Second Site
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Second Site

James Nisbet

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  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Second Site

James Nisbet

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About This Book

A meditation on how environmental change and the passage of time transform the meaning of site-specific art In the decades after World War II, artists and designers of the land art movement used the natural landscape to create monumental site-specific artworks. Second Site offers a powerful meditation on how environmental change and the passage of time alter and transform the meanings—and sometimes appearances—of works created to inhabit a specific place.James Nisbet offers fresh approaches to well-known artworks by Ant Farm, Rebecca Belmore, Nancy Holt, Richard Serra, and Robert Smithson. He also examines the work of less recognized artists such as Agnes Denes, Bonnie Devine, and herman de vries. Nisbet tracks the vicissitudes wrought by climate change and urban development on site-specific artworks, taking readers from the plains of Amarillo, Texas, to a field of volcanic rock in Mexico City, to abandoned quarries in Finland.Providing vital perspectives on what it means to endure in an ecologically volatile world, Second Site challenges long-held beliefs about the permanency of site-based art, with implications for the understanding and conservation of artistic creation and cultural heritage.

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Art General



  1. 1. For a brief account of the sale and move of London Bridge to Lake Havasu, see Dominic Utton, “How London Bridge Ended Up in Arizona,” Express, September 24, 2018, (accessed July 24, 2020).
  2. 2. On site-specificity, see Miwon Kwon, One Place after Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002); and James Meyer, “The Functional Site,” in Space, Site, Intervention: Situating Installation Art, ed. Erika Suderburg (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 23–37. I discuss these texts and the art historical reception of site-specificity at greater length in James Nisbet, “The Ecological Site,” in Ecologies, Agents, Terrains, ed. Christopher P. Heuer and Rebecca Zorach (Williamstown, MA, and New Haven, CT: Clark Art Institute and Yale University Press, 2018), 3–33.
  3. 3. On the international range of land art practices, see Philipp Kaiser and Miwon Kwon’s excellent catalog, Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974 (exhibition catalog) (Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2012). Additional overviews of the movement can be found in John Beardsley, Earthworks and Beyond: Contemporary Art in the Landscape, 4th ed. (New York: Abbeville Press, 2006); and Suzaan Boettger, Earthworks: Art and the Landscape of the Sixties (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).
  4. 4. For further analysis and critique of the historical constructions of the American desert, see Lyle Massey and James Nisbet, eds., The Invention of the American Desert: Art, Land, and the Politics of Environment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2021).
  5. 5. Ecological interpretations of art history and visual culture have developed significantly in the past decade. Without attempting to summarize that entire body of literature, I would note that when I wrote Ecologies, Environments, and Energy Systems in Art of the 1960s and 1970s (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014), there were very few dedicated studies in the field that addressed issues of ecology, as distinct from more conventional subjects such as landscape or the natural environment. Since that time, ecological perspectives have emerged as central to thinking about historical questions in the discipline, as well as contemporary issues such climate crisis, environmental racism, and animal rights. For a notable selection of this emerging scholarship in reverse chronology, see Amanda Boetzkes, Plastic Capitalism: Contemporary Art and the Drive to Waste (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019); Sugata Ray, Climate Change and the Art of Devotion: Geoaesthetics in the Land of Krishna, 1550–1850 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2019); Mark A. Cheetham, Landscape into Eco Art: Articulations of Nature since the ’60s (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2018); Christopher P. Heuer and Rebecca Zorach, eds., Ecologies, Agents, Terrains (Williamstown, MA, and New Haven, CT: Clark Art Institute and Yale University Press, 2018); Jessica L. Horton, Art for an Undivided Earth: The American Indian Movement Generation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017); T. J. Demos, Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology (New York: Sternberg, 2016); and Emily Eliza Scott and Kirsten J. Swenson, Critical Landscapes: Art, Space, Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015). For a critical overview, see Alan C. Braddock, “From Nature to Ecology: The Emergence of Ecocritical Art History,” in A Companion to American Art, ed. John Davis, Jennifer A. Greenhill, and Jason D. LaFountain (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley and Sons, 2015), 447–67.
  6. 6. The term longue durée was established by the Annales school of French historians in the twentieth century to focus on long-term vehicles of historical change rather than influential individuals or events. I invoke the term longue durée here to shift that mode of thinking to encompass the environmental impact of duration, in addition to that of social structures.
  7. 7. Two recent publications that not only address the historiography of temporal theories of art but also add new perspectives include Dan Karlholm and Keith Moxey, eds., Time in the History of Art: Temporality, Chronology, and Anachrony (New York: Routledge, 2018); and Christine Ross, The Past Is the Present; It’s the Future Too: The Temporal Turn in Contemporary Art (New York: Continuum, 2012). Ross’s chapter on “Ecology” differs from my own approach in that it employs this term to describe a mode of awareness wherein “the subject is made to be perceptually attuned with his or her environment instead of being detached from it” (65). The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things by George Kubler (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1962) is also an important touchstone for its adoption of ideas from the natural and physical sciences into discussions of art historical methodology. Another body of work that has been influential analyzes and critiques cultures of instantaneity, including Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (New York: Verso, 2014); Paul Virilio, The Vision Machine, trans. Julie Rose (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994); and T. J. Demos’s work-in-progress, “Radical Futurisms: Ecologies of Collapse/Chronopolitics/Justice to Come.”
  8. 8. Raymond Williams, “Ideas of Nature,” in Ecology: The Shaping Enquiry, ed. Jonathan Benthall (London: Longman, 1972), 146–64.
  9. 9. During the late 1860s and early 1870s, Maxwell imagined the “demon” of his thought experiment as an intentionally absurd exception to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which hol...

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