Site-integrity: a dynamic exchange between site, artist, device and audience

Julie Marsh

> Introduction and Methodology



  • responds to the material, architectural, social, political and institutional discourses present in site
  • makes artworks with and for a site-specific audience
  • performs site through artistic devices operating in temporal relations with space and place
  • repositions the act of representation towards that which is physically encountered and is experiential
  • places the audience at the centre of both the work and crucially the site as integral to the experience


Site-integrity is a proposal for a working methodology - a particular but original mode of site-specific practice that potentiates a dynamic exchange between site, artist, device and audience. Site-integrity performs site through artistic devices operating in temporal relations with space and place. Within this site-specific context the artworks produced cannot be separated from the temporal. Taking a non-representational position (Bolt, 2004, p.12) this research builds upon "place as emergent, relational and beyond representational regimes" (Massey, 2005, p.11). It builds upon Massey’s rejection to collapse space into representation, that is, to a given, pre-existing cognitive structure or conceptual schema by implicitly performing involvements in, as opposed to observations on, site.

Site-integrity situates the viewer in the meaning-making of place – functioning as a place/self-making ‘machine’. By situating the viewer in the centre of a changing live space, there is never a point of fixed representation. In site-integrity place is apparatus – i.e. it depends on which elements are operationalised and should be assessed in terms of affective experience. The artistic device allows for a clear articulation of the material, architectural, social, institutional discourses present in site, since it constitutes an interface between them, a dynamic network or system of exchange. In order to explore the success of this working methodology, this research seeks to answer the following questions: How effective is this methodology? How do relationships to sites affect the making and reception of the work? Did the artworks have a positive effect on the site communities?

This exposition presents three specific projects: Assembly, Screen Space and Moving Site / Sight that explore temporal relations with space and place via motorised recording and display devices. Assembly uses 1:1 scaled moving floor projections, Moving Site / Sight uses 360-degree rigs and Screen space uses motorised iPad tracks. It is important to note that these devices are not solely visual. The role of sound is crucial in the performance of site. Each project uses different methods of sound recording and re-play to construct a ‘soundscape of the space’. In each specific site the device operates in a distinctly different manner (as object, subject, time machine, mediator, investigator, social operator), providing different techniques and outcomes in each site. The differences and relations between each project add up to a body of work that furthers ideas of site-specific practice.


This research could be extended by using different methodologies that could also lead to the same idea of site-integrity, for example, the many possibilities of operating temporal relationships with sound and space. Therefore, it is worth noting that site-integrity is a larger concept that incorporates (but is not limited to) these record/playback devices. These projects are examples of an artistic device that contributes (not exclusively) to a specific practice - site-integrity.


The context of this practical research lies in the origins of early cinema, with reference to the Lumière Brothers’ Cinématographe (the first three-in-one device that could record, develop and project motion pictures) and the early pioneers of cinematography, who often used the same piece of equipment to both shoot film and project it for an audience. Assembly and Screen Space take this one step further via the development of a recording/display device that is mobile. This enables an exact transfer of scale and time as the image maps the architectural site as “a kind of matching of the world with its representations or, rather, a bringing of the two into critical conjunction” (Hamlyn, 2003, p.53). 


Though a range of professional recording devices exist, it is important that the artistic devices are made by hand, on site. The custom-made machines enhance the creativity and specificity of the process and offer the potential to spontaneously adapt to the needs of the site. The devices are used as both a creator of autonomy and a source of possibility through which site might be found and shared, a technological ability to go inside somewhere physically restricted, forbidden or generally unreachable. Sustained technical research into the recording/playback device is carried out by project technician Jonathan Fuller-Rowell, in liaison with technical engineers and coders in order to develop the necessary technical knowledge base to deliver this practice. Although the devices have become more advanced as the research has progressed, there is still an enduring humanity about the machines, which further roots these investigations ‘in site’. Rather than adapting the research to fit the limits of equipment, the equipment bends to fit the needs of the research. Unlike many practices where the mechanics are hidden from sight, site-integrity is reflexive in nature, giving the device a presence within the artwork itself.

All artworks evolve through continuous reflection, testing and re-making. The experiential nature of this practice encourages feedback from the site community during the creative act, giving it equal weighting to the artist. Qualitative research is the most suitable method of data collection precisely because it offers an insight into subjective interpretations, human feelings and emotions, appropriate for this phenomenological study. The site community continuously informs the making of the work throughout production. However, more specific feedback is sought via ‘open sites’, a site-specific version of an open studio. Rather than making artworks for an art audience, site-integrity makes artworks with a site-specific audience. It is important to note that all experiments, even those that do not work, help in an understanding of what site-integrity is and is not.