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Site-Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism
Jane Rendell, Site-Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism (London: IB Tauris, 2010) is a 80,000 word book which enacts a new kind of art criticism, one which draws out its spatial qualities. If, following cultural critic Mieke Bal’s definition, ‘art-writing’ is a mode of criticism which aims to 'put the art first', then Site-Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism aims to put the sites of the critic’s engagement with art first. These include the sites – material, emotional, political and conceptual – of the artwork’s construction, exhibition and documentation, as well as those remembered, dreamed and imagined by the artist, critic and other viewers. Through five different spatial configurations Site-Writing explores artworks by artists as diverse as Jananne Al-Ani, Elina Brotherus, Nathan Coley, Tracey Emin, Cristina Iglesias and Do-Ho Suh. Each one investigates the psychic qualities and architectural dimensions of a particular spatial condition, namely the transitional space of the setting, the frontier between conscious, preconscious and unconscious, the rearrangement of words and things, the folded memory of déjà vu, and the recentering and decentering devices of the Ptolemic and Copernican revolutions. The intention is not to ‘apply’ spatial concepts to psychoanalyze certain artworks, but to adapt certain psychoanalytic ways of working – free association, conjectural interpretation and construction – to art criticism. Site-Writing configures what happens when discussions concerning situatedness and site-specificity extend to involve art criticism, and the spatial qualities of writing become as important in conveying meaning as the content of the criticism. The book suggests that in operating as mode of a practice in its own right this kind of criticism questions the terms of reference that relate the critic to the work positioned ‘under’ critique, and instead proposes alternative positions. This process of configuration writes the sites between critic, work and artist, as well as critic, text and reader, and in so doing constructs an architecture of art criticism. Sections on the new concept of ‘site-writing’ have been reprinted in Claire Doherty (ed) Situations, (MIT Press and the Whitechapel Gallery, 2009). Mieke Bal, Louise Bourgeois’ Spider: The Architecture of Art-Writing (London and Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001) p. xii.
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