The Experience of Place

Places shape humans, and humans have always shaped places, in order to build shelter, to farm land, to travel, sometimes to celebrate through symbolic forms a given ritual, a spatial or spiritual idea.

Engendered by their usage (eating, sleeping, learning. . .), places partake of the identity of those who inhabit them—everyone defines him/herself with respect to his/her spatial location—and, vice versa, individuals give the place its identity, and even more fundamentally, its existence. This close relationship makes possible the metaphor of rootedness and presupposes a temporal dimension. Place is inscribed in time; it is memory and time crystalized. The locus of humanist geography is more than a point, a name, or geographic location: it has a meaning, a “personality”—as some writers put it.

This acquisition of meaning where the structure metamorphoses and participates in people’s lives has thrown wide open the field of contemporary artistic intervention. Neutralizing the personality of a place by the “white cube” takes away nothing from the inscription of the work in its “context,” since the experience of the real place is the condition sine qua non of the experience of the work (Jean Verame).

Thus the binary artwork/place becomes interchangeable and even permeable: the artwork becomes a place, and the place an artwork (Jeppe Hein). Some artists create artworks that reinvent the physical context of the place (Willie Cole). A mirage or weightlessness, the fictional borders on the intangible (Leòn Ferrari). Imaginary places, waking dreams, take form or vanish (Monica Bonvicini) according to singular laws, and conjure up in the artistic field atypical places. Are digital mutations of the contemporary world gradually dissolving the concept of place?

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