dead: Long Live the
Happenings!, Artforum (March 1966), in bUrnHAM [1968: 35]. the scores/poster
for Six Ordinary Happenings can be found in Allan Kaprow: Art as Life [2007: 207].

DeMAterIALIsAtIOns

brecht mentions systems in his Notebook II [1958-1959: 65]. In Notebook V


[1960: 157], he refers to stanford beer's Cybernetics and Management [1959].
4
brecht writes about modes of apprehension for a statement for james
goldsworthy, written in june 1960. see Notebook V [1960: 151]. the term beyond
dimensions appears in events (assembled notes), a first version for events:
scores and Other Occurrences (written sometime between 20 April-19 May 1961)
in Notebook VI, [1961: 74-75c].
5
Objects/events/situations, notes for an unpublished article, in Notebook V
[1960: 239].
6
For an excellent study of the influence of east Asian culture and philosophy on
brecht's borderline art, see KnAPsteIn [1999].
7
brecht does not include this quotation by Watts in his text, but he read Watts'
writings and attended his lecture series on religion and Language at the new
school for social research in 1961.
8
though not referenced, the quotation from Watts may have been drawn from a
Life article about Watts, eager exponent of Zen [AnOnyMOUs 1961: 88A]. In the Life
article, it reads, the haiku is a concrete image of a moment in life.
9
Most of the material can be found in PerreAULt and cOLLIscHAn [2008].
10
the summary in Six Years [LIPPArD 1973: 91] refers to strider's contributions to
Street Works I-V. Information about World Works can be found in the Marjorie strider
Papers.
11
john Perreault, Marjorie strider and Hannah Weiner, street Works a statement
by the coordinators, rep. in PerreAULt and cOLLIscHAn [2008].
12
john Perreault, Artist's comments, in Street Works IV, programme of events,
rep. in PerreAULt and cOLLIscHAn [2008].
13
see, for example, tom McDOnOUgH, the crimes of the Flneur [2002], and
Margaret IVersen, Following Pieces: On Performative Photography [2007]. For a
general discussion of walking in surrealism and contemporary art, see Anna
DeZeUZe, As Long as I'm Walking, in DeZeUZe [2009].
14
see Vito Acconci, streets, Walking, Watching, Aug 1969, in AccOncI [2006].
15
burnham praised Donald judd's criticism because it cleared the air of much
criticism centred around meaning and private intention [bUrnHAM 1968: 32].
16
My translation.
17
My translation.

AnOnyMOUs [1961]. eager exponent of Zen, Life, April 21, pp.88A-93.


AccOncI, Vito [1969]. [untitled text] in Street Works, supplement to the
magazine 0-9, no6, july, n.p.
AccOncI, Vito (et al.) [2006]. Diary of a Body. Milan, new york: charta.
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ALLOWAy, Lawrence [1969]. the expanding and Disappearing Work of Art,


Auction, III/2, October, rep. in Topics in American Art since 1945. new york:
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Fig. 1. Poster for Street Works I, 15 March 1969, with map of john Perreault's Street Music I, as
reproduced in 0-9, supplement to no6, july 1969, n.p.

Fig. 2. rosemarie castoro, Untitled contribution to Street Works I, as reproduced in 0-9, supplement to
no6, july 1969, n.p.

Fig. 3. View of Street Works II, 18 April 1969: metal tape from rosemarie castoro, How to Make An Atoll
out of Manhattan Island unrolled by the artist on top of the strip of grass placed by Abraham Lubelski in
front of the First national city bank on 13th street. Photo: rosemarie castoro.

Fig. 4. Marjorie strider, Street Work, 1969. Photograph and summary reproduced in Lucy Lippard, Six
Years: the Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, London, studio Vista, p.91.

Fig. 5. cristos gianakos, untitled contribution to Street Works III, 25 May 1969.

Fig. 6a. Vito Acconci, A Situation Using Streets, Walking, Glancing, contribution to Street Works I,
15 March 1969: Description and notes.

Fig. 6b. Vito Acconci, A Situation Using Streets, Walking, Glancing, contribution to Street Works I,
15 March 1969: two photographs.