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Site Specificity Without Borders: A Research Symposium

General Programming

dateNovember 11, 2016 timeFriday, 9:00am–5:00pm EST location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
  • Lenfest Junior Faculty Development Fund, Faculty of Arts & Sciences, Columbia University
  • Department of English & Comparative Literature
  • Free and open to the public
  • No registration necessary
  • First come, first seated

Our epoch is one in which space takes for us the form of relations among sites.

--Michel Foucault, 1967

Sites suck.

-- Anonymous, 2016

Since the land art movement of the late ’60s, site-specific practices have been central to the arts. Scholars, too, have embraced the language of “site.” We use it to explain new forms, such as the GPS-enabled geo-novel, and also to interpret artworks in place, asking not what a poem or photo means generally, but what it means here, for these people, in this site. Site specificity is a strange kind of phenomenon, which travels because it is fixed.

Participants in this symposium will discuss how site-specific discourse and practices have moved across media, space, and time. They will ask whether it’s contradictory to demand a general theory of site-specificity. And they will question whether the localizing language of site is adequate to social or environmental challenges that emerge at a planetary scale, or that embrace technologies unimagined by the pioneers of the 1960s and 1970s. Above all, speakers will try to identify what is living and what is dead in site specificity. Is site worn out? Is this once-insurgent practice anything more, these days, than a generalized idiom for attaching social values to artistic objects?


9:30-9:45 Welcoming Remarks
Matthew Hart (Columbia University)

9:45-11:15 New York City Sites & the Performance of Race & Locality
Glenda Carpio (Harvard University) “The Whiteness of the Whale as a Sugar Baby"
Peter L’Official (Bard College) “Internationally Known, Locally Respected: Fashion Moda is..."

11:15-11:30 Break

11:30-1:00 Situating Critical Theory / Dematerializing Sites
Karen Benezra (Columbia University) "Garbage, Money, Capital"
Lytle Shaw (NYU) “lower case theory And the Site-Specific Turn”

1-2:00 Break

2-3:30 Sites from 30,000 Feet & Rising: Ecology, the Digital, Earth
James Hodge (Northwestern) "Does the Earth Move? Site Specificity, Phenomenology, Cinema"
Genevieve Yue (New School) “The Sight Specificity of Aerial Imaging”

3:30 – 3:45 Break

3:45-5:15 Roundtable: What is Living & What is Dead in Site Specificity?
David J. Alworth (Harvard), Maggie Cao (UNC – Chapel Hill), and Irene Small (Princeton)

  • Matthew Hart Associate Professor of English & Comparative Literature Columbia University
  • David J. Alworth Associate Professor of the Humanities Harvard University
  • Karen Benezra Assistant Professor, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures, Institute for Latin American Studies, Institute for Comparative Literature and Society Columbia University
  • Maggie Cao David F. Grey Assistant Professor, Art Department University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
  • Glenda Carpio Professor of English and of African and African American Studies Harvard University
  • James J. Hodge Assistant Professor, Department of English and the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities Northwestern
  • Peter L'Official Assistant Professor of Literature Bard College
  • Lytle Shaw Professor of English New York University
  • Irene Small Assistant Professor, Department of Art & Archaeology Princeton University
  • Genevieve Yue Assistant Professor of Culture and Media The New School