The Spatial Politics of the Sculptural: Art, Capitalism and the Urban Space

The Spatial Politics of the Sculptural: Art, Capitalism and the Urban Space

by Euyoung Hong


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Space is a formative factor in the production of sculpture. Phenomenological thought interprets sculptural work in relation to the immersive experience of the viewer, situating it within its environment. But what possibilities lie beyond this unitary position? What is the political potential of a sculptural object? How can its spatial relations and movements be reconfigured beyond its immediate environment?

Spatial Politics of the Sculptural investigates the concept of space and its role in the production of the sculptural form from a multidimensional perspective. Engaging with the work of Krauss, Fried, Merleau-Pony, Deleuze and Guattari, and using case studies of urban development in Paris, New York and Seoul it reinterprets and dislocates the sculptural form in terms of the political dynamism of space proposing a new methodology for reading, producing and expanding sculptural practice. Drawing on David Harvey’s theory of capital, it scrutinizes the idea of the spatial in the process of urbanization. It examines the interrelationship between capital flow and accumulation, and explores the production and destruction of space in relation to the creation of three-dimensional works of art. In doing so, it expands the idea of the sculptural object in relation to the urban environment.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783487608
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 10/16/2016
Pages: 206
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Euyoung Hong is a Lecturer at Ewha Womans University, Seoul.

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The Spatial Politics of the Sculptural

Art, Capitalism and the Urban Space

By Euyoung Hong

Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd.

Copyright © 2016 Euyoung Hong
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78348-761-5


Situating the Sculptural

In the current field of art, the concept of sculpture has conventionally been ascribed to art theory. Certainly, it is a difficult task to define "sculpture," and we have already witnessed that sculpture has a broad definition at present – including various ideas and concepts of minimalism, conceptualism, performance and so on – and that this definition is in the process of change. This chapter aims to provide an expanded concept of the sculptural, to investigate the transformation from the traditional concept of sculpture to the sculptural, in particular, in relation to the notions of space, object and politics. To consider and develop the significance of the sculptural turn in contemporary art discourse, I attempt to expand and experiment further with the current understanding of sculpture by moving on to a new concept of the sculptural. This expanded notion of the sculptural concerns the ways in which the position of a particular work of art is newly taken and dislocated in terms of the complex dynamism of space.


A sculptural work engenders and demonstrates certain forms of thinking about the world, for example, by providing a new concept of the production, transformation and expansion of space. Moreover, the problems involved in defining a sculptural object and a sculptural space are considered in contemporary art discourse. To achieve this, Rosalind Krauss's famous theoretical work of sculpture is an essential point of departure in knowledge for the shift from sculpture to the sculptural.

It would probably be more accurate to say of the work that one found in the early sixties that sculpture had entered a categorical no-man's-land ... sculpture had entered the full condition of its inverse logic and had become pure negativity: the combination of exclusions. Sculpture, it could be said, had ceased being a positivity. ... Sculpture itself had become a kind of ontological absence, the combination of exclusions, the sum of neither/nor.

In her text "Sculpture in the Expanded Field," originally published in the journal October in 1979, Krauss provides a new way of understanding and categorizing the notion of sculpture by relating different terms: (not-) landscape and (not-)architecture. However, I hold two opposite views of her argument. First, a positive aspect of her account of sculpture is that the expanded field – aligning not-landscape and not-architecture with sculpture – definitely draws our attention to the fact that there is a transformation; for example, the transformation of the autonomous characteristics of the modernist category of sculpture to a new set of possibilities of (postmodernist) sculpture, that is, site-construction (landscape and architecture), marked site (landscape and not-landscape) and axiomatic structures (architecture and not-architecture). Sculpture, which posits itself between not-landscape and not-architecture, is, therefore, no longer considered as having a quasi-status and taking on a mediative role between different concepts; rather, as Krauss emphasized, it plays a significant role as a "'permission' to think these other forms." In this sense, sculpture becomes necessary for stimulating the transition from one to the other.

Second, a negative aspect is Krauss's use of the mathematical mapping strategy of the Klein group to extend the concept of sculpture. According to Krauss, pure negativity is considered a prerequisite for the construction of the expanded field of sculpture. This pure negativity is definitely related to the (modernist) sculpture's loss of place or unmonumentalization, which is, to use Krauss's words, something that can be established only in terms of what it is not. However, the problem appears at the point where Krauss puts the idea of pure negativity into a mathematical model, which is completely based on the logic of binary opposition, sharply dividing the neutral and the complex. In my view, this mathematical model can be successfully operated only if binary oppositions are completely accepted. In other words, if we negate, for example, her claims that the not-architecture is equivalent to landscape, and the not-landscape simply architecture, functioning as main structural axes in a diagram, then logical expansion through the diagram will be at issue. Theoretically, the crux of Krauss's postmodernist expanded notion of sculpture is its incompatibility with such a structuralist logic of reductionist and static sets of opposition. Most importantly, the significant point that has been overlooked in her theory is that the expanded concept of sculpture necessarily considers a sociopolitical dimension of space.

