City, Arts and Public Spaces: Nick Kaye

The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is participating in the ongoing campus initiative Global Urban Humanities: Engaging the Humanities and Environmental Design, which aims to bring the humanities into closer connection with disciplines that study the built environment to help address the complex problems facing today’s urban areas. To jump-start conversation for an upcoming working session, participants have been asked to “reflect upon a keyword that provokes, confuses, inspires, and/or annoys you in current thinking about urban and/or urban arts engagement.” This posting is by Nick Kaye, Dean of the College of Humanities and Professor of Performance Studies at the University of Exeter.
Keyword: Site

Contemporary notions of site and place emphasize experiences of instability, displacement and multiplicity. In the context of anthropological and performance theory addressing the performance of place and site, including Marc Auge’s influential Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (1995), Miwon Kwon’s One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity (2004), and linked concepts of “theatre/archaeology,” the stability and continuity of site is called into question. In this work, a site is approached firstly as a construct that is a function of multiple aspects: sites are palimpsestual and simultaneous, embracing diverse material, historical, cultural, spatial, and personal aspects, for different visitors or occupants at different times. The temporal dimension of site is also complex: a “site” does not exist simply in the “now” of its present-tense occupation by any individual or group, but is a function of memory and anticipation; and of disjunctions and differences between experiences of being in a place and knowing or reading “its” signs and texts. Art and performance, like any other cultural activity, are also implicated in the formation of the sites they occupy and gain meaning from. Like any located object, too, the specific occasion of a media or performance artwork also defines of the place or places it occupies, so performing and changing the contingencies that influence its meaning. 

My current web-based project, SiteWorks: 288 events/sites, San Francisco 1969-84, is the first iteration of an ongoing site-specific curation of archival remains of past performance and conceptual art across the present city of San Francisco. The first version of this project is available as a praxis session for Performance Studies International at

SiteWorks presents memories, traces and archival remains of events that occurred between 1969 and 1984, encompassing the period in which Tom Marioni established and curated the Museum of Conceptual Art (MOCA) at locations on 3rd Street in the SoMa area of the city. SiteWorks is designed to operate in the temporal and spatial interstices in which place is defined for the individual in their enactment of a site or sites.

Delivered from an OMEKA database through Google Maps such that a walker may encounter and respond to a haunting of the present city through past acts – and ephemeral places – Siteworks invites its participants to become agents of performance, art and site. By animating a fragmentary archive of performance through real places, SiteWorks creates spaces for recollection, imagination, and intervention, provoking present enactments of the city’s spaces in response to fragmentary remains of ephemeral events.

SiteWorks comprises three interlinked ‘collections’: individual ‘events,’ selected exhibitions, and Eleanor Coppola’s “Windows,” a work articulated across 54 different locations. These collections can be treated as discrete groups of works or as a totality of 288 event/sites. The content of the SiteWorks database may be explored in relation to specific places and routes, searched by artist and work, by themed tags, and in free search.

Participants may record and share their memories, corrections, additions, and emotional or creative responses to events and places to generate new and diverse engagements, so creating differing communities of interest. Responses may be textual and include media uploads.

SiteWorks provokes enactments, inhabitations and realizations of sites as layered in time, space and imagination, as places personalized in confrontations with the remains and traces of partially known events and remains.