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Office of Institutional Research

Communications & External Affairs

Rob Halpern & Nonsite Collective

This poetic trace was used in:
Poem 5: Revenga
Poem 11: She then flies to Art
Poem 14: A biography of the dinosaurs
Poem 21: Response

==NONSITE COLLECTIVE: A Draft Proposal (open to revision)==

“There are things
We live among ‘and to see them
Is to know ourselves’”
— George Oppen, “Of Being Numerous”

But what happens when the things we need to see in order to know ourselves—''to know our social worlds and their interrelated environments''—become “processes” accessible to us only in the most mediated ways? And what happens when the things we do see stand between ourselves and those processes as a false immediacy?

In other words, what happens when we can no longer really see these “things” at all?



As the eyes
near wreck
to create
when they see
— Louis Zukofsky, “4 Other Countries”

With these general questions in mind, Nonsite Collective will work to construct a framework for community building activities and collaborative programming in an ongoing effort to locate ourselves—''by way of our work''—in social space where “we are first presented with an endless maze of relations and interconnections, in which nothing remains what or where it is” (Robert Smithson, “Frederick Law Olmsted and the Dialectical Landscape”).

Nonsite Collective will bring a range of communities into contact and conversation across disciplines and boundaries: artists, activists, writers, scholars, and nontraditional learners. The project’s organizational framework will include performances, colloquia, readings, documentation, archives, study groups, and hybrid events, all of which will act as points of leverage for ongoing cultural engagement and social action. Coextensive with its programming, Nonsite will facilitate collective research into the relation between aesthetic practices (broadly understood as those forms of work within any situation which aim to render or alter the division between the visible and the invisible, the namable and the unnamable, the included and the excluded: public art, political activism, cartography, lyric poetry) and catastrophic forms of social organization (forms of organization which reinforce and police precisely those divisions: wage-labor, neoliberal enclosures, urban renewal, walled populations). The project will activate affinities between an array of efforts to make perceptible, apprehend, map, or narrate consequential social phenomena and occulted disasters, which otherwise remain illegible or fail to appear within dominant contexts. While the collective will engage with various forms of mapping, echo-location and narration, it will always work to stimulate ''direct effects apart from representation.''

In a situation where resources of every sort are being expropriated, displaced or enclosed—''the commons shrinking before our very eyes''—the Nonsite Collective deploys its organizational and intellectual labor in an effort to ''make use of the world without using it.'' The question of ''use'' will thus remain a priority for the collective as it works to generate, activate, transform and conserve its energies and material effects within a sustainable environment of renewable resource.



The Nonsite Collective aims to nourish an ecology for collaboration within which no single activity will stand alone. ''No isolated objects.'' Specific projects will locate themselves in relation to other scenes of ongoing work. Similarly, events will function as catalyzing nodes to generate further engagement, research and discussion. Thus the potential of any particular endeavor will be nourished just as it nourishes.

Nonsite is a framework for self-organized pedagogy in which participants collaborate to create 'curricula,' or sets of inter-linked inquiries. This pedagogical dimension is explicitly affirmed and promoted in constellations of events, discussions, and documents all related, more or less loosely or determinately, to ongoing investigations.

The work of cultivating and deepening our conversations involves building a shared vocabulary and syntax for situating the links between a range of aesthetic projects, social practices, and really existing worlds. ''Imagine a primer, grammar or glossary that documents this evolving vocabulary, written collectively and kept in progress over time.'' This will be a critical part of the project’s effort to sustain an ongoing sense of social purposiveness.

Nonsite activities are not anchored to any single venue, but will be mobile, animating any number of places: public spaces, institutional settings, streets, parks and homes. These activities will reflect several forms of engagement that vary in scale, from small group research clusters to larger curated events. Moreover, Nonsite will make use of already existing social networks, programs, and series, in forms ranging from direct collaboration with other groups to ‘tagging’ various public events as part of Nonsite ‘curricula’.

Nonsite problematizes traditional divisions between artists, spectators, performers, teachers, scholars, learners, curators, writers and editors. As an endeavor that resists the disciplining of knowledges and practices, the collective is open to anyone who feels an affinity with the aims of Nonsite. In its effort to foster a range of potential projects and ideas, the collective welcomes proposals for research, events or publications with the promise to thrive in its collaborative environment.

While Nonsite situates itself in particular locations, it cultivates and nourishes exchange and collaboration with its partners in other locales. Currently, Nonsite has active affiliation in San Francisco and New York City, and is open to engaging with similar projects elsewhere.

The Nonsite Collective maintains a stance of critical autonomy toward currently available models of traditional organization. As a dynamic construction, the project actively pursues the ongoing work of theorizing itself and its concerns, and will adapt its organization and programming accordingly as it progresses, while evolving its shared languages. In this spirit, the current participants offer this document as a point of departure open for further elaboration and immediate revision.

The stakes of our engagement can only move outward from here.



While the collective shares varying degrees of interest in post-minimalist art, Robert Smithson’s ideas about site and 'non-site' have proved useful in our effort to build a flexible set of concepts and a syntax for relating various aesthetic projects to really existing social worlds.

'''Sites''' may appear to be immediately accessible within the grid of mediated experience and representation—they may even be thoroughly mapped there—yet 'site' remains withdrawn from active social recognition. Like the subtracted center of coherent vision in Smithson’s Enantiomorphic Chambers, sites paradoxically ''dis-appear.'' Perhaps, sites can be thought of as quasi-voids in a catastrophic situation (the catastrophe of vision “as the eyes / near wreck / to create / when they see”): while they remain fused to the structure of that situation, sites remain themselves difficult to perceive in their structures and effects. Put differently, sites might refer to events or processes whose consequences can’t be admitted to vision without threatening the coherence of everything else that appears. Sites may be scenes of occulted disaster, or the most banal forms of ongoing social erosion. In short, sites present themselves as blindspots.

'''Non-sites,''' by contrast, are invented, devised, artificial, and they bear the weight of their own visibility. In “A Provisional Theory of Non-Sites,” Smithson refers to the non-site as “a three dimensional logical picture that is ''abstract,'' yet it //represents// an actual site […]. A ‘logical picture’ differs from a natural or realistic picture in that it rarely looks like the thing it stands for.” Unlike real sites, non-sites can be abandoned at any time, whenever they cease to be useful (say, for mobilizing attention). The non-site is a formal equivalent for a real site, and as such it proposes a corrective to various forms of social invisibility. The nonsite achieves its potential to locate sites by way of formal dislocation. Non-sites are logical pictures or narrations that are ''abstract,'' even as they aim to make the concrete dimension of real sites perceptible. Non-sites are metaphors of sites that do not appear to resemble them. As metaphors, non-sites may be scenes of transport in the otherwise unnavigable space between real social disasters and our critical apprehension of them. The non-site is a model in relation to which we might get a handle on where we are, so that we can act.

Non-sites compose the strata of many forgotten events, and potentialize the transfigured memory of our future.

'''From non-site to site:''' As the negative term in a dialectic of social contradictions, non-sites exist in a process of ongoing relationships. As such, they can’t resolve themselves, just as they can’t exist in isolation. Rather, we might think of them as persisting in tension with their opposites—sites—while moving toward reintegration into living social ecologies. If the non-site is a constructed response to an illegible social process, how might we imagine or understand the ''conversion of non-site to site?'' And how would that conversion alter site’s meaning?

One aim of the Nonsite Collective is to research and activate the process of this conversion of the non-site, ''beginning with itself.''