Instead of applying a mathematical model, I attempt to develop the concept of sculpture from a different perspective, to clarify what the sculptural is and how it works. In terms of Krauss's account of the negative condition of sculpture, the rejection of space, or sitelessness, is taken for granted as an essential condition for determining modernist sculpture, whereas site-specificity is frequently considered in both premodernist monumental sculpture and some postmodernist site-oriented sculptural practice. Rather than repeating this polarized opposition between sitelessness and site-specificity in the perception of sculptural works, I propose the phrase "sculptural space," which is composed of a new interactive connection between sculpture and space or site, or both. The main points in which my context of sculptural space differs from Krauss's view of the expanded field can be outlined as follows.

The premise of sculptural space is based on the condition that a sculptural object produces not only itself, but also its surroundings, where it occupies conceptually and physically. In other words, the (modernist account of) static nature of the sculptural object is changed to the political strategy of spatial arrangement in sculptural practice, interacting with its surroundings.

It is also completely distinct from the idea of neither/nor or either/or in the linear modernist categories. This means that a three-dimensional work cannot be understood without knowing its relationship with the space and environment, because the installation of an art object changes and reorganizes established power relations and social and spatial bases and orders by entering into the system of a given space. In other words, a three-dimensional work participates in creating a new conceptual and material relationship with the space. It is important to consider the complex spatial potentiality of a three-dimensional work, which functions as an essential and critical factor for producing a new possibility of urbanism that definitely includes the categories of landscape and architecture.

The sculptural in the phrase "sculptural space" is not equivalent to space. It can be understood as a force or a machine for producing differences or opportunities, which is mutually and critically related to the space or the built environment, and as its production, transformation and movement, rather than simply identified with a work of art itself or acting as a peripheral category in a certain kind of field. The concept of space here is not limited to blocks of physical buildings or nature, but conceived as a dynamic operation, which is able to actualize the production of difference in constant relation to our reality.

This logic of the sculptural plays a significant role in inventing and experimenting with a means of constructing and deconstructing a given space via the coalescent method of conceptualization and materialization. A constructed space or a built environment also constantly affects the formation and change of the logic of the sculptural.

The sculptural that I claim is differentiated from Krauss's expanded field, whose idea is limited to extending sculptural works from the 1960s and 1970s, especially outside of gallery or museum systems, in terms of the logic of pure negativity. Also, it does not simply aim at dividing works of art, in Smithson's context of the dialectical opposition between outdoor sculptural work (site) and indoor sculptural work (non-site). As Heidegger argues, "Strictly speaking, there is no outside or inside within space itself." The sculptural does not simply reside in either the inside or the outside of a gallery. By transcending, or in other words, constructing or destroying further existent boundaries of space, the sculptural as an operative force between different elements and spaces is involved in the process of the production, transformation and movement of space. Furthermore, it resides in the creation and change of the line of division and movement. In this sense, an object which is necessarily employed in a three-dimensional work – does not simply occupy either one place or another, for example, a gallery or a museum or the outside of a gallery or a museum. Instead, it is considered an essential factor in producing a new spatial configuration, in which an object appears as a new axis in a given space and unfolds and operates itself by distributing a new spatial law of determining and changing the conceptual and material territory of space. The important points that make a sculptural object distinct from an object in real life are provided, focusing on their fundamentally different characteristics. The role of the sculptural is to produce a new method of the transformation from an ordinary object to a sculptural object (table 1.1).

To install an object, therefore, brings about a shift in established relations and systems of space, because, in the regime of the sculptural, an object and space are inseparable. The sculptural, as an operational dynamism, discovers and develops a dynamic interaction between object and space; specifically, the ways in which a work of art is situated in a given space to conjunctively or disjunctively become a part of that space, rather than as something that is possible to locate only within what is not. Hence, the sculptural recognizes the complex dynamism of space, acting through two separate yet interactive processes between an object and space: the inclusive and exclusive modes of the sculptural. The inclusive mode of the sculptural is a localized event, whereby both objects and spaces enter into a certain kind of layered relationship as they move and combine from different fields; the exclusive mode of the sculptural is a delocalized event, in which established relations of an object and space can be spread out or re-juxtaposed through spaces. The sculptural arises in the interaction between these two processes. These two modes of the sculptural do not function as a structural framework for determining works of art within a list of categories (for example, the works of such artists as Robert Smithson, Robert Irwin, Alice Aycock, John Mason, Michael Heizer and so on, which are classified in between landscape and architecture, or the works of Richard Serra, Robert Morris, Carl Andre, Dennis Oppenheim and Nancy Holt, which occupy a place between landscape and not-landscape). They are considered as essential dynamic systemizations, in which a sculptural work necessarily participates and produces itself by developing the sculptural modes according to its own creative methods.

