The Crossover of New Media Immersion and Site-Specificity: Contemporary Art and Spatial Experience


“The Crossover of New Media Immersion and Site-Specificity: Contemporary Art and Spatial Experience.”

Anja Bock, Ph.D., Concordia University, 2009.

In the literature on contemporary installation art, a conceptual paradox keeps rearing its head: frequently artworks are described as immersive and site-specific. But how can they be both? Although both terms have solid foundations within art history, they tend to be regarded as mutually exclusive categories, pertaining to very different kinds of aesthetic experience: “immersion” draws on our relationship with new media and engages a long history of illusionism and simulation, while “site-specificity” focuses on actual places as a way to circumvent illusionism and reveal the material or ideological forces that define a particular site. Given this difference, my objective is twofold: first to discover their respective usefulness and limitations, and then to ask, what happens when we think of them together?

In answer to this question I propose that the discourses of new media immersion and site-specificity have created a “crossover.” That is, the two discursive zones have neared each other to the point that they have created a force field between them, thereby generating a new zone altogether. I am using the figure to suggest the drastic waning in prominence of new media immersion and site-specificity as discrete discourses within art history over the last decade: each falls away to the margins, falling by the wayside of validated art practices, leaving between them the expansive zone of the crossover.

This zone is explored through detailed analysis of five artworks: Olafur Eliasson’s installation Notion Motion (2005); Philip Beesley’s interactive environment Hylozoic Soil (2007); Mike Nelson’s tri-part stage-set Triple Bluff Canyon (2004); Gregor Schneider’s labyrinthine Weisse Folter (2007); and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s augmented city square Under Scan (2005). I propose that each artwork helps build critical theory around the issues at stake in the crossover, particularly with regard to contemporary spatial experience and its implications for subjectivity.  The case studies have been grouped into three chapters in order to allow certain issues pertinent to the crossover to come to the fore more forcefully: interactivity, spatial facsimiles and augmented places.

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