Site Specific Public Art?


Merce Cunningham’s Ocean @ the Rainbow Quarry in St. Cloud, MN

We heard about it for months – the biggest performance piece of the year to take place on the grandest scale. Merce Cunningham’s epic choreography set to the music of Andrew Culver and electronic score by David Tudor with the Rainbow Quarry as the backdrop.

The backdrop?

While it’s true that no one claimed the piece was site specific, the two hour drive from the cities, the mysterious bus ride down into the quarry, and the PR image of a dancer standing amongst the rocks heightened my expectations. To discover a giant sound stage set up in the middle of the quarry somewhat dulled my curiosity. It became clear that the quarry was the environment for the piece not the inspiration.

Does it matter? Not really. It was still an amazing presentation by one of the granddaddies of dance. The company was polished and the 150 members of St. Cloud’s Symphony orchestra must have had a blast. The Quarry while not completely integrated into the piece became quiet an interesting audience member. A foreboding sci-fi landscape complete with the full moon ducking in and out of the clouds. An extra special treat was the abrupt stop of the performance due to rain twenty minuets before the completion of the piece. John Cage (project co-producer) would have been tickled.

But most importantly it lead me to question, what is site-specific public art? In a culture where we are inundated with experiences made to be accessed at our leisure via TVO and You Tube, the importance of place becomes relevant. What kind of expectations do we have for things that decide to utilize untraditional spaces? Are those expectations justified? Is it really the artists job to live up to what we might imagine could be done in that space? And what about the implications of private entities mimicking the form of site specific practices in public spaces?

Other inspirations…
Eiko & Koma – River
Improve Everywhere – Food Court Musical
Body Cartography – ROOM