When Site Lost the Plot - How can we do justice to the particularity of local sites while unearthing their material conditions? What do a contemporary "geo-philosophy" and the historical legacy of site-specific art have to offer each other?

When Site Lost the Plot, Ed. by Robin Mackay. Urbanomic, 2015.
The introduction is available to read online here.

The critical concept of site-specificity once seemed to harbour the potential for disruption. But site-specific work has become increasingly assimilated into the capitalist logic of regeneration and value creation. The materialist critique of the art object has been shortcircuited by the franchised idiosyncrasies of international nomad flaneurs. Meanwhile, on a planet whose entire surface is mapped and apped, the concept of "site" itself becomes ever more problematic.
How can we do justice to the particularity of local sites while unearthing their material conditions? What do a contemporary "geo-philosophy" and the historical legacy of site-specific art have to offer each other? Can we develop methods for the controlled unpacking of the local into the global, avoiding trivial reconciliations between local sites and their global conditions? When Site Lost the Plot charts some of the ways in which site continues to be a concern for contemporary practice; and introduces the concept of "plot" as an alternative, richer way in which to approach these questions.
Alongside artists discussing their practice and their approach to site and plot, contributors from various disciplines introduce concepts from cartography, mathematics, film, fiction, design, and philosophy that may help us to think otherwise the relation between local and global, between specific sites and their material conditions. 
In Site and Materiality Roman Vasseur discusses the ‘lamination’ of sites in his recent work at Cubitt Gallery, London, and his role as lead artist in the new town of Harlow, which saw contemporary relations between art, commissioning, and regeneration being addressed in the context of the legacy of modernist planning.

In Europe Squared Yves Mettler locates the absent site of Europe by triangulating between the various ‘Europaplatz’ scattered across the continent, and discusses his project in Lausanne documenting the deterritorialization of the Geneva Lake region 'from above and below' by fracking and international finance.

Nick Ferguson recounts the origins and development of his Speedscaping project with Richard Beard, focussing on the legally uncertain and liminal sites of mobile roadside advertising and its potential artistic uses.

In an interview, Remote-Control SiteJohn Gerrard discusses his virtual realtime worlds, the displacements implied by his practice of ‘portraiture', and the relationship between geography, power, and the production and consumption of the virtual.

In Making the PublicAndrea Phillips discusses the politics of the public programme through her experience as co-curator of the Istanbul public programme in 2013, beset by political tension and protest.

In an acute analysis of the logic of the artwork, Matthew Poole offers a speculative sketch of the Specificities of Sitedness, asking: If the artwork is already a site, how can it be specific to a site outside itself?


In The Long Con, design strategist Benedict Singleton discusses the creative and conspiratorial dimensions of ‘plot’ through the prism of the genre movie, arguing that plots have their own interests and propensities regardless of the desires of the protagonists. 

In Chaos and Black Carpets Ilona Gaynor discusses her projects Everything Ends in Chaos and Under Black Carpets (recently shown at FACT, Liverpool), building on the realities of crime, law, and finance to construct compelling speculative plots. 

In Fieldwork, Paul Chaney discusses his long-term on-site project FIELDCLUB, the theory and practice of dark ecology, and his recent work in Donestk, Ukraine and Most, Czech Republic.

Ecologist and Cartographer Shaun Lewin gives us a Brief History of Transcendence in Maps, from bee waggle-dances to Portolan charts and Streetmap, via fishing quotas and Ptolemy.

Mathematician Matthew Watkins provides a conceptual history of the concepts of local and global in the mathematics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from non-euclidean geometry to sheaf theory: Local, Global, and Beyond.

In a new mapping of the ‘space of the universal,’ Reza Negarestani asks Where is the Concept?, extending the Copernican trajectory into an epistemology of orientation and localization.

Robin Mackay takes the vanities of ‘site-specific’ art to task, proposing the concept of plot as an alternative, with detective fiction as an formal model, and proposing a theory-fiction in the shape of an international thriller, The Barker Topos.


The last section of the book is dedicated to Justin Barton and Mark Fisher’s audio essay On Vanishing Land, produced with the Otolith Collective in 2013. Alongside the original script of the piece, Outsights is an interview with Barton and Fisher on the eerie, the specific capacities of audio to invoke place, and the historical, cultural, and affective construction of sites.

Finally, in Silent Running, Dan Fox tells the story of his journey on a container ship, featured in OVL: a first-hand account of the occulted material logistics of contemporary capitalism.


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