The inclusive mode, operated by the relational dynamism of sculptural work, does not aim at building either the specificity of a site, which produces a work of art that is only completed by its surroundings, or the sitelessness of pure negativity, which is necessary for constructing the absolute autonomy of a sculptural work; but it proposes a particular (relational) systemization or movement of space through the dynamic interaction between object and space. The inclusive here can be understood as an operational concept, whose function is to develop the internal logic (or consistency) of a sculptural work, which is definitely distinct from the traditional understanding of the essence of a thing or materiality; moreover, it does not indicate a sculptural work in the modernist account of self-sufficiency. It is an important process of sculptural production and expansion, whereby a work of art presents and actualizes itself through the invitation of surroundings or an exterior to its system of territorial force and movement. Rather than the logic of exclusion, this sculptural mode operates in the principle of inclusion, through which the exterior is used not as a physical or social material – which is passively selected and changed by the artist – but as a parameter that helps a sculptural work to have new limits of change, which therefore affect the way in which the work of art is produced. Transformed into a part of a work of art, the exterior becomes a deterritorializing force that revisits its original function and relation from a different point of view.

For instance, it is obviously difficult to classify Gabriel Orozco's Yielding Stone (1992) into one of the categories of Krauss's expanded field: site-construction, marked sites, axiomatic structures or sculpture (figure 1.1). This work recognizes the inclusive logic of the sculptural. Rather than being seen as a work of art in itself, Plasticine® has traditionally been considered a raw material for modelling sculptural work because of its malleability. Unlike carving or cutting, modelling is an additive method for sculpting, in which material is built up to produce the finished work of art. The inclusive mode is definitely related to the appearance of a work of art through the accretive process of sculptural production and expansion, because it does not operate as a way of reducing one to the other, but as a way of layering one upon the other. In Orozco's work, this layered relationship and movement between different places and things can be presented particularly through the operation of two main concepts: repetition and malleability. Once objects are placed in a selected space, a certain spatial principle is produced between separate objects, between the object and the space and between the object and the viewers. Repetition enables this spatial principle to function as a continuity and allows the constant distribution of certain types of spatial relation and movement through the space between different things and spaces, rather than positing itself as a meditative entity in a list of categorical distinctions, such as an object, monument, architecture or landscape. It is a precondition for creating, functioning, distributing and mobilizing a system. Rather than a system itself, repetition is an active force that produces a continuity of movement between different things and places, because it provides and resides in a shared space between different elements. This shared space does not exist to identify or control every different space under the same rule, but becomes a cause of intervening in and connecting with different territories by layering the existing onto the new through the (re)distribution and relocation of the sculptural flow between the spaces. It gathers heterogeneous elements by producing and participating in a continuous line of events. This is called condensation.

Malleability is another essential element of the formation of the inclusive mode of the sculptural. It does not literally indicate a soft and shapeable material condition. It is also opposed to Krauss's account of the (modernist) sculpture's double negation – not-landscape and not-architecture – in the context of its loss of place or sitelessness. This is because malleability can be understood as a reactive force that can exist and function only through its relationship with its surroundings, including not only landscape and architecture, but also the sociopolitical environment. Instead of providing a particular type of artisanal presence, for Orozco, spaces or our surroundings become a locus and a key method of the production of a work of art, not a backdrop for an artwork. The Plasticine ball not only absorbs dust in its movement through space, but also shapes itself against the pressure and contour of the surface of the streets on which it rolls. An object, therefore, cannot merely be identified with a concrete physical thing, which provides a fixed perceptual precondition of a sculptural work. Every object is spatial and political in its process of development. It is continuously produced and actualizes itself only through spatio-political engagement with its environment. It creates a new space in a place. In this respect, the sculptural cannot be possessed by or belong to the object's essence, the thing itself, the specificity of a site or a viewer's perception, but appears as a relational dynamism between different forces, movements and intensities of spaces.


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Table of Contents

Introduction / 1. Situating the Sculptural / 2. The Political Dynamism of Space / 3. Installation and Spatial Politics / 4. Reshaping Urban Space: The Production of Space and the Logic of Capital / 5. Thinking Sculpturally through Urban Transformation / Conclusion / Bibliography / Index

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